Using ecological research to conserve a rare species of bird

Red-billed choughs are a species whose numbers are declining across Europe. They are members of the crow family that have unique, bright red, curved bills. Within Scotland, they are restricted to a few isolated regions - mainly the island of Islay.

Professor Jane Reid of the University of Aberdeen studied Scotland’s chough population on Islay for several years, liaising with conservation managers, policy-makers, farmers and the wider public. Professor Reid’s data collection and analyses highlighted areas on the island that were key to population growth and she also showed that death in young choughs was worse in late summer and autumn.

Her research, in collaboration with the Scottish Chough Study Group, led to the designation of a major Special Protection Area on Islay for this species and also prompted Scottish Natural Heritage to fund an emergency conservation programme of supplementary feeding. As a result, farmers in specific areas on Islay could apply for agri-environment funding to undertake land management activities that benefit choughs, such as specialised grazing and cutting regimes and this, in turn, changed agricultural practices on Islay.

These research results translated into Scottish government conservation policy, helping to secure the survival of this species.

Through scientific understanding of the population ecology of choughs on the island of Islay, we developed appropriate conservation strategies and policies

Professor Jane Reid

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Key publications

  • Reid, JM, Bignal, EM, Bignal, S, McCracken, DI & Monaghan, P (2003). Age-specific reproductive performance in the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax): patterns and processes in a natural population. Journal of Animal Ecology 72, 765-776.
  • Reid, JM, Bignal, EM, Bignal, S, McCracken, DI & Monaghan, P (2003). Environmental variability, life-history covariation and cohort effects in the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). Journal of Animal Ecology 72, 36-46
  • Reid, JM, Bignal, EM, Bignal, S, McCracken, DI & Monaghan, P (2004) Identifying the life-history determinants of population growth rate: a case study of red-billed choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). Journal of Animal Ecology 73, 777-788.
  • Reid, JM, Bignal, EM, Bignal, S, McCracken, DI & Monaghan, P (2006). Spatial variation in demography and population growth rate: the importance of natal location. Journal of Animal Ecology 75, 1201-1211. Citations = 30.  
  • Reid, JM, Bignal, E, Bignal, S, McCracken, DI, Bogdanova, MI & Monaghan, P (2008). Investigating patterns and processes of demographic variation: environmental correlates of pre-breeding survival in red-billed choughs (Pyrrhocorrax pyrrhocorax).  Journal of Animal Ecology 77, 777-789. 
  • Reid, JM, Bignal, E, Bignal, S, Bogdanova, MI, Monaghan, P & McCracken, DI. (2011). Diagnosing the timing of demographic bottlenecks: sub-adult survival in red-billed choughs. Journal of Applied Ecology 48, 797-805.