The chough is a member of the crow family. It was once so common in Cornwall that it was given the name ‘the Cornish chough’. Choughs lived on cliff-tops, where grass was kept short by the ponies that worked at tin and copper mines.
The chough became an important symbol of Cornwall. It appeared in the heraldic arms of several Cornish families including the Rashleighs, Trewinnards and Trebarthas. It also features on the arms of the Duchy of Cornwall, and on those of Cornwall Council, where it is seen holding the Duke of Cornwall’s coronet with one foot.
The once and future king
Choughs are also the subject of various legends. It is said that after his death, the spirit of King Arthur entered into the body of a chough. The bird’s red legs and beak are supposed the represent the blood shed by Arthur in his last battle. The return of the chough could be seen as the return of Arthur – “the once and future King” – who has come to lead the Cornish people again.
The chough returns
The decline of mining, changes in habitat and shooting all reduced the number of choughs in Cornwall. The last pair to nest in Cornwall died in the 1970s. However, in April 2001, after nearly thirty years, a pair of choughs was once again seen on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. This pair nested and had chicks in 2002. These choughs and their descendents have remained in Cornwall ever since.
Did you know?
The choughs found in Cornwall in 2001 are believed to have come from Ireland – a fellow Celtic nation. In 2016, there were approximately 34 individual choughs resident in Cornwall, with around seven breeding pairs.
Was the return of the chough in 2001 really a good sign for Cornwall and Cornish people?
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