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The alpine chough and the red-billed chough

Image of a chough

The long valleys and the gorges on the eastern hillside of the Majella, the Orfento Valley and the rocky slopes at high altitudes represent an ideal nesting place for the largest populations of red-billed and alpine choughs in the Apennines. These two species, which have seen a steep decline in the last several years in many areas of the Italian peninsula, can be found in the Majella National Park with more than 200 and 100 pairs, respectively.

The species can be distinguished by the different colour and length of the beak, which is long and orange in the red-billed chough and short and yellow in the alpine chough. These differences are also confirmed by the different eating habits which include insects and other invertebrates in the case of the red-billed chough, which uses its long and curved beak to eat, and fruits and berries for the alpine chough. Also the noises that the two species of choughs often make, both while flying and when resting on the rocks, are very different: the red-billed chough makes noises which are typical of corvids and can be confused with the sounds of the common jackdaw, while the alpine chough makes noises which are more similar to tweets that remind you of other groups of the order Passeriformes. 

To the expert eye, the species can be also recognized in flight: the red-billed chough has indeed broad fingered wings, similar in shape to the wings of a golden eagle, and a shorter and more square-cut tail compared to the alpine chough. Also in the choice of nesting place there are some differences between the two corvids: the alpine chough prefers gorges, sinkholes and high altitude slopes where it can choose cavities where to lay the eggs, whereas the red-billed chough often nests in large sunny slopes even at relatively low altitudes. After the reproductive period, both species form particular flocks with hundreds choughs, often even mixed, looking for feeding areas for the autumn, often following herds of chamois on the pasture.    

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