Wildlife in the Alps: Spotlight on the Alpine Chough

My favourite sound of the Mont Blanc massif is the thin, trilling, whistling call of alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus). Like many other members of the crow family, these birds have shiny black feathers, but alpine choughs are easily recognizable because of their short yellow bill and red legs. When hiking in the Alps an encounter with these black alpine birds is always a true pleasure, because they are incredibly playful, social and curious!

Social groups

Alpine coughs forage in tight flocks, which are bigger in winter then in summer. They keep in touch with their group members through their continuous chatter which is a familiar sound in the high mountain areas in our region. Actually, our mountains wouldn’t be the same without their high-pitched calls! 

Playful flight  

Seeing an alpine chough showing of its impressive flight skills is a wonderful sight. They always seem to be in motion, restless, sometimes high up in the alpine sky, and then again low above the ground. I love how they seem to be able to glide effortlessly on air currents. But even more entertaining are the aerobatics they perform, like when they playfully tuck in their wings to dive straight down along a steep cliff.

Curious and not scared of humans 

You’ll often see them curiously checking out areas where humans visit the alpine zone: a picnic area, a sunny terrace next to a mountain refuge or a lift station like the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix or the Skyway in Courmayeur. In their search for food, these curious birds are not shy of humans at all!  

Real alpine bird

In winter you might see flocks circling above villages as low as Argentière (1252 m) in the Chamonix valley. But alpine choughs are real alpine birds, and after foraging they will always return to their alpine habitat where they have their roosting in crevices on steep cliffs. I hope you’ll be lucky enough to hear some chough chatter and see them performing their skilful aerobatics on your Tour du Mont Blanc or Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route!   

Simone van Velzen

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