Mr and Mrs Mousetrap

 Many of our visitors are delighted to see a pair of chough at South Stack.  These charismatic birds are rare members of the crow family.  Here at South Stack one of our breeding pairs can be seen feeding close to Ellin’s Tower and outside the visitor centre.  We know them as Mr and Mrs Mousetrap, named after the cave they nest in on Mousetrap zawn (a deep and narrow sea-inlet, cut by erosion into sea-cliffs with steep or vertical side-walls).  Mrs Mousetrap was born in 1999 and Mr Mousetrap in 2004, making them 21 and 17 years old this year. 

Over the years we have been fortunate enough to watch their nest via a live cliff camera with images appearing on screen in the visitor centre.  They are very much members of the team at South Stack and have been spotted regularly feeding on our hanging feeders outside the café window, rare behaviour for chough.  If Mrs Mouse trap has chicks this year at 21, she will be equal in age to the previous South Stack record holder: Mrs Porth Ruffydd Eratic, who was also 21 the last time she attempted nesting in 2017.

 We are able to monitor the chough at South Stack thanks to an amazing ringing project run by 2 very dedicated people which began in the 1980’s.  They have a special licence which allows them to visit chough nests when the chicks are a few weeks old to put coloured rings on their legs.  These rings mean that when people report sightings of the birds we are able to identify where the birds have come from and monitor their health and breeding success.  One of the ringing team, Adrienne told us recently that the “oldest nesting female in our project was the one in South Ceredigion who raised 3 young last season, at 23 yrs.  She may or may not be alive or be recognisable if her last rings have dropped off, by this season.  We shall see”.

The 2 oldest males that Adrienne has been able to identify were both 22, one at Cilan (Gwynedd) in 2018 who failed to produce young that year, the other near Llanberis in 2017, who raised young.  There is also a male in North Anglesey who, if still alive, will be 22 this season.  Other South Stack oldies include Mrs South Stack Island who was 20 when she was last seen in 2017.  Then old Mr Porth Ruffydd West was 17 when he last bred in 2011.

Over time the birds leg rings become brittle and fall off which has happened with Mr and Mrs Mousetrap.  Over the last year our warden has spent time feeding the 2 birds in her garden and encouraging them to enter a small cage on her picnic table.  Last week the ringing team managed to trap the birds and put new leg rings on.  They also weighed them and checked their health.  Mr Mousetrap is in great condition.  Mrs Mousetrap was a little underweight which isn’t unusual for this time of year.  Both birds flew away with a ‘chuff’ wearing their new leg rings.  They were back on the picnic table the next day feeding but with one eye on us!  They do recognise people so it will take a few weeks before they know we are just putting out food and we don’t need to see their legs again.  Adrienne has been ringing chough for decades, she is able to do it in a way that minimises stress to the birds. 

If you are lucky enough to spot chough and are able to see their leg rings please report your sighting to Adrienne  Your sightings will help Adrienne continue to build a picture of these rare and beautiful birds lives across the country.