Sunday, 8 July 2012

Cornwall’s chough came from Ireland

Chough ID
July 2012. The red-billed chough stands proud on the Cornish coat of arms but the species became extinct in the Duchy in 1947, denuding Cornwall of one of its most charismatic birds and cultural symbols.
That was until three choughs of unknown origin appeared in Cornwall in 2001 and founded a new breeding population, restoring the ‘Cornish chough' to its historic home and causing great excitement among birdwatchers and conservationists alike.
But where did the three pioneer choughs come from?
Brittany or Wales? - Neither
Until now, they were speculated to have travelled from chough populations in south Wales or Brittany. 
But now some clever genetic detective work has suggested that the Cornish pioneers came from even further afield - Ireland.
Researchers collected moulted feathers that were naturally dropped by the Cornish choughs, and by choughs in other populations across Europe.
DNA analysis
Scientists from the University of Aberdeen then extracted DNA from the feather tips, and compared the DNA sequences of the new Cornish choughs with those of choughs living elsewhere. By far the best match to the Cornish choughs was the Irish choughs, suggesting an unexpected Celtic origin for the new Cornish birds.

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