Gemmi Pass – Meeting Crow and Raven in the mountains

When being out and about in the Alpine region one will most probably have an encounter with crow and raven, especially with Red-billed Chough and Alpine Choughs. Ravens mostly keep their distance to us humans, whereas Red-billed Choughs and Alpine Choughs are anything but shy. We went to the Swiss Gemmi Pass and met with a large troup of juvenile Red-billed Choughs who proved to be rather affectionate and not shy at all.

They decided to pay us a visit every day we were out begging for some food. Ravens were also out and about in large flocks but never came as close as the Coughs did. As usual ravens can be heard over long distances, before even seing them.

raven flying across gemmi pass in the swiss alps
Raven flying across Gemmi Pass

Red-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) at Gemmi Pass

Red-billed Choughs are not related to the crows we know from the European lowlands, such as Rook (Corvus frugilegus), Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) or Carrion Crow (Corvus corone). All of them like to gather in larger flocks which is similar to the Red-billed Choughs. This is where similarities end. Red-billed Choughs are a number of things:

They are flight artists, they flock together in large troops and they are all but shy. On the contrary. Wherever people are in the mountains, Red-billed Choughs are simply following, always being on the lookout for something to feed on.

juvenile red-billed chough on gemmi pass
Juvenile Red-billed Chough

How do Choughs look like?

Ever having seen a Carrion Crow? It is merely the same size just a bit shorter in length and wingspan and slightly larger than a Jacksdaw. They like travelling in larger flocks. Contrary to crows these birds are much more agile, either on ground or in air.

The plumage shows a glossy metallic black; wings are long and uniformly broad right up to the body. Their wingtips are blunt and deeply fingered when flying or during their ferocious dives, when the wings are folded back. The tail is short and has a straight end. Legs are red and appear rather long.

A perched birds shows folded wings that reaches the tail-tip. One of the best identification features is the acrobatic flight. It is quite a challenge for photographers to capture them in flight. Adult birds show a long red bill, whereas juveniles have a smaller yellow bill. Juveniles have duller suty-black plumage and duller red legs.

juvenile red-billed chough
Juvenile Red-billed Chouhgs

Curiosity – a substantial an inborn quality

Chough are a gregarious bunch and they check out everything that might be interesting. This is nothing these birds have to learn. It is inherited from their parents sort of inborn quality. It was quite interesting to see how these juvenile Choughs even get close to check out photographic equipment laid out on the grass. The stuff was too havy to be taken away and also nothing to feed on either.

Moreover, the Choughs came very close walking around between photographers’ legs. Though, touching was too much they did not like that especially.

juvenile red-billed chough
Juvenile Red-billed Chough

A Beggar’s Tale – Or how to get fed

Of course, one should not feed these birds with human food. Otherwise most people seem to like feeding these birds and hand out was is available in the rucksack. Consequently, Choughs are quick to learn how easy it is to live in the moutains without doing to work and effort on finding more suitable food.

It is without question that human food is no alternative nor a suitable supplement to natural food. However, people seem not to care a bit. Choughs thank for being fed by providing some sort of entertainment ot people.

When I was sitting behind my tripod and 600 mm f4, wating for vultures to arrive, I could watch people bringing something to feed the Choughs. The scenery was then captured on the mobile phone as sort of great holiday adventure.

One Chough came even to me and perched more or less in front of my camera. Then it started calling and making quite a noise. The purpose was clear but I did not gave in the temptation. After a while someone came up laying out a sausage end.

The calling and wailing stopped immediately and the Chough hopped towards us aiming to get the sausage end before its comrades could get away with the prey. While munching away on the sausage end more Chougs came to us trying to get a bite of the sausage and also harrassing me and the other person to give some more food.

After a while, because supply had ceased with immediate effect, the whole bunch mad an exit and moved down to the cable car terminal.

flock of juvenile choughs
Flock of juvenile Red-billed Choughs
flock of juvenile choughs
Flock of juvenile Choughs

Should we feed wild Birds?

The answer is neither yes nor no. This is because even in a nature environment things are no longer as natural as the scenery looks like. There is no longer enough natural food available between spring and autumn to support the growing offspring. In winter the situation becomes even worse as cold winters could decimate juvenile birds that did not manage to put on essential reserves during summer and autumn.

This is general view and it can be applied to nearly all habitats and environments. So, from my point of view feeding is alright. But: not just anything we have in our rucksack but natural food that suits even crows and choughs. Admittedly, most people enjoy these birds coming close and being hand-fed. And yes, making pictures with these birds is certainly good if one wants to remember it later. But it doesn’t help birds to be fed with our leftovers. So if anyone should want to provide proper feeding than

juvenile chough
Juvenile Chough
juvenile chough
Give me something to eat: Juvenile Chough
juvenile chough
Giving some entertainment to people: Juvenile Chough
juvenile chough
Making quite a noise: Juvenile Chough begging for some food
juvenile chough
Juvenile Chough
Juvenile Chough

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

Bird, Nature, Art and Architecture Photographer, Traveller, Blogger.

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