Yellow-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

Also known as: Alpine chough
GenusPyrrhocorax (1)
SizeLength: 38 cm (2)
Weight191 - 244 g (3)

The yellow-billed chough is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The yellow-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) is an easily distinguishable mountain-dwelling bird with a small, yellow, slightly decurved bill and bright red legs and feet (4). Its rounded tail projects well beyond its wingtips when at rest (3).

The yellow-billed chough has blue-black, glossy feathers (2), which are slightly blue-green in colouration on the wings (3). The juvenile is similar in appearance to the adult, but its plumage is dull rather than glossy. The bill of the juvenile is horn-coloured and the legs are brown-black (3).

The voice of the yellow-billed chough is a shrill, rippling cry (4).

The yellow-billed chough has been observed flying at over 8,000 metres above sea level. A brilliant flier, it often plays in the air, suddenly tumbling and twisting or folding its wings, zooming downwards and catching itself at the last second. It also soars effortlessly about cliff faces and performs acrobatic displays in the air (6).

The yellow-billed chough has a smaller head and beak and a relatively longer tail than the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), which, as its common name suggests, has a red rather than yellow bill (3).

Two subspecies of yellow-billed chough are sometimes recognised, which differ slightly in size. Pyrrhocorax graculus graculus is smaller and Pyrrhocorax graculus digitatus is larger with stronger feet (3). 

The range of the yellow-billed chough is spread discontinuously throughout the mountainous regions of Europe, Asia and North Africa, including the Alps and the Pyrenees (4) (6) (7). It is a vagrant in some areas of eastern Europe, including Hungary, Poland and Slovakia (7). 

The yellow-billed chough thrives in rocky habitats at high altitudes, regularly nesting at altitudes of over 5,000 metres above sea level (4). The yellow-billed chough inhabits mountainous regions and does not generally migrate, although it will descend to lower altitudes in winter (5). 

The yellow-billed chough feeds largely on insects and insect larvae, which it accesses by probing the soil with its curved bill. The prey of the yellow-billed chough includes caterpillars, wireworms (larvae of Elateridae species), ground beetles, small snails and ants (4). However, it is an opportunistic feeder and may also steal fruits from gardens, or scavenge from rubbish dumps and ski resorts to find anything edible, sometimes becoming quite tame in the process (4) (5) (6).

The nest of the yellow-billed chough is a loose construction of twigs, heather and bracken and is often lined with wool from sheep which graze in high altitude mountain pastures (4) (6). The nest is usually built on an inaccessible ledge high up on a cliff wall, in cracked or cleft rock or in quarries (2) (4) (6).

The yellow-billed chough lays a clutch of three to five eggs, with incubation beginning as soon as the first egg is laid. The female yellow-billed chough will incubate the eggs alone and is fed throughout this time by the male. The young are fed by both adults until they fledge the nest at around 40 days old. When the young are able to fly, they are taught to forage by both adults (4). The yellow-billed chough is a gregarious species and will form flocks (3) (5). 

The yellow-billed chough is not currently known to be facing any major threats, and its population is large, widespread and not known to be declining (7). 

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in black for the yellow-billed chough. However, many of the areas in which the yellow-billed chough lives have been selected as ‘Important Bird Areas’ (IBAs). The aim of IBAs is to protect bird species and habitats, and they are therefore highly significant for international conservation. The IBAs in which the yellow-billed chough is found are thought to hold fairly large populations of this species (7). 

Find out more about the yellow-billed chough:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
  2. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  3. Madge, S. and Burn, H. (1994) Crows and Jays: A Guide to the Crows, Jays and Magpies of the World. Christopher Helm, London.
  4. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Volume 19. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  5. Beaman, M. and Madge, S. (1998) The Handbook of Bird Identification for Europe and the Western Palearctic. A&C Black, London.
  6. Silverstein, A., Silverstein, V. and Silverstein, V.B. (2003) Nature’s Champions: the Biggest, the Fastest, the Best. Courier Dover Publications, New York.
  7. BirdLife International (October, 2011)
  8. Finlayson, C. (2011) Avian Survivors: The Biogeography of Palearctic Birds. A&C Black, New York.