Justification of Red List Category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 40,500-86,400 pairs, which equates to 80,900-173,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.10% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 809,000-1,730,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed. The population in China has been estimated at c.100-10,000 breeding pairs (Brazil 2009).
The population is estimated to be in decline following noted decreases in the European population (Madge and Burn 1993). In Europe, trends between 1980 and 2013 show the population to be stable (EBCC 2015). However in the short-term (2000-2012) the European population is estimated to be decreasing (BirdLife International 2015).
This species is found on coastal cliffs in western Europe and in high mountain pastures with rocky crags elsewhere. Coastal populations such as those found in Ireland, Britain, Brittany, Canaries, and north-west Spain, favour sea cliffs with rocky crags, interspersed with closely grazed grassland. Inland populations occur in high mountain pastures above the tree-line, favouring sheep-grazed slopes and farther east, associated with grazing yaks (Bos grunniens) and ponies. The species is monogamous and forms a lifelong pair bond (Madge 2009). Egg-laying begins in March in Britain and late April to May in western China and the Caucasus (Madge 2009). The nest is a mass of sticks, thickly lined with wool, rarely all wool and built typically in the roof of a cave, rock chimney, or disused quarry, but also uses roof spaces of disused buildings, old mine shafts or similar sites. Clutches are usually four eggs. It is chiefly insectivorous, particulary in spring and summer, but also feeds on a wide variety of other invertebrates and rarely on small vertebrates such as lizards (Lacertidae) and small mammals. In autumn and winter, when invertebrate food more difficult to find, it takes grain, seeds and small berries, including those of rowan (Sorbus), pear (Pyrus), juniper (Juniperus), sea-buckthorn (Hippophae) and olive (Olea). The species is essentially sedentary (Madge 2009).
The most important cause of declines in the species is changes in grazing regimes (Madge 2009) and conversion of grazing habitat to forestry, tourist-related developments or intensive farming (Batten et al. 1989, Tucker and Heath 1994). Historically, grazing animals roamed freely over mountain slopes and coastal cliffs, keeping vegetation short and ideal for invertebrates (Madge 2009). In the Alps, it is thought competition with Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) and Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) may be detrimental to the species (Madge and Burn 1993). The species has also suffered from persecution (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997) and they were shot for sport during the 19th and 20th centuries (Wilmore 1977).
Conservation Actions Underway
Bern Convention Appendix II. EU Birds Directive Annex I. A programme of rough grazing along coastal slopes and the erection of nest boxes in suitable caves or old buildings in Britain has led to the partial recovery of the species there (Madge 2009).
Conservation Actions Proposed
The return of traditional cliff grazing techniques benefits this species (Madge and Burn 1993, Hagemeijer and Blair 1997). The conservation of surviving areas of traditional extensive pastoral farmland is also essential (Tucker and Heath 1994). Research to determine the impact of competition with other species would help inform future conservation measures.
Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/10/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/10/2020.