There are two species of passerine birds commonly called chough ( CHUF) that constitute the genus Pyrrhocorax of the Corvidae (crow) family of birds. These are the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), and the Alpine chough (or yellow-billed chough) (Pyrrhocorax graculus). The white-winged chough of Australia, despite its name, is not a true chough but rather a member of the family Corcoracidae and only distantly related.
The choughs have black plumage and brightly coloured legs, feet, and bills, and are resident in the mountains of southern Eurasia and North Africa. They have long broad wings and perform spectacular aerobatics. Both species pair for life and display fidelity to their breeding sites, which are usually caves or crevices in a cliff face. They build a lined stick nest and lay three to five eggs. They feed, usually in flocks, on short grazed grassland, taking mainly invertebrate prey, supplemented by vegetable material or food from human habitation, especially in winter.
Changes in agricultural practices, which have led to local population declines and range fragmentation, are the main threats to this genus, although neither species is threatened globally.
Choughs breed in mountains, from Morocco and Spain eastwards through southern Europe and the Alps, across Central Asia and the Himalayas to western China. The Alpine chough is also found in Corsica and Crete, and the red-billed chough has populations in Ireland, the UK, the Isle of Man, and two areas of the Ethiopian Highlands. Both species are non-migratory residents throughout their range, only occasionally wandering to neighbouring countries.
These birds are mountain specialists, although red-billed choughs also use coastal sea cliffs in Ireland, Great Britain, and Brittany, feeding on adjacent short grazed grassland or machair; the small population on La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, is also coastal. The red-billed chough more typically breeds in mountains above 1,200 m (3,900 ft) in Europe, 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in North Africa and 2,400 m (7,900 ft) in the Himalayas. In that mountain range it reaches 6,000 metres (20,000 ft) in the summer, and has been recorded at 7,950 metres (26,080 ft) altitude on Mount Everest. The Alpine chough breeds above 1,260 m (4,130 ft) in Europe, 2,880 m (9,450 ft) in Morocco, and 3,500 m (11,500 ft) in the Himalayas. It has nested at 6,500 m (21,300 ft), higher than any other bird species, and it has been observed following mountaineers ascending Mount Everest at an altitude of 8,200 m (26,900 ft).
Where the two species occur in the same mountains, the Alpine species tends to breed at a higher elevation than its relative, since it is better adapted for a diet at high altitudes.