Portugal town revives hilltop herds to save birds

Mon Jul 13, 2009 9:14am EDT
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By Andrei Khalip

CHAOS, Portugal (Reuters Life!) - One of the village goatherds has a university degree and the other runs an online shop in his spare time, but both say tending goats in Portugal's Candeeiros mountains is for the birds.

The village, Chaos (pronounced sha-us), is reviving goat herding on the surrounding hills not so much for the meat or cheese, but to help save an endangered bird species, the red-billed chough.

"Traditional herding has moved to the valley below, to the abandoned agricultural lands. This changed the habitat of the chough, which basically disappeared here," said Antonio Frazao, head of the Terra Cha cooperative and a park ranger in charge of the project, which also involves nature tourism.

Apart from wine production, agriculture in Portugal has been declining for years, with crop yields and animal productivity below the European Union average.

Without hungry goats to keep them in check, the mountain shrubs have grown too big for the birds of the crow family to forage in the undergrowth. Goat excrement also helped to breed the insects eaten by the black-feathered birds with long curved red beaks and red legs.

The last breeding pair close to Chaos was seen last year in the nearby Serra dos Candeeiros park area, about 120 km (74.56 miles) north of Lisbon and 20 km east from the Atlantic coast.

None have been sighted this year.

Red-billed choughs nest on cliffs in Europe and parts of Asia, but are now rare. In Portugal, their numbers have halved in the past few years, according to the project's data.   Continued...