Peregrines Past and Present | Salisbury Cathedral

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It started here - chicks hatch in 2014

In mid April 2013 a lot of Peregrine activity was spotted on the South side of the Cathedral after and absences of 60 years. On investigation the RSPB discovered that a mated pair had laid 3 eggs directly onto the stone walkway used by tourists on Tower Tours. Sadly the eggs rolled apart on the hard surface and were deserted. A nest box was set up on the South Tower balcony(hot) side of the Tower in early 2014 and in Spring a clutch of three peregrines hatched. One of them was named Peter and he carried the initials GX on his leg ring. Find out later what happened to him.

24 April 2017 - Peter the peregrine flies again

We promised to keep you updated on this story. Peter the peregrine was released back into the wild after over two months recovering from gunshot injuries at the Hawk Conservancy Trust. Peter was found injured on March 11 on farmland near King Somborne and subsequent X-rays revealed a broken wing. He was identified by the blue ring on his leg marked ‘GX’. This proved that he was one of three chicks that hatched at Salisbury Cathedral in 2014. Picture by James Fisher.

Aveline spotted 80miles away from home

In January a bird spotter caught Aveline, a female peregrine that hatched on the Tower in 2016, on camera at Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve near Milton Keynes. She caught his eye as she dived down on prey and when he looked more closley he noticed the blue ring on her leg. After tweeting the colour and initials on the ring, he was able to identify her. Photography by Ashley Beolens

The ring that identified Aveline

All Salisbury Cathedral's peregrines have been ring by Ed Drewitt, a specialist who is used by Phil Sheldrake, the RSPB Conservation Officer who started up our peregrine project. Ed's rings are a distinctive blue, which identifies them as peregrines from the South West. Each ring has two initials which allow us to identify the individual birds. Peregrines travel great distances and not many juveniles make it through the first year so spotting Aveline was a cause for celebration. Photography by Ashley Beolens

10 June The orphaned chick is named and ringed

At around 3 weeks we ring our chicks. It helps us to keep track of them after they have fledged. Our adopted orphan, a male, was named Wylye and given a ring with the initials KY. Ellie Sheldrake, a veterinary nurse, took notes while ringer Hamish Smith measured and ringed the chick helped by RSPB Conservation Officer Phil Sheldrake. He was rather noisy so the team had to work quickly to get him back to the nest.

Wylye the orphaned chick is colour ringed at Salisbury Cathedral

Ellie Sheldrake, a veterinary nurse and her dad, RSPB Conservation Officer, help Hamish Smith ring, weigh and measure Wylye the orphaned chick. He'll remain in the nest box on the Cathedral Tower for another two to three weeks before fledging. He is already very active, exercising by hopping in and out of the nest box and patrolling the balcony.

Amelia gets to hold Dene, our peregrine chick

Nine-year-old Amelia, daughter of one of Salisbury Cathedral's stonemasons, gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hold Dene the peregrine chick. Amelia also named Wylye the orphan chick, pulling his name out of an envelope of names provided by Cathedral staff. A day we suspect she'll never forget.


2014 ringing captured on camera

Our peregrine project is headed up by Phil Sheldrake, RSPB Conservation officer, and Gary Price, the Cathedral's Clerk of the Works. We have been ringing our chicks since 2014. We have only managed to keep track of two of the nine birds that have hatched on the Tower. This is not surprising because falcons travel great distances and the mortality rate for juveniles is very high. Records indicate that around 70% to 80% of all fledged youngsters will die in their first year. If they do survive however, peregrines can live as long as fifteen years. Video by Ash Mills.

2 April 2017 - Two eggs so many more?

The first egg was laid on 31 March and the second on 2 April. Peregrines usually lay between 3 and 4 eggs at 48 hour intervals. The risk of egg failure is high according to Dr Nicola Hemmings of the University of Sheffield: "Hatching failure is a common general, a small proportion of eggs (i.e. 1-2%) remain unhatched, but occasionally entire clutches fail. The extent of hatching failure varies markedly across birds and tends to be higher in endangered species. This year (2015), the Sheffield Peregrines experienced a fairly high level of loss: 50% hatching failure." In other words, there are no guarantees...

13 April 2017- A jackdaw and a plucky pigeon pay a call

Since the eggs have been laid we have seen pigeons and jackdaws strolling around on the balcony collecting sticks. These smaller birds are generally only in danger from the peregrines when airborne but we’re not sure visiting the nest is a risk we’d take if we were a pigeon. This pigeon is bold enough to inspect the eggs up close. The dangerous visitor is the jackdaw, who will steal eggs. This one is content to collect sticks for nesting, though he should beware. Jackdaws are on the peregrine’s regular menu.

14 April 2017 - What a surprise...a fifth egg

Just when we thought laying was over, this happened... a fifth egg. The first egg was laid on 31 March, the second egg before dawn on 2 April, the third between midnight and 06:00 on 7 April, the fourth on 11 April and the fifth was spotted on Good Friday,14 April. The five day gap between egg two and three threw us. Generally peregrines lay every two to three days, producing between three and four eggs. The female only starts incubating the eggs when her clutch is almost complete and incubates them for around 29-35 days.

20 April 2017 - A pigeon dices with death

Well, not really. We've been fascinated by the fact that pigeons seem to be happy to visit and even approach the nest when the peregrine is in residence. This is probably because falcons only hunt in flight, so when a peregrine is on the nest it doesn’t represent a risk. Still rather a bold move, we think.

25 April A shift change at the nesting box

Although the female does most of the incubating, the male peregrine plays his part and this year we have noticed that he seems to have been a particularly attentive father. You can see here how much larger the female is than the male. Females are noticeably heavier than males and have relatively larger feet and larger talons.

1 May 2017 - Bank holiday weather :(

When Bank Holiday weather is bad it is miserable but spare a thought for our peregrines at times like this. On the Mayday Bank Holiday it was really wet and cold up on the Tower. Weather can affect the incubation period with cold weather slowing things down. We were surprised to learn that when incubating, the peregrines often leave their eggs uncovered to go off, particularly if the weather is fine.

11 May 2017 - Releasing the female after satellite tagging

This year we took the unusual step of tagging and ringing the female peregrine, and Gary Price, our Clerk of the Work, named her Sally. Dave Anderson, the specialist who tagged Sally, kept her calm by hooding her. We also ringed our male peregrine, Sebastian, because he was too light to tag. We hope that the rings and Sally's satellite tag will help us to learn more about our falcons and, to some extent protect them.

17 May 2017 - Too many eggs for Sebastian

We have noticed during incubation that Sebastian, our adult male peregrine, seems to find it hard to fit all the eggs underneath him. He shuffles around in an effort to ensure he has everything covered but you can see in this clip that an egg gets pushed out as he hunkers down.

19 May 2017 - First signs of hatching

It is hard to take your eyes off the webcam when hatching is imminent. Emails started flying around the team (forgive the pun) at around 07.30 because someone had spotted a small hole in the egg. Check it out, it's to the right of the screen. The chick chipped away for most of the day, eventually emerging at around 14.00. Hatching can take up to 48 hours. The new chick or ‘eyas' hammers out ahole in the eggshell with a special 'eggtooth' on its beak. New chicks weigh about 2 ounces

19 May 2017 - Our first chick appears

Our first sight of the chick or ‘eyas', which is tiny and not able to sit up or move about easily. This was about 14.30. The parents begin to feed the eyas within the next 24 hours. Day by day the chick will eat and exercise to build its strength. We'll ring this chick when it is approximately three weeks old.

20 May 2017 - A family argument

We caught this domestic tiff on one of the Tower balcony cameras, which looks away from the nest box, down the walkway to where peregrines keep their larder. An adult peregrine eats around 70 grams or 2.5 ounces of food per day. Peregrines eat mainly birds and pigeons are standard fare. When they are hunting, peregrines fly above their prey, then fold back their wings and dive down at speeds of up to 200mph, often striking their victim dead on impact. This dive is called the stoop. Sometime they grab a bird in mid air. This explains why pigeons stroll past the nest nonchalantly. The peregrine only represents a danger when in flight.