Peregrines have not had an easy time. Because they like to eat pigeons the Government ordered for many to be killed during the Second World War, so that they did not intercept pigeons carrying secret messages. After the war, the side effects of organochlorine pesticides caused a further, more serious decline by thinning egg shells and increasing adult mortality. In fact, until the 1980s Peregrines had disappeared from southern England completely.
After three decades of challenge, the Peregrine started to recover following the banning of some pesticides in the 1980s, and breeding recommenced in Dorset and Sussex. Sightings in Hampshire grew in line with this expansion and in 1993 a pair nested on the chimney of Fawley Power Station. In 1995 a nest was built on a pylon near to Southampton and by 2008 there were nine pairs nesting in the county on a variety of structures and natural sites.
A pair nested twice on the Police Headquarters in Winchester in 2011 and 2012, but as they suffered from exposure to bad weather, the Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) installed a nesting box on the roof in 2013. This pair then nested each year until early 2017 when the building was demolished. Knowing that the birds liked sitting on Cathedral it was suspected that they might try to nest there, and indeed they did – in a gulley in 2017. Sadly, heavy rain flooded their nest. In 2018 HOS asked for permission to install a raised nesting tray in the same gulley and within weeks of this being installed the birds laid eggs in March. Three beautiful chicks were reared and stayed around the Cathedral for much of the summer.
Peregrines are very loyal to their nest sites, and so the Cathedral staff have cleaned the tray in the hope that nesting will take place once again.
Most adult Peregrines remain in their nesting territories throughout the year. Young birds remain with their parents into their first winter but are chased away at the beginning of the new year. Peregrines are more widely distributed outside the breeding season than during it. They often hunt over wide areas looking for suitable prey such as wildfowl and waders on the coast.
The Peregrine is still regarded as being of conservation concern in both a European and a UK context, but after having suffered at the hands of man for many years, this top predator is now benefiting from our protection. At least 25 pairs nested in Hampshire in 2018.
During last year’s season, Canon Roland Riem, Vice-Dean at Winchester Cathedral, said: “We are delighted to hear that the peregrines have decided to raise their chicks at Winchester Cathedral. We are custodians of this great building and part of our mission is to care for the wildlife that inhabits the Cathedral grounds. The peregrines are a new addition to the Cathedral family and we look forward to seeing the chicks grow and develop over the coming weeks.”
Hampshire Ornithological Society
The Hampshire Ornithological Society is a charity with the aims of advancing the education of the public in all aspects of ornithology, promoting research and publishing records of what has been seen. It also supports and encourages the preservation and conservation of wild birds and places of ornithological interest in Hampshire.
As part of HOS’s work on Peregrines, many of the chicks born in Hampshire are given rings to carry for their entire lives. These are so light that they do not affect the birds, but they allow individuals to be identified whenever they are perched. The three chicks from 2018 carry both a metal and an orange ring. They have not been seen since last summer, but that is quite normal as young birds need to find their own places to live. Other chicks from Hampshire have gone as far away as Kent, Cambridge and Dorset.
Keith Betton, Chairman of HOS, said: “It is so good to be able to watch these majestic birds at close range, and to marvel at their ability to fly so fast. They have had a tough time in the past and now it is time to help them. It is great to be working with the Cathedral staff to help these birds.”
‘The Cathedral Virgers wait with eager anticipation for the return of the birds. Once they arrive and start to show interest in the nest site we monitor on a twice-daily basis to observe the nesting habits. We note the dates that the female starts to settle down and spend more time on the nest. We are very careful to note the date of the eggs arriving and then pass this information onwards to Hampshire Ornithologists.
The really special time for us is when the chicks arrive. We had three last year and again a careful note of this date, as it affects when the chicks are ringed, such an important part of the process to help understand these amazing creatures and where they go after. Finally, once the birds have left the site towards the end of the year, we have the wonderful job of trying to clean up the nesting area, because of its location we can only get to a small area to remove the rubbish from the site.’
– Ian James, Virger at Winchester Cathedral
A Timeline of Events
07/02/2019 – Female Falcon and Male Tiercel spotted on the webcam together checking out the nesting box 16/03/2019 – First Egg Laid 18/03/2019 – Second Egg Laid 21/03/2019 – Third Egg Laid 23/03/2019 – Fourth Egg Laid 25/04/2019 – First Egg Hatched at 6.40am, Second Egg Hatched around Lunchtime 26/04/2019 – Third and Fourth Egg Hatched in the early hours
Latest update – please see diary page for all diary entries.
The chicks have grown well and are now three weeks old so the HOS team chose this week to check them over and also attach lightweight rings that will allow them to be monitored through their lives – particularly as the larger of the two rings is orange and clearly marked. Right from being just a few days old female Peregrines are already larger than males of the same age – and now know that we have two male and two female chicks. All four are in great shape even though the two females are rather dominant when food is brought in. Ian James, the Cathedral Virger was able to help with checking the chicks. This is the only time that we touch the birds unless they get into trouble. Later that day (Monday) they did get into a bit of trouble as one of the male chicks ended up off the nest tray and on the floor of the gully. We don’t know if he started to explore and lost his balance but before long his brother was on the floor too! Meanwhile Winnie came in with food and ignored the two absconders, so one of the HOS team went up to the nest and moved the chicks back onto the tray – and they have remained there ever since. They will move off the tray as they grow and get stronger but this was too soon to go exploring.
Peregrine – Five Fasts Facts
The Peregrine is the fastest animal – capable of flying at over 200 mph when chasing prey
Female Peregrines are much bigger than males at 1.2kg compared to 700g
The oldest recorded Peregrine in the UK lived for 21 years
Peregrines usually lay 4 eggs and most manage to rear 3 chicks
About a third of their prey is made up of pigeons and doves
2019 Peregrine Gallery
Below are some wonderful images captured by the HOS and members of the public from this year’s Season (2019). If you capture a glimpse of the Peregrine Falcons, make sure to share them with us on Facebook@winchestercathedral | Twitter@wincathedral | Instagram@winchestercathedral