2020 Peregrine Diary

Keith Betton and Richard Jacobs from the Hampshire Ornithological Society will be updating us regularly with how the Peregrines are progressing.

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14 July 2020
As we get into July the young are flying much more now, and with confidence and about now we will see the parents try aerial foot-to-foot transfers of prey to their offspring. Often the food items will be dropped by the clumsy chicks and the adults will have to try and catch these before they hit the ground. But the young quickly become skilled at taking the food, often turning upside down beneath the parent at the moment of exchange. The young chase their parents with or without prey and they do a good deal of calling, and the intensity of the whine probably indicates the level of hunger! Already the young are chasing each other and playing `hunting games’ in the air, soaring and circling near the Cathedral and then stooping at each other. Frequently one of them rolls on its side or back in defensive posture as the other closes with it, and sometimes there is talon grappling. We can also expect other birds such as Carrion Crows and Buzzards to be ‘buzzed’ both in the air and at rest by the chicks. These aerial games have an element of play but serve to develop the power of flight and the fine degree of coordination between sight and muscular response which is so necessary if the young Peregrines are to survive the critical few months when alone in the world.
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23 June 2020
The Peregrine chicks and their parents have been flying around a lot and making plenty of noise. It is hard to know how many of the chicks have made it this far – but at least four and possibly five still. It is an amazing feat to rear five chicks especially when the first four hatched well ahead of the other. Not many Peregrines would bother to keep that extra egg warm. The chicks are definitely getting better at flying and they are play-fighting which helps them to improve those skills. It can also get them into trouble, so the risks of one crashing or getting stuck somewhere have not gone away yet.

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8 June 2020

Well, it has been a busy weekend for everyone – both birds and humans!

On Friday, our first Peregrine to fly did so slightly ahead of schedule when it slipped from the gully wall and ended up on the grass below the Rose Window. One of the Cathedral staff carefully returned it back up to the gully…. only for it to fall off again a few minutes later! Yet again it was taken back up to safety when it or another was blown down to the grass. After the third rescue these birds started to understand their capabilities a bit better and those that departed afterwards managed to land on nearby ledges, although one spent an age on a steeply sloping wall.

By Saturday, four of the chicks had gone from the nest site leaving just one on its own. Winnie did not ignore it and provided food while it worked out what to do next. That chick (presumably the youngest) is now ready to make its first move too, although as of today it was still looking a bit unsure about what to do. We know that at least four chicks managed to reach places of relative safety and the parents were keeping watch while much of this chaos was unfolding. Indeed, plenty of well-wishers were watching too from the Cathedral perimeter including 15-year-old Harvey Webb who was lucky to be close to where one of the chicks landed on the grass.

Over the next week the chicks will quickly become stronger fliers and although they will stay close to the Cathedral, they may follow their parents over to the former St Thomas’s Church on occasions. But they will often be visible perched in several places around the north side of the Cathedral, although it is unlikely that you will see them from the nest cameras.

 

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1 June 2020

The five chicks are all doing well and have transformed in just a week from white balls of fluff to feathered beings! They are keen to exercise their wings and this morning the first one to be brave has managed to get up onto the gully wall. These are risky times and this is when they are most at risk from falling or getting trapped in a place from which there is no escape. Their inquisitive minds can get them into trouble. The first flights will be any day now, and in a week or two the parents will start to train them in hunting skills, flying past with food and taunting the chicks to follow to try and catch the dangling food!

Don’t worry if you can’t see any Peregrine chicks. They are busy exploring their surroundings and the gully allows them to disappear around the corner out of sight. The birds appear one minute and are gone the next!

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27 May 2020

The chicks are all between 4 and 5 weeks old now and are exploring the gully and exercising their wings – and their legs! They were all given leg-rings last week and these will allow us to monitor the birds in the future. Each bird has an orange plastic ring with three large letters that you can often see using a telescope or telephoto lens. There are three males and two females:

PZJ – female

PSJ – female

PAL – male

PXJ – male

PVY – male (the youngest!)

In the next week we can expect the birds to become even more adventurous and eventually they will take their first flights up onto the gully wall. This is also a risky time as they are still very unstable.

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20 May 2020

The chicks are all around three weeks old now and although there are a few differences they are getting closer together in size. Any females in the group will outgrow the males within a few weeks. This morning one of the chicks went exploring off the tray ahead of schedule and then had to work out how to use the ramp to get back up. It managed it after a few agonising minutes for all of us watching. Within a week they will be all over that gully but today was too soon!

Tomorrow is a big day for the chicks! We always check on them at this age and carefully give them identification rings to allow their future lives and journeys to be tracked. This is done under a government licence and each chick will get a small metal leg ring with its precise details and a larger orange plastic ring which has big letters and numbers that can be read using a telescope from a distance. We will also be able to try and work out how many males and females there are. At this stage the females have fatter legs!

Peregrines can live for up to 20 years and we recently saw a 13-year old bird that had managed to survive undetected in all that time. We also know from these studies that around half of all Peregrine chicks don’t survive their first year. At least we will have a chance to know where Winnie and Chester’s offspring go to if they are spotted in the future.

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11 May 2020

Our five chicks are doing well, and the smallest one has managed to get his/her share of the food. We won’t know the sex of these chicks for sure without seeing them close up – but as they get a bit older the females in the brood will be larger than the males.

As we expected, the parents have left the chicks on their own for longer periods – in fact for over four hours on Friday afternoon, which resulted in quite a few worries for those watching the webcam. It is mostly likely that both parents were not far away and enjoying the warm weather and taking a rest while watching the nest. With the much colder weather for the next few days the parents will probably go back to keeping the chicks warm.

Things will remain the same at the nest most of the time with more food arriving and the chicks growing fast. We are hoping that they all manage to stay on the nest tray, but expect them to start wandering around the gully in about ten days or so.

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4 May 2020

We have five chicks!

Winnie and Chester have joined an elite group of Peregrines who have managed to hatch all five of their eggs. Most Peregrine pairs only lay four eggs, and even then sometimes just three hatch.

For the rest of this week Winnie will continue to give them her warmth by scooping them up against her breast, but it won’t be long before they are too big to sit on, and at that point she will join Chester in the hunt for food. She will spend the nights with them, sitting next to the nest, probably  on the gully wall.

With lots of food being brought in we can expect the chicks to grow fast. The smallest chick is four days younger than the three largest ones and may struggle to get the attention it needs. Most parent birds tend to respond to demands for food from the most pushy chicks. What we saw last year is that the smallest often has to wait last until its larger siblings have eaten as much as they want. That said, we did notice the smallest chick fighting for attention over the weekend – so that’s a good sign.

Looking ahead, these chicks will look the same as now for the next two weeks, just getting bigger by the day. After that their first feathers will start to grow, and the process from helpless chick to adventurous juvenile will be a remarkably quick one.

We can expect the chicks to leave the nest tray and explore the gully to exercise their wings in their fourth or fifth week and the very first flights should be within two weeks of that. There is a ramp each side of the nest tray which we added this year in the hope that any early wanderers can get back onto the tray if they need to.

Male and female chicks basically look exactly the same but the females are noticeably larger even as chicks, and by the time they are five weeks old we will be able to sex them on that basis. Across all of the nests we have studied the balance between the sexes has been about 50/50, so it is likely to be a 3-2 or 2-3 mix between males and females.

Image is (c) Roy Venkatesh.


1 May 2020

We have 4 chicks now and despite some wet weather Winnie and Chester have valiantly protected their brood from the cold conditions. It is possible that the final egg will not hatch, simply because there are too many chicks under Winnie using up her warmth and the egg may not get enough of that. Winnie will be keeping them warm with Chester bringing in the food for her to rip up into small bits. He may also do some of the feeding if she lets him. For the next week she’ll stay with them, and then she too will go hunting for prey as they grow fast and no amount of food seems to be enough!


 

28 April 2020

And then there were two… Yesterday afternoon this shot of the two hatched chicks was captured.

 

 

 

 

 


 

27 April 2020

Winnie has hatched her first chick this morning. At 1000 hrs she was eating the eggshell – not wanting to waste valuable calcium. The second egg will probably hatch tomorrow. The chicks will be carefully guarded and kept warm by her for the first 7-10 days and then she will leave them to go hunting. Until then Chester will be delivering food on a regular basis, but as the chicks are tiny at this stage we don’t expect to see a lot of him!

 


 

15 April

Winnie has been amazing at incubating her eggs, barely leaving the nest – just occasionally for a quick feed. She is usually back within 20 minutes. Chester is around of course, and at first he tried to incubate the eggs as well but given that Winnie has laid FIVE eggs it is a struggle for him to cover them. Five is a large number and in the 8 years that we have known this pair she has only laid clutches of four before – and in that time they have raised 19 chicks to fledging age. It would be amazing if all five manage to survive – but this is a very experienced pair of Peregrines so there is a chance they will succeed.

The first egg should hatch around the weekend after next. Then the others will hatch a bit later, but perhaps over 2-3 days. Often the last egg to hatch is discarded as the female can’t easily incubate it as well as the chicks.

Feel free to post questions about the Peregrines and we’ll provide the answers here. Send your questions to keithbetton@hotmail.com

 


17 March 2020
Our first egg in the Peregrine nest. This is a day later than last year. The female (shown here) should lay eggs every 2 days now until she has a clutch of 4, but will not cover them regularly until the third egg. She wants to have most of her chicks hatching on the same day and one a bit later. It can be used as food for the others if prey gets scarce. Mark your calendar on 26 April …. when that first egg should hatch.


 

20 February 2020

Despite the wet and miserable weather we are having our Peregrine pair are feeling spring-like as they have been seen mating and they have already made a small hollowed area in the soft gravel in which to put their eggs. We fully expect to see the female sitting on the nest by mid-March and she will probably lay 4 eggs with intervals of 2 days, although she may delay eggs 3 and 4, particularly if it is cold. Do not worry if you see the eggs left exposed at the early stages – the female starts her incubation of around 30 days once egg 3 has appeared.

We will aim to give you regular updates on what we know is happening, although for those 30 days there is not much to tell you as the female will sit tight, leaving only occasionally for a quick feed and some personal hygiene. The male sometimes takes over from the female during these breaks, but as he does not have a brood patch (bare skin that the female presses against the eggs) and he is quite a lot smaller than her, he may only do this for 20 minutes – if at all.

Every now and again we will let you know some interesting Peregrine facts. This week’s fact:

Although Peregrines are loyal to their mate and stay together so long as both are healthy, it is know that at the time of egg-laying the female may mate with other males that are not her partner. Although this must seem rather unfair to us, it means that the gene pool for her babies will be more diverse than if she just mated with her partner.