2021 Peregrine Diary

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

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28 June 2021 

The two young chicks are still being seen around the Cathedral with Winnie training them to catch prey. It’s a joy to watch. However, we had some sad news last week. Unfortunately, the other female peregrine chick who was sick has not survived. We received the news from the hospital manager at the Hawk Conservancy that despite their best efforts, the infection around her beak had advanced to an extent that she couldn’t be saved. She had an infection called Trichomoniasis. This is also found in pigeons and poultry and can be called Canker or Frounce. When birds of prey get this it is often very serious, especially in young birds.

So we have just two chicks this year, which is what many Peregrine pairs rear. We did so well to have five chicks last year!

If you are visiting, look up and hope to see a Peregrine – the chicks will be training for a few more weeks before going off on their own.

One of our Peregrine chicks out and about. (Brian Cooper)


23 June 2021 

The first thing we want to do this week is to tell you that after consultation with many people in Winchester we have decided to name our new male Peregrine as “Alfred”. This was a popular choice with people, partly because of the historical links between Winchester and Alfred the Great, who was King of the West Saxons from 871 to about 886, and who died in Winchester. We hope that Alfred will stay, and that Winnie and Alfie become a long-term pair. 

We have been seeing less of our two chicks as they learn more flying skills and follow Winnie for their next meal. Those who have been lucky have witnessed impressive food passes from Winnie as she trains them to catch prey in flight. 

The third chick is still being treated for her illnesses, but we are pleased to report that she is responding to treatment. Now that she has been in care for some time it will be necessary to teach her to fly and hunt for herself, and we will be placing her with a sympathetic falconer who will do that with the aim of releasing back into the wild. Being realistic, this may be months away.   

There is less to report on with our Peregrines since they are now leaving the Cathedral for much of the time. They do appear on most days, and you can often hear their calls, so if you are near the Cathedral, you may still see them.   

Introducing Alfred!


14 June 2021

The two Peregrine chicks and Winnie have been flying around a lot and making plenty of noise. 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. Winnie has been making the chicks chase her for food and that is part of the training process which teaches them the skills to hunt. See the photo by Sarah Walton.

Winnie training her chicks – photo by Sarah Walton 

 

Meanwhile our new male is still around and seems to be fitting in and this week we have a photo of him flying around by Steve Clift.

The new male – photo by Steve Clift

 

The female chick that went into care is responding to treatment and we hope to have an update on her later in the week after she has been seen by the vet.

All of us who watch Peregrines have long speculated that their large teardrop eye markings probably improve their ability to target fast-moving prey in bright sunlight. However there has been no scientific study to prove this until now. New research suggests that these markings have evolved according to how sunny the bird’s location is. A study by researchers in South Africa used over 2000 photos of Peregrines from 94 regions of the world and scored the size of the dark stripe for each bird. The results showed that the stripes were larger and darker in regions of the world where sunlight is stronger. And it’s an evolutionary trait mimicked by some top athletes who smear dark makeup below their eyes to help them spot fast-moving balls in competitive sports! Peregrines got there first!

Finally – the Peregrines were on ITV Meridian News last week with interviews featuring Ian James, Virger at Winchester Cathedral and County Ornithologist, Keith Betton. If you missed it, click this link:


7 June 2021 

It has been a busy week for our Peregrine family with good news and bad. On the good side, two chicks have learned to fly. The male chick made an early crash landing among some startled sunbathers on the grass and was picked up and returned to the nesting gully. His early flying experience probably taught him to wait a bit longer because he did not leave the gully again until Saturday, and the next day one of his sisters took her first flight. Both made it to safety (see our photos). Sadly the other female chick has been looking really poorly and we have been wanting to get her to a vet for tests – and that happened on Sunday when she ended up on the grass. The initial diagnosis is not good at all. She has lesions in her mouth preventing her from eating and also two different types of parasite making her unwell. The Hawk Conservancy are taking care of her and we very much hope she can recover although the odds are stacked against her.  

This week the Peregrines will be featured on ITV Meridian News, so look out for that. 

On Monday 14 June at 1900 hrs we have arranged a talk via Zoom where Keith Betton will talk about this year’s Peregrine activities showing photographs from our web cameras. He will take questions from the audience – Book your place on this informative online talk here

Even though he’s only been flying for a day the male seems to have got the hang of it! (Photo by Steve Grundy)

One of the female chicks practices running and jumping on the gully wall (Photo by Sue Thomas)


28 May 2021 

Nature moves faster than we imagine, and the process of loss and grieving (if there is one in most birds) is overruled by the need to move on and reproduce. Winnie is quite a catch for a male Peregrine, with a highly attractive nesting location.

Last week a young male Peregrine born on St Mary’s Church in Andover in 2019 started to pay her visits. At first he was rebuffed – she is a busy mother with three chicks to feed. But this male has played the long game – sitting on Winchester College. That is near enough to get noticed but far enough away to be a menace. His long-term planning has worked, and yesterday he was allowed to join the family in the gully. He even sat up on the gully wall while Winnie fed the chicks (see our photo). This is a sure sign that he has been accepted by Winnie as not being a threat, and indeed he may help her by providing food. He clearly is interested in settling down, indicated by his half-hearted attempts at nest-scraping (lowering his body to the floor and doing a little shuffle). This is his way of showing that he has breeding on his mind – although he is both 3 months late and 9 months early as Winnie will not breed again this year. 

Other excitement this week has been accompanied by angst as we watched the largest female chick jump/flap up onto the gully wall a few times (see our photo). Of course, this what we need to have happen, but it always worries us when we see them wobbling a bit. The instinct in birds to fly is like the instinct in us to walk. Mostly the birds wait another week until they have strong wings before taking the plunge and flying off the gully, and if one does fall it will instinctively know to spread its wings to prevent a hard landing. The Cathedral staff are aware of this risk and are ready to return the chicks to the gully if their confidence exceeds their abilities! 

The new male

The adventurous female


Monday 24 May 

It has been a sad week for all of us. We lost our male Peregrine, Chester, who died at the beginning of the week, being under-weight and unwell, but thankfully not injured.  

He had been with Winnie since at least 2013 when Hampshire Ornithological Society helped them by placing a nesting box on the former Police HQ. Chester had been father to at least 25 chicks in his time – ensuring that not only was he replaced, but his species has spread far and wide from Winchester. Only around half of Peregrines live for more than a year, but once they have acquired the skills they need to survive they can live for at least twenty years. We think Chester was at least 12 years old, and maybe quite a bit older.  

With three large chicks in the nest gully Winnie will have to rear them alone, but that should not be a problem for her. In fact, some females lose their mate before the eggs hatch and manage to rear the chicks without any help. Of course, if she does struggle, we will find ways to help her. 

We have also had an extra Peregrine in the town – a male born on St Mary’s Church in Andover in 2019. He has been around for at least a week and has passed over the Cathedral a few times and was chased off by Winnie on Wednesday afternoon when he landed by the nest. Thankfully, our initial concerns that this was an aggressive female were unfounded. Being just two years old he will never have nested and he probably wants to settle down.  

Single Peregrines do wander in search of mates and for all we know, he could end up being Winnie’s new partner in a few months. However, for now she will focus on rearing her chicks before allowing any strangers to visit.  

Thank you for all your kind and supportive messages in the last week. The huge response on social media shows how just many people care about our wildlife. Chester was much loved by the people of Winchester – and he will not be forgotten. Here he is feeding one of his chicks in 2019. 

Chester feeding one of his chicks in 2019


19 May 2021

Sad news about our male Peregrine

We were really saddened yesterday when our staff discovered that a Peregrine had died and was found in one of the gullies when doing their rounds. It was an adult male and appears to be Chester, who was not seen at all yesterday. We have arranged for a post mortem to be undertaken by a specialist vet – this is normal in such circumstances for rare birds of prey.

It is natural to worry about the future of the chicks, but Winnie should be able to rear them on her own. She is strong and is more than capable of bringing in plenty of food alone especially now that the chicks are getting their feathers and don’t need her to be around as much. Since Chester paired up with Winnie in 2011, he has fathered 25 chicks to the flying stage (15 of these at the Cathedral), so although this news is very sad, he has more than replaced himself on the planet, and has helped his species recover from the days when Peregrines were extremely rare. We will continue to monitor the nest to make sure that should Winnie be struggling we can find ways to help out.

R.I.P Chester


17 May 2021

The chicks are nearly 4 weeks old now and are starting to explore the gully although at the weekend they thought better of that with all the rain! Their feathers are starting to appear, and these are covered by protective covers (called sheaths) as they emerge. Each chick was given two leg-rings last week and these will allow us to monitor them in the future. In addition to a metal ring each has a larger orange plastic ring with three large letters that you can sometimes read using a telescope or telephoto lens.

There are two females and one male – and he is the smallest. Males are always smaller than females, and in later life that is a good thing because it means that they chase different sizes of prey and don’t compete for food with their chosen partner. Also, males can bring in small food items when the female is feeding tiny chicks.

In the next week, we can expect the chicks to become even more adventurous as their legs become stronger and they don’t have to waddle around like penguins. However, with more rain forecast they may prefer the drier conditions up on the tray. It has been impressive how Winnie and Chester have been trying to keep the chicks dry (and warm) in these unexpected conditions. In the wild these birds live on mountains and sea cliffs as far north as the Arctic Circle, so they are tougher than they look.

The orange ring details for anyone who would like to follow the birds:

VAS – Female
VCS – Female
VJS – Male

The male chick, much smaller than his sisters.

Ian James, the Cathedral Verger, looks after one of the chicks during the ringing process.

One of the female chicks.

The male chick.

Each chick now has a small metal ring and a larger orange plastic one to allow identification from a distance.

The chicks were quite calm during the process – their first (and hopefully last) meeting with humans.

The chicks are all ringed and in good shape!


10 May 2021

The chicks are all almost 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. Despite their size, the chicks were trying to get underneath Winnie last week as the hail came down on several days (see our photo).

On Saturday 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. After it failed to get up the slope on its own Winnie grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and yanked it up! Within a week they will be all over that gully but today was too soon!

Friday is going to be 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. The camera will be off while we do this – just for a short time. This check 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!

Because of this work we know that one of the 2019 chicks is regularly visiting Romsey Abbey – and he also spent two months on St Andrews Church in Farnham. Clearly he recognises churches as his home. There is a growth in evidence that Peregrines born at a particular type of nest site will go back to something similar when ready to breed. In many ways we are no different ourselves! We also know that 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.


4 May 2021

Our three chicks are doing well and are all about the same size. The fourth egg will not hatch now and will probably get pushed off the tray by the others as they jostle for food. We won’t know the sex of these chicks for sure without seeing them close – but as they get a bit older the females in the brood will be larger than the males.

This week will be quite testing for the birds with high winds and rain. Although the parents will leave the chicks on their own, they will protect them as best they can from the rain – although the growing chicks are quite hard to cover! Things will remain the same at the nest most of the time with more food arriving and the chicks growing fast.

Winnie and Chester have been together since at least 2011 and Peregrines mate for life. However, if one of the pair dies, the surviving bird will accept a replacement mate sometimes as soon as a week after its mate died – in fact, the record for this is only two hours! If the male dies at this stage of the breeding season the female will keep going and usually succeeds.

This week’s photograph shows Winnie keeping her chicks as warm as she can on a windy and rather chilly May Bank Holiday.

Winchester Cathedral Peregrines - May 4


26 April 2021

Although Winnie laid four eggs it looks as only three are going to hatch. This is quite common with Peregrines because they incubate the first three eggs from the same point, the last egg laid is always at least two days behind the others. Usually Winnie still managed to hatch that (and she is still incubating it), but as it is having to share the space under her belly with three wriggling chicks it is now unlikely to 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. Most parent birds tend to respond to demands for food from the most pushy chicks. 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 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 very close to 50/50.


21 April 2021

We have babies!

The first two Peregrine chicks have hatched overnight and here you can see one with the other hidden. The other two eggs should hatch today or tomorrow. Winnie had been very edgy for the last day and that will have been because the chicks start calling from inside the unhatched eggs in the day before they are about to break free. Chester has also been around a lot so he will have been aware of the changes. Winnie has been eating the empty eggshells to get rid of them – but it also provides her with useful calcium.

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!

Feel free to ask questions about our new residents by emailing keithbetton@hotmail.com.


20 April 2021

Exciting times at the Cathedral as we anticipate our four Peregrine eggs to be hatching around the 20-22 April. To celebrate this, Keith Betton will be giving a talk about our Peregrines, providing a wealth of information about their history in Winchester, and also about Peregrines in general.

The talk will be held on Thursday 22 April at 19.30 on Zoom – and is completely free. Unfortunately all spaces have now been booked, however recordings of the talk will be available after it has taken place via the website.

If you have any questions about the Peregrines, please send them to keithbetton@hotmail.com


12 April 2021

We are now just over a week away from the hatching of Winnie and Chester’s eggs. Several people have emailed to ask if the Peregrines feel the cold, like we do, on days like this with snow in April.

Like us, all birds are warm blooded, which means their bodies maintain a constant temperature. They are well insulated by having feathers and they take great care to keep these in good order. One adaptation shared by many animals is the ability to keep warm blood circulating near vital organs while allowing extremities to cool down. A lot of larger birds have this adaptation which is called “rete mirabile” where the arteries that transport warm blood into the legs lie in contact with the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. It’s a clever system. Also you may notice that Peregrines sometimes stand on one leg on cold days and by doing this the bird reduces by half the amount of heat lost through its feet and legs.

Peregrines have large feet from a very early age, and these are really important to them as they are their killing tools. They may well tear food with their beak, but it is the feet that do most of the damage. This week’s photo shows Winnie and Chester’s chicks from 2014 with their huge feet already well developed. This was on the Police HQ that used to be on Romsey Road. We should have chicks like these in our nest in about four weeks.

Next week will be exciting for them (and us) as the chicks hatch. They should hatch in the order they were laid, with eggs 1 and 2 within a day of each other and eggs 3 and 4 later. Winnie will keep these tiny chicks warm while Chester brings in small food items. He may not always bring these to the nest as sometimes he puts them nearby for Winnie to collect.

 

Keep your questions coming – keithbetton@hotmail.com


8th April 2021

So now we know Winnie and Chester are sticking with a clutch of four eggs this year. This is the normal number for Peregrines and allows them to feed each of the chicks with less chance of any going hungry.

As you can see from our photo, Winnie has been amazing at incubating her eggs and barely leaving the nest – just occasionally for a quick feed. She is usually back within 20 minutes. With the current cold weather, she will be determined to keep the eggs warm by gently pressing them close to her brood patch – an area of featherless skin on the underside of her belly which is only there in the nesting season. Feathers act as insulators so if they did not have this brood patch, they would not be able to share their warmth with the eggs. When either of them walks on the nest tray you will see that they clench their talons to avoid pricking any of the eggs by mistake.

Like all female Peregrines, Winnie does the overnight shift on the eggs because this is when they are most at risk from getting cold. With embryos developing inside any chilling of the eggs can be fatal to the unhatched chicks.

The first egg should hatch in the week beginning 19 April. The others normally hatch 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. Winnie is an outstanding mum who usually hatches all her eggs regardless, so we think she will have a brood of four chicks.

Feel free to post questions about the Peregrines to keithbetton@hotmail.com


22 March 2021

Winnie has now laid four eggs (the latest arrived yesterday) and we’ll now have to wait and see if she goes for five again – as in 2020. But it’s likely that she will stick with four which is the normal clutch size for a Peregrine.

She is now in full-on incubation mode which usually starts with the third egg, and for the next month she will barely leave the nest, just occasionally for a quick feed. She is usually back within 20 minutes. Chester is around of course, and this week’s photo shows him covering the eggs as Winnie returns from a break. We now think the hatch date will be somewhere around 22/23 April because of the delay in Winnie laying her second and third eggs.

People watching the cameras at night have commented that although Winnie does seem to sleep, she is also very alert, only closing her eyes for a few seconds. Peregrines at the nest mostly sleep with one eye open, and only half of their brain is alert while the other half is asleep. This is called Unihemispheric Slow-Wave Sleep (USWS) and it allows Winnie to spring into action quickly if a threat approaches, but she is still able to snooze sufficiently if no threat arises. Aren’t birds brilliant?


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


18 March 2021
After an agonizing five days Winnie laid her second egg on Monday, and the third egg has arrived today. Having laid her first egg well ahead of schedule this delay to the second egg means she is now closer to her laying routine of 2019 and 2020. That said, we do wonder if her levels of calcium have run a bit low and maybe it is taking her body longer to create the eggshell for her eggs.

Also, as our photo shows, Winnie has now started full-time incubation which will see her keeping the eggs warm for a full month with just a few breaks. It may also mean that her clutch will be just three or four eggs rather than the five she laid last year. During this time Chester will occasionally take a turn covering the eggs and we have been pleased to see him a few times this week. If the clutch is as large as five eggs it can be hard for the male to cover the eggs as he is smaller than the female.

The average size of the eggs is 51mm x 41mm. They are usually a warm brown in colour, but often there is individual variation within the clutch, and the final egg can sometimes be a lighter shade.


15 March 2021 

The last few days have been very confusing. Winnie laid her first egg on 10 March, a week ahead of schedule. Peregrines do not usually start full-time incubation of their eggs until the third or fourth egg has been laid, so we expected the second egg to arrive on 12 March and the third egg on 14 March….. but nothing happened! Winnie has been on and off the nest, guarding her one egg at night and acting completely normally – except that she has not laid any more eggs. 

It is hard to be sure about what is happening here, but it may be that Winnie is waiting to get her egg-laying back onto her normal schedule, which would mean that she will start laying again this week. It is also possible that her body is currently low in calcium which she needs to make the eggshell. She has been eating quite lot of the grit in the last two days which may be a sign that she is trying to build up her reserves. Or it could be that she is just not in top condition this year and is having to take things slowly. Fingers are crossed that she manages to complete her clutch this week.  

We have not seen Chester on camera since the first egg arrived, although he was very attentive that day. Some people have been worried about this, but we think it is likely that he is keeping watch nearby. Hopefully, this week will result in more eggs and the reappearance of Chester on the cameras! 


12 March 2021
Friday 12 March 2021

We are expecting Winnie to lay her second egg today.

Lots of people are asking why Winnie is not incubating her first egg. Don’t worry – it’s all part of her plan. Think of it like preparing a meal and having several things that need heating up. If you start heating them all as soon as you prepare them, you’ll end up with things being ready at different times, so it is better to have a plan where everything reaches the right temperature at the same time.

So, waiting to start incubation is her way of ensuring that at least half of the eggs hatch at the same time – over maybe 2-3 days and not 6-7 days.

She can decide when to start incubating her eggs. Once she starts doing that the embryos will begin to grow so then she needs to keep sitting on them with just a few short breaks. Sometimes Chester will take over at this point, but not always. In fact, last year he seemed to enjoy doing the incubation too much and Winnie returned, and he refused to let her take over!

Probably she will properly incubate from Sunday onwards. Usually, she will start full incubation with the third egg. However,if it rains a lot, she will cover the eggs. She is a great parent – and we have known her for nine years in Winchester.

Feel free to ask questions – keithbetton@hotmail.com


10 March 2021

Winnie and Chester have been getting ready for the big event – the first egg – and today it was laid at 1425 on a cold windy day. This is a week earlier than usual.

They have been seen mating a few times and that will continue even after the eggs have been laid as a way of reinforcing their bond.  Owen Crawhaw managed to get a great photo of them.

Winnie is the one who spends a lot of time by the nest, but Chester is around and recently he helped to see off two other Peregrines who may have been prospecting for a nest site. While other Peregrines can pass over they are not allowed to stop! The nearest that a pair will tolerate another pair is around a mile.

We are expecting the first egg to hatch on 20 April


22 February 2021 

In the last week Winnie and Chester have made brief visits to the nest every day and have been checking that the nest “dent” is still there. On several occasions Winnie has been eating the gravel in the nest tray. Both birds do this to help clear any fatty deposits in their digestive tract that may be building up from the meat that they eat. This week’s photo shows Winnie doing that. 

In 2020 the first egg appeared on 16 March – so make a note to keep watching that day. Eggs are often laid just after sunrise. 


15 February 2021

It’s nearly spring so the cameras are on! Winnie and Chester are around so we can expect to see them visiting the nest tray more and more in the coming weeks. At this stage they can occasionally be seen bowing to each other, but in particular look out for them making a dent in the soft shingle. Either bird (but mostly Winnie) will push their breast against the shingle and push forward to make a dent. They do this most days – and apart from making the dent it reinforces their relationship with the nest. It’s like us dusting a room when it doesn’t need it!

By mid-March we expect Winnie to be laying eggs – and last year she laid five – which is exceptional. Feel free to ask questions about what you are seeing by emailing me at keithbetton@hotmail.com

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