The Norwich Cathedral Peregrine Falcons

peregrine. norwich 150514 b (4)The story of the Norwich Cathedral Peregrine Falcons began in November 2009 when Nigel Middleton and I responded to a telephone call from an eagle-eyed bird watcher in a building nearby. He’d seen a peregrine perched on the spire. It was a frosty day as we peered upwards through our binoculars. There it was on the third crocket from the top. It was a tiercel, a male peregrine.

A few days later it was joined by a falcon, a female, a much bigger bird. We realised that we were too late to put up a nesting platform for the 2010 breeding season but that we should make plans for 2011. First of all we had to get permission. I went to see the Bishop who gave us his blessing and he warned me that the Fabric Committee would have to OK our plans. We had our own committee – David Gittens (who had engineering experience), Phil Littler (in charge of ringing the birds) and Nigel and myself.

Permission was granted to proceed and on 18th February the platform was passed through a window in the spire and secured in position. Two CCTV cameras were set up to monitor the falcon’s breeding behaviour. A week later the tiercel appeared on the platform and checked it out. Shortly afterwards the falcon joined him and they started bowing to each other. On each up and down they uttered a plaintive wailing call; they were re-bonding. They started making scrapes in the gravel in which their clutch of eggs would be laid.

Then, on 23rd March, disaster struck. A large immature falcon strafed the nest platform driving the resident falcon off. She bonded with the tiercel and on 24th April she laid one egg. Down below on the Cathedral Close The Hawk and Owl Trust had set up a “watch point.” A marquee was erected and volunteers mustered to help the public watch the two falcons and help them understand their behaviour. Sadly, on 6th June, ten days after the egg should have hatched the falcon broke the egg open revealing a dead chick.

peregrine. norwich food pass 310514 b (15)In 2012 the original pair returned and mated. An intruder appeared but they sent it packing. By 30th March the falcon had laid a full clutch of 4 eggs. On May 3rd three of the eggs had hatched, the other was infertile. The tiercel brought in “kills” to the nest platform so that the falcon could feed the chicks 5 or 6 times a day. They grew quickly and at 21 days old were ringed. One of the chicks was found to have a deformed beak. It died later.

At 42 days old the tiercel chick fledged, left the nest platform carefully shadowed by its parents. 8 hours later his sister followed. She ended up in the Bishop’s garden to be greeted by a party of quarrelsome Jays. In a matter of days they were playing a game of aerial tag above the Cathedral and taking “food passes” from the adults. It was a success.

From then on the pair of peregrines bred successfully on our nesting platform on the Cathedral spire. Two chicks were fledged in 2014 and three in 2015.

The Hawk and Owl Trust peregrine “watch point” at the Cathedral close will be opened to the public from 23rd March onwards.

We always need volunteers to man the “watch point.” If you are interested please ring Carolyn at The Hawk and Owl Trust on 01328 856788.

The two excellent photographs accompanying this “blog” were taken by Andy Thompson.