Why are peregrines here, in the centre of a city?
Peregrines like to nest on the ledges of steep cliffs, by the sea or in the hills. Their natural food is the rock dove, from which feral pigeons are descended. They are very fond of cathedrals because they are similar to cliffs and because there is a ready supply of feral pigeons.
Are the peregrines wild birds or were they introduced?
They are wild birds. We have no idea where the female came from but the male has a ring on his right leg. He was ringed on 16 May 2014 at St George’s Church, Sheffield and was obviously attracted to our first nestbox. This box was identical to one in which peregrines bred on at St George’s Church.
Have I seen a peregrine in my garden?
No! The bird of prey that visits gardens frequently to hunt small birds is the sparrowhawk. Many members of the public tell us that they have had one of our peregrines in their garden but peregrines just don’t behave in this way. Some people have pictures that they have taken and they are always pictures of sparrowhawks.
Don’t the peregrines make a nest?
No, peregrines would naturally scrape a hollow in the dirt on their nest-ledge. We provide a substrate of gravel in the nestbox so that the birds can scrape and so that there will be good drainage. When birds attempt to nest on buildings by laying directly onto a hard surface, eggs can roll away and puddles formed during wet spells can chill eggs and young, causing them to die.
What do the peregrines eat?
Peregrines are real specialists, they catch smaller birds in mid-air. We have recorded 35 species being taken by the Wakefield birds but there must be others that have been caught but for which we have not seen the evidence.
Don’t the bells disturb the birds?
No! Turn up the sound on your device when viewing the video clip below.
What is the usual number of eggs?
Peregrines usually lay 3 or 4 eggs. All of the eggs may hatch but it isn’t unusual if one or more do not hatch.
What is the incubation period?
Since the webcam came online, we have been able to observe the Wakefield birds and we have found that the first hatching has taken place 34 days after the laying of the penultimate egg.
Does the male share the incubation?
Yes, he does. He sits on the eggs whilst the female feeds and simply has a break. He often sits for a couple of hours at a stretch and we have seen him incubate for as long as four hours. The female always incubates overnight.
How long are the young in the nest?
The young peregrines remain in the nest for five to six weeks. The Wakefield peregrines start their explorations by jumping up onto the wall above the box before they make their first flight.
They exercise their wings whilst running along the wall.
Do the parents continue to feed the young after fledging?
Yes, and this can be the most exciting time. Our young peregrines tend to use the tops of some nearby blocks of flats when they first fledge. The large and relatively flat surfaces there are easy for them to deal with.
As well as delivering food directly to the young, the adults will circle over the centre of Wakefield whilst being chased by the young. They let the youngsters snatch the food from them or they drop it so that they have to catch it.
For how long will the juveniles stay in Wakefield?
The young birds stay in and around Wakefield for several weeks. They gradually become less dependent on the parents and they roam more widely. At this time, we get the occasional report of juvenile peregrines being seen at nearby nature reserves, such as Pugneys and Wintersett, and these may well be Wakefield birds. It’s hard to say how long it is before they leave because sightings simply become less frequent until they aren’t seen at all.
Where do the young peregrines go?
Peregrine means “wanderer” and the instinct of the young birds is to explore. As peregrines require a suitably tall cliff or building, a young bird will be on the lookout, as it grows, for a vacancy at a suitable site. Peregrine numbers are recovering after the devastating effects of the insecticide DDT and it is becoming harder for young birds to find territories of their own because most are now occupied. They may take over where a bird has died or where a bird is becoming too old to defend it’s position. It is possible that a Wakefield bird could return to Wakefield in future years. As our young peregrines are now fitted with highly visible Darvic rings, we hope to receive news if one of them is seen elsewhere. Peregrines from other urban sites have been spotted far from their home cities – sometimes more than 100 miles away.
Where do the adults go in winter?
The adults do not leave Wakefield. They stay on the cathedral and they continue to defend their territory against intruding peregrines. The diet of the peregrines becomes particularly interesting in the autumn, when they catch a variety of migrating birds, such as woodcock, golden plover and fieldfares.