2022. Four Peregrine chicks. Double trouble.
Or perhaps quadruple trouble…?
Prior to any of the chicks leaving the box, I said that this year’s cohort of chicks were my favourite of all the years. I probably say that every year, usually around the time they have lost all their down and all of their first feathers are through. This is when they first look like proper Peregrines and they really start to take an interest in the world around them, they to more than just the next feed, you see them eyeing up the big wide world beyond the nest scrape. I probably say it at this time each year because it’s also long enough time to become attached to the birds, having watched them survive then thrive over 5 weeks.
Last year’s twosome were also my favourites because they looked like cheeky chappies, a double act almost, full of energy and inquisitiveness. This year’s four are my favourites because they’d been just so damn well behaved. Virtually no squabbling, no fighting over dinner, no bullying, all patiently waiting their turn, all being well fed and growing well, a real “family” vibe – “polite,” “well-behaved,” and “tolerant” of one another…. What’s not to like?
One thing which was a bit lacking though, was the expected amount flapping and wing exercising required from young birds contemplating their first flights. Admittedly there’s not a lot of space in the box when there’s four adolescent, almost adult sized birds but I was expecting a fair few squawks and squabbles as four pairs of wings started to thrash about in four falcon-y faces ….but no it was all quite calm and polite. Too calm.
Hark back to 2021: TTH and TXF were stood on the precipice of the platform flapping about like billy-o, the only thing preventing lift off, or a fall, was the vice-like grip of their talons on the wooden batten. They flapped all day, on and off, for days. That hasn’t really been the case this year.
Peregrines at St. Georges have generally started to make their first flight attempts around the 38 day mark. As in 38 days after the first egg hatched. Although it’s impossible to know if the first hatcher is the first flyer. Only on one year (2015) has first flight happened sooner than 38 days but in 3 years it has stretched to the 39th day and 41st day (twice.)
At this point it’s probably worth defining what we mean by fledging and how that might differ from first flight dates. Ground nesting birds like our local Ring Ouzels and Skylarks get out of their nests as quick as they can to avoid predation. They leave the nest, they “fledge” but they don’t necessarily fly. They scarper our of the nest on foot as soon as they’re ready and disperse into the undergrowth.
Our local Curlew and Lapwing chicks are off even quicker. As precocial chicks, they run about and leave nest only a matter of hours after they hatched from their eggs. On the other hand the Blue Tits and Great Tits in your garden bird box have to attempt to fly in order to leave the nest. It’s either that or fall.
As a hop out of the nestbox on to the ledge of the church tower is no great acheivement for the fastest animal on the planet, the dates we are interested in here for our Peregrines are the first flights, or attempts at first flights, on the wing.
For 2022 the 38th day would be Friday 10th June. The day passed without incident.
Saturday 11th June was, unfortunately, rather windy. Unseasonably windy. Not ideal. Male chick V3X felt adventurous and hopped out onto the wooden perch a couple of times to have a good old flap of his wings. This is the proper vigourous flapping we expect to see as the young bird try to gauge just what it takes to get airborne. A good sign of where the bird’s mind is at. Or at leaest it is on a calm day. At 15.37 V3X was flapping so hard he seemed to forget where he was and adjusted his footing on the perch. It was a step into thin air and there was no holding on in the gusting wind. Down he went, colliding with the tower wall on his way out of camera shot. You can view a clip of it here and here.
Was it a flight or was it a fall? Well it hardly looks intentional! It almost seems unfair to count it! However, it will go down as first flight at 39 days. Sure enough V3X was soon reported downed in the churchyard, thankfully uninjured. The University security staff on duty in the Diamond Building did a sterling job of keeping V3X safe and secure until ringer Steve arrived to take him back up to the roof of the tower. The ladies from security were very brave given that they’ve no experience of birds of prey before and a hissing and squawking bird which has a sharp beak and talons can be very off-putting!
I’m sure we’d all like to express our gratitude to them for stepping-up to keep V3X safe. It’s only throught the good-will of ordinary people that the Peregrines in Sheffield survive and thrive. I hope the ladies went home pleased with a job well done and a good story to tell around the dinner table!
Steve of course had met V3X before when ringing the birds, two weeks previously. V3X was the most vocal and feisty on that occassion, so it was no surprise that he gave Steve’s arm a good scratch and peck as a thank you for helping him get home! V3X was deposited carefully on the roof just behind the nest box where he could a) stay safe with no chance of falling whilst he calmed down from his adventure and b) been easily seen and fed by the adults. Returning downed chicks to the nest platform would be incredibly risky – the other chicks would get alarmed and spooked with a strong possibility they’d make a panicked jump out of the nest and fall to the ground. So the chicks are returned to the roof, which doubles as a handy temporary creche.
It was immediately apparent on camera that the 3 siblings could hear V3X on the roof, just above and behind them, and hopefully this vocal contact was sufficient to keep them all calm. V3X eventually made his way back into the box at some point on Monday, nothing wounded other than Peregrine pride.
The wind really couldn’t have come at a worse time and there were similar instances of downed inexperienced birds at other monitored urban Peregrine sites in the north of England. For example, a University of Leeds Peregrine youngster was retrieved wondering around a local garden unable to get back into the air just yet, see here. All’s well that ends well as they say but the drama didn’t end there. Check out this heart-stopping Twitter thread here of 12 tweets from Leeds Birder at University of Leeds Peregrines to see an astounding Peregrine rescue they had to coordinate later in the day. @LeedsBirder @UoLperegrine
Saturday wasn’t the end of the drama in Sheffield either. By the end of the week all of the Sheffield chicks had been involved in a scrape or two.
More of that in part 2, coming soon….