Chick 1 hatched 8th May AM, Chick 2 8th May probably PM and Chick 3 quite possibly didn’t make it out to til the 9th. As the chicks all shuffled back into the corner it wasn’t possible to confirm for a couple of days that there definitely are 3 chicks.
A week on and we have been able to see that one egg has not hatched but the 3 chicks look well and are growing at the typical (rapid) rate. They were fed nice and promptly after hatching and the male has been bringing in a steady supply of food. The falcon makes it quite clear to him what his job is – he supplies the food, she broods and feeds the chicks – TRF isn’t allowed much time or close contact with the chicks! The lady is the boss here. The third egg has continued to be brooded over the weekend as well as the 3 chicks but this won’t hatch now. It’s been a common feature over the years here of having only 3 out of 4 eggs hatch – one less to worry about and track down once they try to fledge! 4 was a bit of a headache last year!
One week old, the perilous first week out of the way, and fairly benign weather forecast (if a little chilly) you should now be able to watch the chicks grow at a mind-blowing rate over the next 14 days, by which time they’ll have plenty of feathers coming through.
The first chick of 2023 hatched some time overnight, either very late on Sunday the 7th or, more likely, very early on Monday 8th May.
First evidence was between 3 and 4am when the incubating bird started to remove a discarded eggshell. Of course we wouldn’t have known this without Alan (@doggie3132) reviewing his overnight recordings and posting them to YouTube & Twitter. Thanks Alan! A few hours later the tiny white chick was caught on camera for the very first time. The chick received it’s first feed not long after – always a pleasing sight and a vital milestone.
Last year two further eggs hatched in quick succcession. We’ll have to see what transpires this year but there’s no news yet as Chick #1 passes the 12 hours out-of-the-egg mark. The eggs are being exceptionally well brooded and concealed this year so chances of seeing a cracking or a pipping in any of the other eggs are few and far between. After the clutch of 4 finally shuffling into the centre of the platform and into full view towards the end of April, notice how they now appear to be migrating back west towrds restricted views and concealment!
As you’re aware, it was due to concealment that we didn’t even realise that we had 4 eggs until a couple of weeks ago! This year we can only be certain of is the lay date of Egg#1 – way back on 28th March around 3.49am. Everything else is guesswork. Egg#2 was possibly laid on March 31st and Egg#3 on perhaps the 3rd or 4th of April. Egg#4 is a mystery. Full brooding appeared to start after the 2nd egg appeared but that may just be a trick of the mind as it looked at the time that there might only be 2 eggs total this year. Were we seeing what we wanted to see?
Historically at St Georges, the typical interval from last lay to first hatch is 31 – 33 days, with one exception of 36 days in 2020, 32 days being the mode average. So if we count back 32 days from today that gives us a specualtive lay date for Egg#4 of Thursday 6th of April – this would give a perfectly plausible sequence of 28/3 – 31/3 – 3/4 – 6/4, or approx 3 days between each egg – slightly longer than is typical here previously. If brooding did begin at egg 2 then it’s possible that there may be a gap before the next egg hatches. That is of course if any more hatch at all.
Good luck to the 2023 Peregrine family. Let’s hope the weather stays kind this week.
When it comes to egg laying there’s been a bit of guess work all along this spring as the falcon chose to lay her eggs out of sight, sheltered behind the western side of the platform. We don’t have laying times for eggs 2 and 3. In fact we aren’t even sure about days they were laid on, egg 3 in particular took a while to reveal itself to public view! It appeared at one point that we might have only 2 eggs this year. So declaring a 3 egg clutch was always a mere educated guess, and working out a prospective hatch date from there was therefore probably mild speculation.
As you probably already know, brooding birds will turn and move their eggs as they incubate them so that each egg is warmed equally, both within itself and in relation to each other. Just like Penguins in the antarctic, each egg will spend time directly under the parent in the warmest spot and also time on the edge where is has a little less contact with a brood patch and insulation from feathers. The effect of this is the clutch can slowly shuffle across a nest platform like the Peregrines’ home. There’s no restriction as there would be in a nest with carefully constructed sides, like a Blackbirds nest for example, or a Woodpecker’s hole in a tree trunk.
So shuffle east our 2023 clutch of Peregrine eggs gradually did….. until the whole clutch was revealed, and there were 4! A full 11 days after sight of egg 3! Four eggs, not entirely unexpected, but pretty-much unexpected! Very well spotted to Alan who broke the news first on Twitter.
Nobody has a clue when the last egg was laid so predictions of when the first will hatch are beyond guesswork. If there’s typically, historically, 55 -65 hours between eggs being laid then we can add that time to any initial predictions, but it could have been even longer. We said 3rd -7th of May based on a clutch of 3, so lets now say 5th to the 9th. It’s a fun game but there’s no prizes for the winner! And of course there’s never a guarantee that any will hatch at all. To find out, keep watching the webcams
The Peregrines have laid 3 eggs. The first was laid in the early hours of March 28th but we can only guess about the following two. More than ever the Peregrines have tucked the eggs right into the western corner of the platform, frustratingly out of sight. We didn’t get a full sight of the first egg until it was clumsily kicked and moved about the gravel, up to that point we’d only seen a peep of it. The further two eggs have been much harder to spot with only tantalising glimpses. Behavioural cues suggested a second had been laid and perhaps a third but, rather appropriately, visual confirmation of 3 eggs didn’t materialise until Easter Sunday!
This is the least accurate amount of information on lay dates we’ve had since 2012. We suspect egg 2 was laid on 31st March, time unknown. We caught glimpses of it on 1st &2nd April. From that point the birds started to brood properly which they don’t normally do until the penultimate or last egg is laid. It’s probable the 3rd egg had been laid 5, 6 or even 7 days prior to confirmation of its arrival.
Unless there’s another one lurking in the corner it would appear that we’ve got a complete clutch at 3 eggs. If they’re fertile, hatching dates will be a fun guessing game this year…. anytime from perhaps 3rd – 7th May? With the sweet spot being the 5th. From one bank holiday weekend to another. You heard it here first.
March April is a busy time of year for Peregrine news. A statement of the obvious you might think but I’m not referring merely to the phenological rhythms of breeding and egg laying brought on by lengthening days and rising temperatures. In recent years this has been a time of challenge, change and drama for our Peregrines.
Back in 2019, just as our settled pair was in the process of laying eggs, a new female appeared on the scene repeatedly attacking the longstanding female. This strong, larger looking and, quite possibly, younger female took over after days and days of sustained attacks and aerial fighting. The much-loved resident female was not seen again, either chased away or killed. The resulting upheaval left the Peregrine equivalent of confusion, and the laid eggs were left unincubated for long periods of time initially. Neither the surviving male nor the new falcon appeared sure what to do. One egg did hatch eventually but was not tended to in the expected way and died a few hours later.
Whether the adults were acting in response to a recognised weakness in the chick or whether it was a reaction to reject the genes from a now defunct pairing we’ll never know. The result of the turmoil was no chicks fledged for the first time in the story of St George’s.
To much relief, this new paring did breed successfully in 2020. Raising 2 male chicks without too much peril.
By March 2022 this pair were well established and bonded. Barely ever leaving the territory for more than a day or so all year round. Things were looking good and eggs were laid but during this process another intruding Peregrine appeared raising fears of a repeat of 2019. This time the intruder was smaller, a male, and he persistently bombarded the site from the air, battling with both birds as they defended their territory. But he particularly singled out the male. Dived bombing him repeatedly for best part of a week. Plumage clues suggested the new bird was younger and was on the small side of male Peregrine stature but nevertheless he won out. The resident male was chased away, again with no clue as to his fate and now, as happens across the Peregrine world, both of our settled longstanding birds had been usurped and replaced forcibly.
The youth of this new male appeared to be confirmed as he acted around the nest as if he’d never seen an egg before. Unsure what to do with them, looking at them “quizzically,” kicking and standing on them. Nevertheless the female accepted him and despite fears of webcam watchers and despite the obvious stress the birds experience during these upheavals, all 4 eggs hatched and fledged making 2022 one of our most successful seasons ever.
The unseated male was a longstanding bird so may have just been too old to be strong enough to ward off the younger rival. Survival of the fittest. It was an assumption, therefore that the new young male would be around for the foreseeable future…. But not so. In autumn 2022, once the 4 young had left for good, a third adult Peregrine was seen around the tower and on camera with the breeding pair. It was an old friend too!. Bearing the orange leg ring TRF we know this is one of the two males hatched and fledged here in 2020. The birds come and go at this time of year and range about much more so the cameras only catch a fraction of their lives. We can’t be sure what happened but only a matter of weeks after his return, TRF was the only male around and was acting like the master of the territory!
So here we are in the 2023 breeding season with yet another new pairing. The female marking the start of her fifth year on site breeding with a male who is almost 3 years old, who is probably breeding for the first time and who is acting inexperienced in terms of courtship, breeding and behaviour around the eggs. Two birds directly related, not unheard of in Peregrines and a phenomenon again only first revealed by the ringing of birds, the ability to identify them as individuals. An unexpected turn of events. We’ll see what transpires next. We often lament the dearth of sightings of young Sheffield Peregrines once they’ve flown the nest but now here’s one who has survived to breeding age and one who may well become a long term fixture…
Our first egg of the year was laid on Tuesday 28th March 2023 at 3.49am. A bit later than on average but not the latest – that honour goes to 2020 on 29th March, which incidently is the clutch from which our latest male, TRF, came.
Eggs are being laid at urban Peregrine sites across the country, with the first eggs of some London pairs appearing quite early in March whilst other sites such as St Albans and Morden have had to wait until April dawned for eggs to arrive. Others still wait.
The relatively late laying date here may possibly be attributed to the apparent reticence of our male, TRF, to mate with the female. Mating this year took a long time to get properly started and has been less frequent than in previous years. This could be down to TRF’s inexperience. We know that he’s a month shy of his third birthday and the evidence points to this being his first breeding attempt. Inexperience of one or both birds frequently causes problems for Peregrine pairs, from clumsily standing or kicking eggs to leaving them unattended too long allowing them to be predated, as happened to a pair in southern England today. Natural selection can often seem to be a matter of luck, good or bad.
The laid egg has been hard to spot, as often happens it has been tucked away in to the corner of the tray, where there is most shelter from prevailing westerlies. Usually we expect a gap of between 55 – 65 hours between laying. There may well be another egg by now, tantalisingly out of sight. Or there may not be. The inexperience of the male, the fact that this is a first pairing may make events less regular and less predictable. This could be the only egg to arrive.
Welcome to the 2023 Sheffield Peregrine breeding season.
It’s been a long time since we’ve blogged – apologies for the absence. But we’re back and ready to chart the comings and goings at St. Georges this spring. The days are getting longer, we have a pair of birds on the tower, and they’re behaving as we’d expect for this time of year. The birds can be seen on the cameras pretty much round the clock now.
In the coming weeks we hope to bring you up to date on all things Peregrine since we last blogged, with the birds and behind the scenes, including:
an update and summary of the 2022 season
what’s been happening over the winter
news from a recent Peregrine conference we attended
some interesting new science
exciting local Peregrine news
Sheffield Peregrines in the media
Please subscribe to receive the blog straight to your inbox, follow the SheffieldPeregrines and SheffieldBirdStudy Twitter feeds and the SBSG website.
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.
The 2022 cohort of 4 Peregrine chicks were ringed today on Friday 27th May. Ringing went ahead successfully in good weather after being postponed the previous day due to intermittent light showers.
All 4 chicks appear healthy and strong and are growing well and are full of character. Confirmatory signs of what has been observed on camera for the last 3 weeks – i.e. they are being fed regularly and in good quantities. It is not always the case that chicks in a large brood do equally well but these birds all look to be doing well with any size differences being accounted for by relative and gender differences…. more on that later. It is notable how the parents at times divide the prey and the brood up so that each adult feeds two chicks simultaneously. There does not seem to be any squabbling for food or any chick getting left out or pushed aside at mealtimes. Indeed there are times when they’ve eaten so well that the chicks have had their fill and refuse the offer of more. It’s been nice to observe without the dog-eat-dog competition seen in some raptor & owl nests captured on camera.
This plentiful protein supply is allowing them to grow well meaning that, at ringing, the birds were in the expected stage of development where there are now plenty of feather pins and sheaths poking through from their second coat of down, particularly on their tails and wing primaries. The chicks were 21, 23, 23 and 24 days old at ringing.
They each received a metal BTO ring on their right leg and a plastic colour ring on their left leg for ID. The codes on the rings are V3X, V4X, V6X & V7X. A set of standard biometric measurements were quickly and carefully taken such as weight, wing length, footspans, claw lengths, bill to cere etc. These measurements are taken to chart the health of the birds, their progress, and to feed into the ever growing scientific knowledge base about these birds. By these measurements birds can be compared across the country and across the world. The measurements may also be used as a clue to identifying a bird’s gender.
First up was V3X – this was quite a vocal chick, well developed, with plenty of strength and spirit about it, so it was a surprise to find that by the end of the process that this was the smallest of the four in terms of weight and measurements. It’s never a 100% exact science but there’s fair confidence from the data gathered to indicate this little fella is a male.
Second up was V7X. The chicks were processed one at a time, with the other 3 kept calm and out of sight, so it wasn’t possible to make much visual comparison between the birds. However this bird turned out to be by far the heaviest of the 4, at 870g, with the largest foot span claw to claw, 118.1mm. Pretty safe to assume this one is a female.
It’s necessary to work one bird at a time due to the awkward working conditions up on the sloped roof of the tower.
Next was V6X – again a bird over 800g (814g to be exact) but a smaller Claw to Claw than ‘7X. Overall though, assumed to be a female.
Last, but not least, was the chick receiving the ring V4X. At 681 grams, this one is an intermediate weight between the lightest (V3X) and the two heavier birds over 800g. However, the two footspan measurements indicate that this bird falls into the range which would suggest a female. Her foot measurements significantly bigger than V3X, indeed are more comparable to the biggest bird.
It’s not an exact or infallible science though – DNA analysis is the way to determine sex/gender with greater certainty. If V4X is proven to be female then her weight difference could perhaps be accounted for if she was the youngest of the chicks, being the last to hatch, 3 days behind the eldest chick. All her other measurements such as wing length are right up there with the other 2 who might said to be girls with a little more certainty. Perhaps the reason V3X was so alert, strong and didn’t appear small when viewed alone indicates that he was the first to hatch?
All pure speculation or educated guessing but fun to try and solve the puzzle nevertheless.
Nice though to sense that the long run of male chicks has been mixed up a little bit. As a reminder, the only confirmed female chick at St. Georges was “PTA” in 2018 – (DNA wasn’t taken in the early days so the sex of chicks 2012 to 2014 is largely unknown) – I wonder where PTA is now? It would be nice to think she’s a breeding female somewhere….
Once again it was a privilege to see these wonderful birds up close. The ringing and DNA sampling is performed by under the necessary appropriate licences following best practices. Thank you to the ringing and climbing team of Steve, Sarah and Joe for making the operation safe and successful.
Once we left the area, the adult Peregrines were quickly back to the platform and several courses of juvenile Starling were fed to the chicks through the afternoon. Life at St Georges is back to normal again, although look out for wary glances up out of the nest box for the next few days as the chicks wonder what on earth happened for an eventful hour on Friday morning. Their next trip out of the box should be under their own steam at a time of their own chosing. Fingers crossed.
If you cast your mind back to late January, contractors for the Uni installed a shiny new nest platform for the Peregrines. It had been beautifully constructed by the good people in the University to replace the original platform which was starting to become a bit worse for wear from the Sheffield weather. Here it is….
Since that time it has seen mating, egg laying, conquest by a new male and, in the last 2 weeks, four well fed eyases. Here it is now…
Messy isn’t it?
The detritus from what goes in one end (the remains of numerous pigeons, amongst other birds) and what comes out the other (splattered all over the joiner’s handiwork) – gives the platform a very “lived in” look!
Not very pretty but very obvious signs of just how well these 2 adult Peregrines are providing for the 4 chicks. All 4 chicks are growing rapidly and all 4 appear to be getting fed well and fed equally. The Tiercel and Falcon have really stepped up and are being very accomplished parents so far. It’s great to see!