A Big Weekend?

Well the weekend didn’t get off to the most auspicious start when at Friday teatime one of the youngsters got it’s aim all wrong and showered its parent in projectile poo!  The weather was pretty foul also throughout Friday although maybe the disrespected parent bird was glad of some rain to help wash the mess away!  It was very murky again at first light on Saturday – not much light could be seen at all beyond the nest platform.  There was a big meal brought in at one point on Friday afternoon, looked like it may possibly have been something more varied than a pigeon but there was that much rain on the camera lens it was pretty hard to tell.

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The crime scene was captured by @doggie3132

As predicted TNF followed TRF on making trips out of the nest box onto the stone ledge during the day on Friday and then onto the perch a little later.  TRF then went one further by starting to go up on to the top of the nest platform and has done so frequently on Saturday morning.  If you look at the wide camera and can only see TNF, then check for a pair of feet poking into the top of frame as this is where TRF is likely to be found!  I guess if they were Owls or Kites or Buzzards nesting in a tree, this exploratory hopping out of the nest phase would be classed as “branching?”

It’s interesting to see the difference between the two youngsters with TRF clearly being the bolder, the first to explore the boundaries.  After hatching only hours apart TRF and TNF have grown at similar rates, been fed regularly and pretty equally and have shared food with remarkable good grace and sibling tolerance.  There’s nothing physical to distinguish between them so we are probably seeing  the slight differences in their “character” now.  Or whatever the avian equivilant of character is.



They really do act like twins.  It’s hilarious seeing them stood watching the world side-by-side on the edge of the box, their heads moves in unison, looking up, down and all around as the parent Peregrines or the birds circle the tower.  It’s as if their two little heads are joined by a piece of string!  They don’t miss a thing.  They are very observant and inquisitive and there’s something just magical about the matt blue hue around their eyes.  A blue which will eventually give way to yellow when they reach full adulthood. They huddle together for warmth, they shelter from the rain together, they stand and gaze together, they eat together.  It’s great to see. Hopefully they will stick together when they take to the skies and learn to hunt and survive for themselves.

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Blue eyed twins

Today is the 38th day since they hatched early on the morning of May 7th.  In most previous years the time from hatching to first flight has been 38 or 39 days*, so this weekend is the time to keep a closer eye on the cameras than ever.

*there was a 35 day wind assisted “fledging” in 2015.

I expect TRF will be the first to take to the wing.  Don’t expect too much, it will likely be clumsy and short, and lets hop it’s controlled enough so neither of them ends up on the ground.  On the other watched urban nests birds have been jumping off (before they were properly ready) left right and centre this week.  Grounded birds have been found and hurriedly returned to the roof at Wakefield, Norwich and multiple times at York Minster.  Once they have made that first tentative leap, with a bit of luck they will land on one of the tower ledges or the main church roof so will be harder to spot for a day or two.  Once they start to get a bit stronger and more in control they then can often be seen on the cameras more often again as they return to the platform for meals.

Of course we may have to wait a few days more yet, adventurous as these two seem they probably need to build up further wing strength with more vigorous flapping than we’ve seen so far and the foul weather is a disincentive too.  Now more than ever is the time to be glued to your screens.

Please Tweet if you see a bird take flight and tag @SheffPeregrines and @ShefBirdStudy to let us all know.  If you see that a bird has landed at ground level or is in peril for any other reason please call the University of Sheffield Security Team on 0114 222 4085 so they can secure the area and notify the relevant people.


Nap time







Asleep on the edge

TNF snoozing

Here’s TNF having a snooze whilst stood right on the edge of the platform. It’s a 130ft drop down below!

It’s just goes to show how strong the eyases have become that they can stand there, rock solid, confident, nonchalant even. The grip exerted by their feet and talons anchoring them to the wooden edge. No wonder those talons make such light work of snatching and dispatching their prey once they take to the skies. It even looks like TNF is standing on one leg! Although that may be just the camera angle.

TNF’s head was even jerking about in his/her slumbers. Do Peregrines dream I wonder?

Who’d have thought watching them perch and do nothing would be so addictive? They look more stunning each and every day. Even in this gloomy weather.

Now you see them…


“On the edge…” – earlier this week, with downy crowns

This week the birds have taken to standing on the edge of the platform and peering over.  TRF was the first to try it out but TNF has now joined in.  They’ve been giving us all palpitations.  Jumping about, flapping a lot, wobbling a bit….  and that’s just within the nest box.  Then they stand on the edge and start flapping about.  And when that’s not enough they stand on the edge… and then have a snooze!  Or stand on one leg and have a scratch!  I watch them with a sense of dread that will topple over into the abyss!


Just a 5 week old Peregrine chick… On one leg…  Above a 130ft drop…..  Nothing to see here!



In hiding!

So it can be a bit worrying to return to the monitor to be greeted by this!  An apparently empty nest.  Even more remarkable given how much the chicks have grown.  Its 2 weeks now since they were ringed and just look at how much they have changed.  They appear to have doubled in size.  At ringing they were still fluffy white, downy chicks with a few flight feathers poking through, the down was just starting to fall away a little if they moved or scratched.

Fast forward two weeks and they look like proper Peregrines – big, strong with slate grey wings and backs, like the dark clouds of a coming storm. They’re not as big yet as their imposing mother but they are starting to look somewhat like adults now nevertheless.  They can’t possibly be hidden behind the wooden box side.  They’re too big aren’t they?  They must have fallen….  Then a feather pokes out and they shuffle into view and start jumping and flapping like madmen again.


Mad flapping half hour on Monday 8th June

Peregrine chicks looks so small and frail when they hatch, so vulnerable so high up, susceptible to both the record-breaking sun of May and the stiff northerly winds which heralded the end of a phenomenal dry spell.  And yet here they are 5 short weeks later looking big, healthy and strong.  They’ve been flapping their wings and hopping about the platform all week in fair wind and foul, they look all around inquisitively.  They constantly gaze into the skies with an air of impatience, an instinct that they know where they belong, out there, on the wing, on the breeze.  And there’s a boldness and confidence about them which is wonderful to see but as mentioned, there’s plenty of heart in the mouth moments.  I quite like it when they are hunkered down to sleep!

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Having missed a year of watching chicks grow I’m really bowled over by the sheer speed of their development.  Five weeks.  Not even long enough for half a term at school.  Five weeks to go from wobbly fluff ball to not far off adult size – a development that would take 16 or so human years.  Perhaps we’ve just forgotten how quick the growth really is?  Or have they grown more rapidly because they have fewer siblings to compete for food?At ringing, the birds weighed in at really good healthy weights for their age but weren’t so big as to be remarkable or out of the ordinary.  But they are not going wanting for food.  They are being fed regularly and well.  They don’t have to squabble to get a full crop each.  Perhaps they take after their mother, a big, strong looking Peregrine?


They certainly have character these two, a sense of adventure about them perhaps?  And now is the time to enjoy them as they grow in confidence for it will not be long at all before they take their first tentative trips into the skies – and once they do they will become less visible as they land on the roof and ledges out of site of the cameras at times.

TRF seems to be the bolder of the two.  He/She took to surfing the edge of the platform first and has taken hops right out of the platform onto the perch on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I’ve not caught TNF doing the same yet but it I expect he/she will today or tomorrow.  Keep an eye out.








When it rains…

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You may have seen how inquisitive and bold the birds have been getting this week (more on that later) as they continue to grow at lightning speed but it has just started raining, so they’ve scurried away to shelter together in the corner!  They haven’t been this quiet when awake all week!

Here they are huddled together to stay warm and dry, like two peas in a pod.  Good to see they still like each other’s company! They look more and more magnificent with each passing day don’t they?

They’ve eaten well today with two servings of pigeon.


Ringing the Chicks

On Weds 27th May 2020 the two Sheffield Peregrine chicks were ringed, measured and checked over by a team of experienced and licensed bird ringers.  The team made the precarious journey up the narrow winding steps and vertiginous ladder inside the church tower before emerging onto the roof and using climbing equipment step over the parapet to collect the chicks from the nest.


I am happy to report that both chicks look fit and well and are developing nicely.  They seem so much bigger in the flesh than they do on the webcam and also look much stronger and far less vulnerable.  It’s hard to believe they are not quite 3 weeks old yet!   The chicks were bright eyed, well behaved and occasionally vocal but not alarmingly so.  You can already see their primary  feathers coming through on trailing edges of their wings.  As you can see from the image below the black tips are already showing although most of the feather is still in its waxy protective sheath.


The birds are checked over and, as stated, look in good, normal health.  Ringers Amy and Dean who handled each bird could feel that they had full crops and bellies – they fed on Pigeon and Starling the day before so that’s not surprising!  The parents are feeding them well, and with only two mouths competing at mealtimes there’s obviously plenty to go round.



As well as confirming the chicks are healthy the purpose of ringing the chicks is to monitor survival rates and collect information about their movements.  Standard ringing tells us information if the bird is re-trapped (in mist nets for example) or if the bird is found dead.  This is fine for small birds which can be readily trapped and tracked during their lives but that’s bot so easy with birds of prey!  This is particularly pertinent to the Sheffield Peregrines: despite both of our adult birds wearing a standard silver BTO ring, nobody has ever obtained a close and clear enough image to read a number.  Therefore we know nothing about where they came from or how old they are.  This is where the more recent technique of colour rings comes in.


Today the Sheffield chicks have each been given a standard silver ring (or band as they are called in many other countries.)  Additionally they have been given large colour ring (also known as a darvic ring.)  These bright orange rings have a large 3 letter code which is much easier to read through binoculars or on photographs.  These big bright rings have been used on many birds of prey, perhaps most notably on Ospreys.  It enables birds to be more easily tracked, by multiple observers (any birder with binoculars or a camera not just scientists or trained ringers) throughout their lives, throughout their range and without the need for recapture.  Or death.  On Peregrines here in the north of England darvic rings have allowed us to learn that a 2018 Sheffield youngster (colour ring PSA) spent some of its first winter time in the Dearne Valley and the orange darvic ring “PRF”  identified a dead Peregrine found last year on a Sheffield City Centre roof as one of our 2017 offspring.  Sadly, just this last week, a darvic ring helped to identify an illegally killed Peregrine (found suspected shot in Brighouse) as one born at Leeds University in 2018.  More details on that here


As you can see from the photo our two chicks can now be identified as TRF and TNF.  TRF carries the BTO silver ring GV53849 and TNF carries the ring GV53850.


Various metrics were taken.  The birds had identical wings lengths of 147mm and both are very similar weights coming in just under 600g.  The length, width & depth of the Tarsus is measured* as is the length of the Hind Claw, the middle toe and the distance from the Bill to Cere.  From the information gathered TNF is ever so slightly bigger on 5 of the eight measurements but there’s not much in it.

* the Tarsometatarsus is a bone only found in the lower leg of birds, it’s a fusion of bones which is, in layman terms, equivalent to out ankle and foot (metatarsal) bones.  The easiest way to remember it is that it’s the part of the birds body which the rings go around  – i.e. the part often mistakenly identified as the bird’s leg.


The burning question on many lips is of course ‘What sex are the birds?’  Unfortunately we are unable to answer that questions currently from the metrics taken.  There’s no notable size difference so we can’t make any “guesstimates” that one is female and the other is male.  It’s a distinct possibility that both these Eyases are the same sex.  Due to not having chicks to ring in 2019 the last comparable data is the 3 chicks ringed in 2018.  The measurements that year showed one bird with significantly bigger measurements than the other two which led to an assumption that at least one of the birds was a female.  The three 2018 birds weighed 517, 581 and 620 grams was meaning there over 100g difference between the biggest and smallest bird.  There’s nothing so obvious this year as the birds weigh 584g (TRF) and 598g (TNF).  We cannot compare the birds between the years as the 2020 birds have been measured a couple of days later (Covid-19 related) than 2018 and of course the fact that there’s only 2 of them could mean they grow at greater rate anyway.


The only way to determine the sex of the 2019 Peregrines will be through DNA analysis.  As their feathers are now coming through the chicks are shedding down and samples of this were retained for this process.  Adult flight feathers and discarded pellets were collected from the nest platform.  Dr Deborah Dawson at the University of Sheffield Molecular Ecology Laboratory will examine the samples to determine the sex of the chicks and to try to discern any information we can about our adult birds, particularly the “new” female.


This blog will of course keep you posted of any findings as and when they are available later in the year.


As well as the usual risk assessments and safety measures taken by the ringing team  in any regular year,  this year the process was undertaken incorporating measures relating to Covid-19, social distancing and reducing the risk of any infection.  On the ascent/descent of the tower and up on the tower roof  2 metre distancing was observed by team members with the two members of the team who did have to work side-by-side being members of the same household.  The team where therefore able to observe social distancing without introducing any elements to the process which slowed things down or endangered the birds.  The birds where ringed under the necessary permits and licences required for ringing Schedule 1 protected species such as Peregrines.


Many thanks to everybody involved in the process of ringing the birds and making this possible whilst working from, not having the usual access to systems, staff and keys and whilst having to deal with the extra Covid-19 workload.  Thanks to Steve, Amy, Dean and Sorby Breck Ringing Group, to Jill and Martin who marshalled at ground level, to Glen and all the University Estates staff for facilitating and to Deborah and Phil for co-ordinating the effort.


The chicks were safely returned to the nest platform where we found them (out of the webcam shot – as per usual in 2019) and we stayed St. Georges until an adult bird returned to land.  As Alan pointed out on Twitter the adult female kept peering apprehensively up at the parapet were the ringers had appeared from.  The former intruder is wary of intruder’s herself but she has settled down this afternoon into a normal routine.


Peregrine Diet Study – Update

In February we asked for your help on a study led by Ed Drewitt (https://www.eddrewitt.co.uk/about) on the seasonality and diversity of Peregrine diet and the distances they travel.   Ed has now compiled the first draft Sheffield Peregrine prey list from webcam images kindly tweeted by @SheffPeregrines followers since 6th Feb.  Thanks to all who have contributed so far, especially Alan @doggie3132 and Wendy Scott @Wendspix1 and Alistair McMillan @AlMcM   Keep them coming!


Male Bullfinch (photo Chris Greenwood)

Seven prey species have been recorded so far during this study period:
Blackbird  (male)
Bullfinch (once, male)
Feral pigeon
Goldfinch (once)
Great Tit*  (at least 4 including 1 recent fledgling)
Teal (once)
In addition we could safely add Wood Pigeon as I’ve seen a few of those brought to the nest over the years of webcam watching (although I have made a note of dates previously).
*Wakefield Peregrines group have been formally recording a lot longer and have approx 50 prey species – their excellent page summarising this is at https://wakefieldperegrines.com/prey/  but, perhaps surprisingly, they dont have Great Tit on their list yet!



Great Tit (Chris Greenwood)

A video of the male Bullfinch being brought into the platform on 11th May 2020 can be seen on Alan’s YouTube Channel here
The Eurasion Teal is an interesting record.  The most common and familiar duck by far in the Sheffield area is of course the Mallard, the resident of practically every park in Britain. There are plenty of Mallards available close by to the Peregrines on the River Don or at Crookes Valley Park for example.  A Mallard would make a nice big and relatively slow-moving target for a Peregrine to attack and a frequent sight over the city, yet we’ve never seen one taken here in Sheffield and I’m not aware of one been taken anywhere else. (Ed may set me straight on this!)  We can perhaps assume that Mallards and the many other similar sized UK ducks are too big and heavy for even a female Peregrine to carry back to a nest site.  Teal however is the smallest duck to reside in or visit Britain and perhaps that’s what sealed the fate of the one captured on 15th March.


Eurasian Teal (Chris Greenwood)

Teal are not a common sight in the very centre of Sheffield but can be seen on the River Don from time to time and more commonly at sites such as Forge Dam and Orgreave Lagoons which are still well with the urban area.  The captured bird may well have been in transit between such sites.
BTO scientist Dr. Esther F Kettel came to speak to Sheffield Bird Study Group in 2017 about her fascinating PhD work towards a study comparing the breeding success urban and rural UK Peregrines.  Esther quoted evidence in her research of Peregrines taking birds up to 500g.  At an average weight of 360g Teal perhaps represent an excellent combination of size of target,  weight to carry back to eyrie and size of reward when it comes to mealtime.  Conversely a Mallard can weight from 750g – 1.5Kg.  Teal is noted as a frequent prey species at Wakefield.
At her fascinating talk Esther spoke about birds such as Water Rail, Moorhen, Little Grebe, and even Corncrake remains at urban Peregrine nests.  Such species most typically move at night both locally and/or on long-distance migration and were surprise discoveries to ornithologists.  Esther put forward the proposition that one of the contributing factors to the phenomenon of successful urban Peregrine pairs is that the artificial lights of our cities enable the birds to hunt at night, possibly by picking out the silhouettes of the birds against the light pollution.  It represents phenomenal adaptation and opportunism on the part of the Peregrines, I mean, Corncrakes are rare enough in their preferred habitat in Scotland’s western fringes, they’re hardly known for being sighted in the downtown metropolis!


A Goldfinch was brought in on 4/4/20 (Chris Greenwood)

There is so much more to learn and you can help.  Ed’s research has the potential to tell us more and more about urban Peregrines. It would be great to document and expand the Sheffield prey list further.   If you want to help record peregrine prey.  Record the image by doing a screenshot or video and tweet it to @SheffPeregrines  and @eddrewitt

The date and time are shown on the bottom left of the webcam image – please be careful it isn’t cut off if during any image cropping.
There are numerous guides online about how to screenshot part of your screen for both Apple Mac and the various versions of Windows.  A quick search should find you some instructions.  Video is a little more complicated in that you may need to download a small piece of software but these are often freeware or share ware.  Apple users can Screen Record via the included Quicktime application.  Quicktime is also available for free for Windows but there may well be other better options.
Bird lovers are taking part across the UK and perhaps my favourite/most gruesome record so far is of  an Avocet taken way back in February by Dorking Peregrines, picture kindly supplied with permission from @sophiedorman33
Get involved!
22/5/20 Chris Greenwood and Deborah Dawson

Doubling Up

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5 days old now and the chicks look to have almost doubled in size already.  They’re still amusingly unsteady and wobbly, like they are controlled by a puppeteer’s strings, but rapid growth is a good sign.  It must have been chilly up there the last 36 hours or so – the bigger the birds get, the better they will be able to handle any cold they are exposed to.  However, most of the time they are still tucked under a brooding adult for warmth and feeding time is the only time to get a proper look at them.  It’s great to see them when they are out on show and this post is basically just an excuse to post some cute screen grabs of them!  They’re adorable.

Stay strong little eyases.

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They’re under there somewhere


We have hatched!

Having the eggs tucked away mostly out of sight hasn’t really helped anxiety levels or given us much to go on but it looks like both eggs hatched between 4 and 7am this morning (7/5/20).

The brooding bird was eating from a broken egg shell around 4.30am indicating it had hatched. When the bird shuffled around to remove a half shell from beneath her we caught a glimpse of a fluffy white chick and the other egg, still looking intact. The brooding bird (probably the Falcon) did not want to hand over brooding duties when the partner returned to the box, even though it had been called over. All of this happened in the dark on the night vision cam. The egg shell was removed at some point. More shuffling round, this time in colour, after dawn, revealed the second egg was gone and what looked like a second ball of white fluff. It’s still hard to see because the birds are so tucked behind the side wall and hopefully being kept warm and secure under the adult’s body and wings.

It’s 37 days since the 2nd egg was laid. The longest incubation period in the history of Sheffield Peregrines. Which is an interesting stat to remember given that this is a new female. Previous years either the previous Falcon saw 31 or 32 day incubation typically, through wind snow and rain. The weather this year was generally warm and very dry with no snow, although the clear nights have been cold at times. If this tell us anything it surely indicates how warm eggs can be kept under a Peregrine even when it is covered in snow! It will be interesting to see if 37 becomes the new standard incubation period at St George’s. But all that’s a long way off yet….


The rest of today is critical. The adults need to bring in a kill and get a first feed into the chicks to give them a healthy start. A feed should also give us a much better glimpse of the chicks to assess their size and demeanour.

The weather is on our side. It’s warm, calm and dry. The adult looks attentive and content. Let’s hope the day goes smoothly.



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With any luck the waiting is almost over.  Today is the 32nd day since brooding began in earnest and going on previous years today or tonight should be hatching time.  Although it could be quite hard to tell as the eggs are tucked away behind the side panel of the platform, barely in sight!  Were the eggs in clearer view it might be possible to see some pipping – a tiny hole where the shell is first broken by the chick inside – or perhaps get a clearer indication from the brooding parent that they can hear the chicks in side the egg but so often all we can see is the bird’s back.

Is it my imagination or have the brooding birds been a little more restless the last 48 hours or so?  Moving brooding position more frequently?  Sitting a little more upright, looking more certain?  Any of these, if correct, could be a good sign of something imminent happening.  But it could also be my wishful thinking….

Whatever the case, I take my hat off to the birds as we come to the end of incubation.  What a feat of dedication, commitment and endurance the incubation period is.   They sit there day and night, in hot and cold, through wind and weather resolute, unerring.  The slate grey, white and black head markings of the Peregrine are well suited to a look of grim determination, as they hunker down against the breeze for hours end, day after day.   It’s truly impressive. Perhaps more so considering there’s little feedback from the eggs until perhaps near the end.  It’s a long time to keep the faith.  Let alone without so much as a calendar or a timepiece or any certainty of a successful outcome.  If/when chicks arrive there’ll be plenty to keep the adults busy but at least then there will be feedback, something a little more tangible.  Until then, there’s just waiting.

And they will wait a little longer if necessary.  Whilst we get impatient the birds show no sign of wavering.  The birds has stuck to their task diligently throughout April.  It’s worth noting that Wakefield had their first chick hatch this morning after 35 days, 3 days longer than typical for the site.  So Sheffield Peregrines and their followers may have a few days yet.  Now more than any other time, keep watching!


Peregrines on Countryfile

There was a short but very nice piece on Peregrines on BBC1 Countryfile last night. Top wildlife filmmaker Richard Taylor-Jones filmed a bird living and hunting on the white cliffs of Kent’s channel coast. Is it my imagination or do the white cliffs background make the bird’s breast appear particularly pristine and bright?

The programme can be viewed on iPlayer click here and should be available for 11 months. The film starts about 33 mins 45 secs into the programme if you can’t watch the whole show.