As expected the birds spent more and more time at the nest platform as February progressed and by the beginning of March the female was seen, on numerous occasions, shuffling down making potential nest forms – slight depressions in the gravel substrate in which, typically, the eggs can be laid. This behaviour is something we are familiar with from watching the many urban Peregrine nest platforms across the UK and North America which are rigged up with webcams.
Most, if not all, of these man-made platforms are wooden ledges filled with a layer of small, smooth gravel. In the wild we might expect to see this behaviour replicated by birds such as the Scarborough pair who nest on the soft cliffs below the castle. Closer to home, birds I’ve seen in the Peak District breed on much harder, bare rock cliffs where forming a nest depression may not be so simple. Such nests are viewed very carefully at long range so it’s not possible to tell. I must remember to quiz the local raptor workers on this when I get the chance to speak to them.
As we haven not seen this female attempt to nest before, observing her display this behaviour is a positive. It’s what we are used to seeing at this time of year but who knows whether she has even attempted to breed before? There’s no way of knowing. This week has seen numerous and increasingly frequent copulations from the birds – Thanks as ever to Alan @doggie3132 for the screen grab video (scroll to about 2 mins 9 secs.)
So far, so good! However given the events of 2019 I doubt any of us are taking anything for granted. All we have to go on are the lay dates for the previous female who was as regular as clockwork from 2014-17, laying her first egg on the 19th or 20th March each year come rain, snow or shine. She kept us waiting a little longer in 2018, laying on the 22nd. It was a day later still in 2019 (23rd) but by that time we had already had the first intrusion by our present hen falcon and we’ll never know if the small delay was stressed induced or perfectly normal.
I wouldn’t say copulations are late this year but they certainly haven’t been early. It’s worth looking out for signs of imminent egg laying from around the 19th of March but it wouldn’t be of concern if we had to wait until later in the month. Anything could happen this year, inexperienced birds can attempt to breed but fail at any stage. We may get 3 eggs, 4 eggs, early eggs, late eggs or no eggs at all. We may get chicks but will the parents raise them well enough to survive and fledge? Or will we see another intruder enter stage left a precisely the wrong moment? It may take more than one year and more than one breeding attempt for this pair to establish themselves as a successful pair. The only way to find out is to keep watching!
If you do see anything of note do let the Twitter feed know @SheffPeregrines and/or myself on @1ChrisGreenwood
Speaking of dates: the SBSG Review of the Birding Year (and AGM) takes place tomorrow, Weds 11th March, 7.15pm in the University of Sheffield Diamond Building (downstairs – Lecture Theatre 2) located right next to St. Georges. All welcome and entry is free. Drinks afterwards in the University Arms.