With eggs laid and brooding under way, things seemed to have settled down as April 2019 progressed. On the face of it normal serviced had been resumed…. although lingering in the background was always a concern whether the disruption of late March would have any repercussions further down the line. Hopefully it had all been a one-off incident, a mere bump in the road. No further sightings of the intruding bird were reported.
The end of the typical 31/32 day incubating period approached and coincided with the May Bank Holiday weekend. Perfect. Sunday 5th and Monday 6th were the likely hatch days. Around the rest of the country intruder-free, web-watched Peregrine nests were starting to hatch eggs already. Our turn next we hoped…
Looking back, with hindsight, the birds seemed a little restless as soon as May started and the eggs were being left unbrooded longer than we are used to at this stage. Left for 20 mins, left for 75 mins. In previous years its been unusual for eggs to be uncovered for much more than a minute or two. Could the anticipated chicks inside the eggs survive such periods of cooling? Were the chicks in the eggs even developing? Or were the birds sensing something wrong? Justifiably there was speculation about an intruder but no bird was sighted. If there was an intruder what would the birds do? Surely one bird would sit tight whilst the other drove off any interloper? Having never been in this position before at St. Georges we just didn’t know… there’s so much still to learn about avian ecology but we humans are an optimistic species so we remained hopeful.
May 2nd & 3rd: The female was seen holding her leg up as if injured but no explanation why. She was very watchful, looking around, agitated. Disappearing for hours on end. Eggs left unattended. Male left to incubate on his own. All at the most critical time.
May 4th. No doubt now that there is an intruding bird about. How uncanny that the intrusions coincided at precisely the time that eggs were due to be laid and now the precisely the time they were due to hatch but, as far as we know, no drama in between. The intruder appears to be a female. The same one as before? Was the nest being watched all the time? Or was something else going on?
The erratic behaviour, disturbance and absences continued all weekend and the picture wasn’t clear. Female peregrine’s injuries seemed worse. The male’s presence was more consistent.
On the egg front: 31 days passed and no signs of any action. 32 days passed…. things really ought to be happening soon or we’d be into uncharted territory for St. Georges. Food was brought in early morning on the 6th May by the male and there was an exchange of brooding duties with female taking the meal off to eat. Later in the day is that an intruding female in the nest? An egg looks like it gets stood on and there’s a cracking noise heard on the webcam. As the Twitter feed noted, more action than Line of Duty… and far more stressful to watch too! Things get worse when twitter suggests there’s a Peregrine on the ledge eating a dead Peregrine…. fortunately it’s only a dead pigeon but nevertheless 2019 just doesn’t want to go well for us.
The intruding bird now appeared intent on driving the resident female off the nest, she drove the male off too but attacks seemed more frequent when she brooded the eggs… but then again we can only see what is happening ON camera and not what is happening off it. It’s not scientific but many watchers see the intruder as a bigger stronger bird and she is seen on camera more and more. Eventually at some point on the afternoon/evening of the 6th a tipping point is reached and the resident female is disappears and does not return. The male is left to brood on his own. The intruder hangs about to make sure the resident female doesn’t return. When she periodically drives the male away from brooding she enters the nest box which will ensure the resident female cannot slip back onto the eggs. The intruding female makes no attempt to brood the eggs, none of her behaviour appears accidental.
Just as happened in Norwich last year, this is a nest takeover which means it is highly likely the nest will fail. The male forlornly continues to brood the eggs when he can get back onto them but they are left for long periods unattended. Even if the now overdue eggs were to hatch a lone male could not hope to raise the chicks singlehandedly. He would have to go out to hunt leaving the young chicks exposed to the cold, unable to keep warm. Are the eggs even viable still? When will he give up?
However on Tuesday May 7th hopes are raised again as an egg hatches in late afternoon. Against online expectations its the first egg, the white one, which hatches. This egg is a week older than the other 3 and it was hard to believe it was actually viable – just goes to show how nature can surprise and confound and go against our expectations. The male brooded the fluffy white chick (albeit halfheartedly) but it wasn’t long until another intrusion occurred and the little chick was left alone in unseasonably cold weather for over an hour. Far from the ideal start in life and the intruder was not about to start showing maternal instincts for eggs which clearly are not her own.
When the male returned eventually perhaps he sensed the chick was already in a bad way and, as previously chronicled, he started to peck at it in a way which didn’t look good for it. A few short hours into it’s doomed life the chick was picked up by the male and taken away from the nest, either dead or close to dying. Brutal. Hard to watch. Nevertheless natural behaviour.
The sad end to what may be 2019s only chick.
Which just about brings us up to date. What started out in the winter so optimistically has progressed into spring in an unexpected, sad and disappointing fashion.
The male continues to brood the 3 remaining eggs when he isn’t being chased away but what is clear now is that this is the end for the 2019 breeding season in Sheffield. It remains to be seen how long he bravely continues before he gives up. Even if the eggs were to hatch, it would be extremely unlikely he would be a bee to successfully keep any chicks alive long enough for them to grow feathers to keep themselves warm. And that’s without taking the likely actions of the intruder into account….
The story doesn’t end here though. It is merely taking a different turn. There are many questions to ponder which will be addressed in a future blog. The biggest question of course being what happens next? the only way to find out is to keep watching and keep taking an interest. The Sheffield Peregrine territory at St. Georges will endure, it is a proven, successful and productive site, which is precisely why it has been fought over this year. Which direction the story takes next only time will tell.
We wait. As does he.