Three’s a crowd

In the blog of April 1st celebrating the laying of our second egg we posed the question: how long until the third egg?  Well we have the answer now I guess.  Never!

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It’s a first of sorts – Sheffield Peregrines have usually laid a clutch of 4 eggs and most monitored urban sites lay 3 – 4 eggs typically – but 2 is all we are getting.  However, there’s no need to feel short-changed.  If the two eggs successfully hatch then it will be easier for the parents to provision 2 chicks with sufficient food than it would be to provide for 4 chicks.  Given that this is a new pairing and given that many of us are convinced that this is the Falcon’s first serious breeding attempt that may not be such a bad thing, although we know that the current male is well capable of bringing in food for 4 chicks as he has done it in the past with his previous partner.

What is the science behind only laying two eggs? Well Britain may be a nation of avid birdwatchers, conservationists and animal scientists, and we may well have many monitored Peregrine nests but as have oft been stated before on this blog there is still so much we simply do not know about these birds.  Personally I was tempted to think that laying 2 eggs was a consequence of inexperience in the Falcon (female) but this is, of course, wild speculation with little scientific foundation.  A neat little story.  Could it be the result of some sort of stress on the bird –  was there a third Peregrine hanging around causing her an avian equivalent of anxiety?  Are both birds completely healthy?  Did the Tiercel provide enough food for both birds to be in top breeding condition?  Did irregular food supply cause a stress.  It’s all speculation.  For the birds as the saying goes…

Let’s hope all goes well.  As a new pairing, having 2 hungry little mouths to feed and care for might be a nice, slightly gentler start to life together and what we hope will be a long term partnership that lasts for years ahead.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves but if 2020 sees two chicks fledge, it will be a great year.

We may have been expecting a third and fourth egg but looking back it was clear that the female didn’t.  We can see she got down to serious full time incubation within hours of the second egg being laid.  How it works we don’t know but the instinct to incubate kicked straight in to her and the male followed suit.  She obviously understood the signs.  Since that point it’s been a waiting game.  The weather has been kind this year so far touch wood.  Just look back here to the blog of 7th April 2018 to see how variable the Sheffield spring can be!  However, despite the sunshine, when I check in on the webcam late at night I still think the birds look rather forlorn, hunkered down protecting the eggs, the wind ruffling their feathers.  It’s a long vigil!

Just how long will that vigil be?  Well by the book the incubation period should be 31 or 32 days, which puts us on Friday the 1st or Saturday the 2nd of May.  My money’s on the 2nd for the first egg to hatch.  But then again I wouldn’t be surprised if something unusual or unpredictable happens.  Would you?

April 2 2018 snow male

Peregrine does Snowy Owl impression April 2018

 

 

2 Milestones

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Well it took a lot longer than I predicted, and I was beginning to wonder if it would happen at all, but tonight the Falcon is sitting brooding not one but 2 eggs. The 2nd egg must have been laid some time overnight, well over 60, and possibly closer to 72, hours after laying of the first egg.  This is quite a long gap between eggs and it will be interesting to see how long the gap is until a third egg appears.  Is the gap a sign of a young female who hasn’t raised a brood before or is the delay a consequence of some distress along the lines of 2019?  There is reasonable suspicion a third bird is in the vicinity and there’s a chance this could lead to territorial disputes.  Or the long gap could be part of a new normal from a new pairing.  Something tells me this year may not be completely plain sailing.  It is interesting to note that there are continued copulations despite there being two eggs already laid.

So that’s one milestone for today but the second is noteworthy in a different way.  We are pleased to announce that the fundraising page for the project has now raised 50% of our fundraising goal!

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£2555 (plus gift aid to come) is a fantastic amount of money to have raised and all involved with the Sheffield Peregrine Project would like to thank everyone who has kindly donated.  Please use the link to donate at the top of the page if you have not done so already.  As a reminder, the aims of the fundraiser to achieve as many of the following goals as possible:-

  1. Installing a camera in a better position to improve our view of the nest
  2. Organising talks and events to share our knowledge of the Peregrines with the public
  3. Carrying out research, including investigating why some eggs fail to hatch
  4. DNA profiling individuals to learn more about the family relationships of the birds
  5. Annual Ringing (and colour-ringing) of the peregrine chicks so that we can monitor their activity once they have left the nest and better understand their movements
  6. Determining the sex of future peregrine chicks using genetic markers
  7. Supporting investigations into wildlife crimes such as shooting or poisoning of birds of prey
  8. Arranging for a publication to outline the success of the Peregrine project in its first 10 years

Some of these aspirations have already been implemented or started but it would be reassuring to have them on a more secure and better funded footing and for certain the often requested extra/better camera angle will not be achieved until the funding goal is reached.

We live in uncertain times, what is in store for the Sheffield Peregrines 2020 breeding season or the coronavirus lockdown is anybody’s guess.  In an ideal world it would be great to organise a Peregrine outreach event for us all later in the year but it may well have to wait until next year.  In the meantime please keep up your enthusiasm for watching the birds and donating to the fundraiser.

Stay safe, one and all.

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First Egg!

We have an egg! The first egg was laid at 5.52 this morning, the first day of British Summer Time. Thankfully somebody was watching at that time. This is the moment, thanks to Alan!

You can just see the egg peeping out! Let’s hope this is the start of a smooth and successful breeding season for the St. George’s pair. It’s the next milepost along the way after strong pair affinity to the territory throughout the winter and numerous March copulations.

There has been recent speculation that things weren’t going to plan this year with a possible third bird hanging around (not again!) and seemingly less interaction between the birds in the last week or so. But then again maybe they knew something that we didn’t? It may well be difficult to keep track of all the comings and goings this year now that we are all housebound and unable to get down to St Georges to take in the bigger picture. Not to mention the reorganisation and crisis management many of us are trying to manage in our day jobs! Peregrine watching this year will be limited to webcam watching more than ever.

Laying is a week or so later than we have been used to expecting down the years but this is a new pair so they may like to do things differently! No two birds are exactly the same. Up and down the country various (well monitored) Peregrine pairs are at slightly different stages of breeding with some pairs already down to full-time brooding a complete set of eggs (e.g. Norwich) and other pairs only recently into the copulation stage (Leeds Uni). Most places are somewhere in the egg laying phase so Sheffield Peregrines are by no means lagging behind now we’ve joined the egg club.

Like many other birds Peregrines will keep their eggs warm as they arrive, one at a time, usually a day or two apart but they may leave the eggs unattended from time to time for short periods. This is perfectly normal. Only when the final egg has been laid does the diligent, round-the-clock, constant incubating commence. During this period the eggs will only ever be exposed to the outside temperature for very brief moments and this very infrequently, for example when the birds change over or if the female turns the eggs.

Since the Webcam was installed in 2012 we’ve been able to follow and record the nest activity and the data across that time tells us that generally the first egg has started to hatch 31 or, more commonly, 32 days after the last egg was laid. Clutches can be 3 – 5 eggs but most commonly in Sheffield with the previous pairing we have had four eggs. Eggs should be laid roughly every two days over the space of a week (based on a 4 egg clutch) so keep watching but especially in the first 12 hours of Tuesday.

The egg is being kept warm as I write.

‘The Peregrine,’ read by Sir David Attenborough

The previous blog post mentioned J.A. Baker’s 1967 book ‘The Peregrine’ which is considered a classic of nature writing.  The book was re-printed for its 50th anniversary in 2017 and is as relevant today as it was when originally published.  Part behavioural knowledge through careful observation, part wonder and awe, the book is an evocative description of watching Peregrines in the big skies of his coastal patch over the course of 7 months.  It is beautifully written.

Blog reader sydsycamore pointed out that the book featured on Radio 4 as Book of the Week late last year, read by none other than Sir David Attenborough.  Baker’s stirring account and lyrical language delivered perfectly in Sir David’s soothing and familiar tones.  The 9 episodes are available on BBC Sounds website and App until December   https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07xhbdk

I urge readers to both buy the book and the download the podcast.  Thanks Syd!

 

It looks quiet down there

A nice view at sunrise this morning. If you are used to watching the webcam with the sound turned up you’ll notice how much quieter it is. Far less traffic than normal but still the odd emergency services siren. How much notice do the birds take of us humans? Have they noticed that there are less of us about? That there’s less noise and probably less pollution? Or do they have eyes only for the next potential meal or unwanted intruders?

There are some things which we will probably never know. It’s over 50 years since J. A. Baker published his classic and acclaimed nature book ‘The Peregrine,’ his careful observations made a huge leap in public knowledge and passion for these birds. It’s the advent of Nest webcams such as ours which is in part pushing knowledge of their behaviour on from Baker’s teaching. I wonder what he would have made of the 24 hour cameras?

Keep watching.

CG 20/3/20

Are you following the birds?

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.

SBSG logo 2019

CG 10/3/20

 

 

 

 

Get involved in 2020

Welcome to Sheffield Peregrines 2020.  A new year and a new beginning.  Buckle up for the ride and fingers crossed this year is memorable and eventful for all the right reasons!

The birds have been around St. Georges regularly throughout autumn and winter, perhaps more so than in recent years.  They have been spending more and more time on the tower as January has crept into February although not always visible on camera.  It looks likely the female has overnighted on the nest platform once or twice already.  With 4 sides to the tower and numerous ledges for the birds to loaf about on, it is always worth a trip into the city centre if you need a Peregrine fix.  Be sure to tweet @SheffPeregrines to let everybody know what you see.

The nest platform was given a good clean-up in late November to get rid of the weeds and detritus which had built up.  As ever thanks go to Phil for organising this and the University of Sheffield Estates & Facilities Management team for carrying the work out.  Top job.

As the birds have been seen regularly on the cameras there’s no reason to think that these birds are not the two who finished the 2019 season (after all the drama) but as the birds are not marked or ringed we can never really be 100% sure.  They’ve been faithful to the site so far, let’s hope they’re as faithful to each other this year.  If things go as nature intended we should start to see more courtship behaviour in the coming weeks, hopefully resulting in copulation attempts, it will be interesting to see how things develop for this new pairing.  Who knows, the mild (so far!) winter may mean things start to happen a little earlier than is typical?

In the meantime one thing for everybody to look out for is what our birds are bringing back to eat and report it to help with a national research project. Dr Deborah Dawson of the University of Sheffield (Dept of Animal & Plant Sciences) is collaborating Bristol based naturalist Ed Drewitt on his research into the prey items of urban Peregrines.    Ed has studied the Peregrines in Bristol for many years and is now hoping to gather prey information from 20 urban Peregrine sites.  If you would like to help then please email d.a.dawson@sheffield.ac.uk and Deborah will provide details of how to record the kills.  It will be basic information of date, time, prey species (including age and sex if possible) and it might be worth considering grabbing screenshots of the items to verify ID if you are observing the birds online rather than down at the church.

We know from previous work done at the Derby, Nottingham, Norwich and Wakefield (amongst others) that urban Falco peregrinus have a remarkably varied diet and can take unexpected species such as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher and many nocturnal migrants such as Coot, Water Rail and even Corncrake.  It’s not all just pigeons as you might think!  Indeed it’s always worth checking out what the Wakefield birds have been munching on –  https://wakefieldperegrines.com/prey/ – what were the odds on getting Leach’s Petrel I wonder??

More info on Ed Drewitt can be found at https://www.eddrewitt.co.uk 

So all the more reason to keep watching the cameras!  If you like watching and learning about the Peregrines please tell your friends about them, share what you see with the @SheffPeregrines twitter feed.  If you want to get to know more about birds and birding in and around the Sheffield area head over to SBSG www.sbsg.org Meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month at 7.15pm in the Diamond Building, right next to St. Georges.

Twitter @ShefBirdStudy

FB https://www.facebook.com/SheffieldBirdStudyGroup

SBSG logo 2019

CG 11/2/2020

 

 

 

 

When no news is good news

Had this been a normal year at St Georges now would be the time we would be watching the chicks make their first tentative, uncertain, often downright dangerous forays into the air. A time of anticipation, excitement and no small amount of trepidation.  Across the country there are Peregrine broods at various stages of development, a few, such as the Cromer chicks are still white and fluffy, the Norwich brood are properly fledged but most of the urban monitored sites have chicks just starting to fledge in the last week – such as the Wakefield pair, where the genes of Sheffield Peregrines live on.  Pop over to their website and Twitter feed to follow their misadventures!

Once the chicks master their aerial skills and can feed themselves they are off on their own and little is known of what happens to them as they disperse from the natal territory but news did come in last week about one of the previous Sheffield youngsters….

Several weeks ago a dead bird had been seen on the roof of a building in Netherthorpe and was reportedly of a Peregrine.  Not the best news given that we have a missing, displaced female Peregrine however we’ve had false alarms before.  Besides not much could be done without photos and a precise location.  News filtered through to two helpful chaps at the council buildings maintenance office, John and Sean, and they arranged for the bird to be recovered.  The bird was indeed a Peregrine.  It had been dead a good while and in a very decayed and mummified state but was still identifiable as a sub-adult peregrine bearing the orange leg ring ‘PRF.’  Sadly this identifies the bird as one of our 3 male 2017 fledglings.

May 18 ringing PRF

PRF being ringed in 2017

This is the first we’ve heard any of the 2017 brood and perhaps on the face of it confirms the old wisdom that no news is good news.  It is with sadness that the first news received about them is bad news but perhaps not unexpected.  The measure of breeding success for any bird species is getting chicks not just to fledge but to get them to breeding age and condition so that they may have offspring of their own and keep the population stable.  Such rates of success in birds of prey vary greatly from species to species but are all quite low when viewed as a percentage of chicks hatched, and are lower than the success rates you may witness from the small birds nesting in your garden.  Small birds will all breed the year after they are born whereas birds of prey take several years to reach maturity, a figure which varies species to species and to some extent from bird to bird but generally the bigger the bird, the longer the road to adulthood.  We can perhaps think of PRF as a having made it to his “teenage” period before his unknown and as yet unexplained end, not far from his place of birth.

The state of decay means that not much can be deduced about his life or death at this stage, there are no obvious signs, but an examination will take place in due course to find out what we can.  He’d obviously been dead for a while but it would appear he lived for perhaps 12 -18 months.  Perhaps he struggled to master hunting adequately?  Collided with something? Was attacked by another bird?  Something else?  There are numerous possibilities and it may not ever be possible to tell given the state of the bird.  For now he is in safe storage at the university and anything learnt will be disclosed here, as and when.  Thank you to Sean, John and colleagues at the council for getting in touch, recovering the bird and passing it on.  They didn’t have to do this and it is very helpful.  It is only with the help and cooperation of ordinary people that we learn more about the birds and have Sheffield Peregrines as a success story.

So not good news but useful news nevertheless.  We have heard back from very few of the fledged birds from St. Georges down the years. As we know a 2014 bird is the breeding male at Wakefield, one of 2016s offspring was found dead 55km away in West Yorkshire as a two year old bird – death unexplained, one of the 2018 chicks was spotted hanging around the Dearne Valley earlier this year as previously reported… and now the deceased PRF.  All birds identified via their rings which shows the value of ringing the birds….  without ringing we would have no idea that any of these birds were Sheffield born Peregrines.  Or looking at it another way, without ringing we would not be able to confirm that the dead bird is not the ousted female as some have speculated and so, as far as we know, she is still out there somewhere.  Which is good news of sorts.

The last photos of Orange PRF, with thanks to Sean.

 

CG 19/6/19