Peregrine falcons have been nesting intermittently on the Parkinson Tower since 2018. Since then, the University of Leeds has seen ten chicks successfully hatch.
Peregrine falcons are large, blue-grey birds of prey with pointed wings. They are capable of reaching top speeds of over 200mph when diving for prey, making them the fastest animals recorded on earth. Historically found mostly in the uplands of the north or around sea cliffs, they can now be spotted using tall structures in urban areas.
Whilst these birds have a Green UK conservation status and are a Schedule 1 listed species protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, they continue to face a range of risks including being targeted and illegally killed.
After peregrines began to show an interest in nesting on Parkinson Tower, a gravel tray was installed to support them, along with a live webcam. A female peregrine usually lays her first egg towards the end of March/beginning of April and, typically, another three to four eggs are laid over the following week.
Incubation tends to start when the penultimate egg has been laid, is shared between both birds and usually lasts between 32-35 days. The eggs hatch over two days with the female responsible for the majority of the brooding and feeding responsibilities, with the male hunting for food. Around 35 days later, the young birds begin to fledge (leave the nest), becoming entirely independent after a couple of months.
Outside of breeding season, peregrines travel widely and will visit the tower less frequently, but can still be seen around campus, often perched on high points such as the spire at the Emmanuel Centre.
Find more information around peregrine nesting habits on the RSPB's website.
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History of peregrine breeding at the University
Peregrine falcons have been nesting intermittently on the Parkinson Tower since 2018.
Four eggs were laid in 2023, on 21st, 24th, 26th and 29th March. Unfortunately none of the eggs hatched when expected at the end of April. The falcon continued to incubate the eggs for some time after this, but was noted to have left the nest area in mid July.
Four eggs were laid in 2022, on 19th, 21st, 24th and 26th March. A bleached (light coloured) egg from last year’s failed hatching was also noted on the ledge. Incubation began on 24th March and hatching began on 27th April.
The first chick hatched on the morning of Friday 29th April. Three chicks hatched in total, with the fourth egg failing to hatch.
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust came to ring the chicks on 17th May, detail as follows:
- Metal ring GY08739, colour ring TFS (black on orange). Weight 700g (thus likely female) – Fledged on 11th June
- Metal ring GY08740, colour ring TJS. Weight 600g – Fledged on 7th June
- Metal ring GY08741, no colour ring. Weight 525g (thus likely male) – Fledged on 9th June
Update – December 2022 – TJS above was found dead in Boroughbridge, cause unknown.
Due to on the ongoing restrictions again only limited monitoring was possible in the build up to egg laying.
Three eggs were laid on 23rd, 25th and 28th March, with expected hatching 34-35 days after the third egg being laid. All three eggs failed to hatch, possibly due to the cold weather in April and a first time breeding falcon, with Huddersfield (1), Nottingham (1) and Sheffield (2) also saw a lower number of successful hatchings and fledgings.
Due to the Covid-19 lockdown during March only limited monitoring of peregrine behaviour around the Parkinson Tower was possible as the breeding season progressed. No eggs were laid during end March/early April and it was not until May that a new female (falcon) was seen on the nest tray, identified by rings on legs.
Unfortunately due to damage to the plastic Darvic ring the code was unreadable and her identity was initially unknown. Leedsbirder finally managed to phonescope and read the darvic in 2021 and identify her as 7.H who was ringed at the nest by West Midlands Ringing Group in Stoke 2017.
Laying was a bit earlier than 2018, with four eggs being laid in March. All four had successfully hatched by the end of April.
In May, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust came to ring the chicks. The rings were black text on an orange background. Detail as follows:
- TCD - weight 725g
- TAD - weight 675g
- TBD - weight 525g
- T7C - weight 700g
The new tray and camera were successfully installed early in the year. In mid-April, the pair were seen on the tray and were mating. Not long after, they were seen on the camera making a scrape and in early May we had our first eggs! Three eggs were laid in total and all hatched in June.
At the end of June, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust came to campus to ring the chicks. The rings were black text on an orange background. Detail as follows:
- TAC, weight 550g
- T7B , weight 700g
- TBC, weight 565g
DNA Analysis 2019 / 2020
Thanks to a member of the public the remains of a juvenile peregrine wing were found on the Parkinson steps in Jul 2019.
Following the failure of breeding in 2020 various moulted feathers were collected and sent with the partial juvenile wing to Sheffield university for DNA analysis by Deborah Dawson from The NERC Environmental Omics Visitor Facility and kindly analysed by Lucy Knowles.
A suitable feather from each sample was analysed. All three sexing markers and 22 out of 23 microsat markers were identified.
Both feathers were sexed as male sharing a lot of alleles. From the results it looks like that sadly one of the young males from 2019 (the two other young being one female and one male) did not survive long after fledging.
Stay up to date
The Sustainability Service shares updates on peregrine activity on our social feeds so be sure to follow us on;
Local birder, Paul Wheatley, tells the story of the Leeds Peregrines. The wild Peregrine Falcons, that nest on the top of the University's Parkinson Tower,...
You may be familiar with the Twitter account @UoLperegrine, but who is the magic behind it? Leslie Arkless is an Analytical Technician in Microstructure Materials...
Hi! I'm Caitlin Harris, one of the Biodiversity Ambassadors at the University. Living in the centre of a built-up city such as Leeds, I am...
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