The Parkinson Peregrines

Have you seen the peregrine news on our social media? Want to know more about the history of our Parkinson Peregrines? Below is a blog post from Paul Wheatley (@leedsbirder). Paul is a local birder, University of Leeds graduate and volunteer Ranger for the RSPB.

In 2018 a pair of Peregrines successfully nested and raised 3 young falcons from their lofty nesting ledge near the top of the Parkinson Tower. These incredible apex predators raised a family and delighted keen birders and those new to the world of ornithology alike.

What made the difference in this first time breeding success? A simple wooden tray filled with gravel, installed by the University of Leeds Sustainability Services. If eggs are laid on bare stone they can roll around making them difficult to keep together to incubate properly. On a gravel surface, breeding success for urban Peregrines is dramatically improved. Once the Peregrines found the tray, it was game on!

Two males and a female hatched from the eggs and were reared by the adults. In July, they fledged the nest and learned to hunt and survive for themselves. So what happened next? Life can be hard for juvenile Peregrines and only one in three typically survive their first year.

The juveniles began to wander from the University quite soon after fledging, and sightings from further afield became more frequent. All three were ringed in the nest, and with a good view it’s possible to identify them from the code on their colour rings. Most notable was an amazing view of one of the young birds who was filmed on a window ledge high up on the Pinnacle tower block in Leeds city centre (https://twitter.com/MattBigface/status/1030549797365796871)

Over the winter, we received good news from Peregrine watchers in Morley who sighted our juvenile male, ringed as TAC, on the Town Hall. Our friends at Wakefield Peregrines have already identified the building as an ideal Peregrine nesting site and have placed a nesting tray there. So with luck TAC might just find a mate and start a family only a few miles from where he was born! A juvenile male Peregrine (identified by his small size compared to a female) was seen on the Parkinson tower on a few occasions over the winter, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible to make out the code on the colour ring – this could have been TAC or possibly his brother TBC.

Taking flight from LeedsBirder on Vimeo. The three youngsters (TAC, T7B and TBC) during the 48 hours after they fledged the nest.

As is usual our two adults were seen less frequently through the winter months, and were sometimes sighted hanging out in the city centre. As the breeding season got closer however, the birds became much more active around the Parkinson building. They were seen performing acrobatic display flights and began visiting the nesting tray to make a “scrape” where their eggs would ultimately be laid. Another indication of the pair bonding was the Tiercel (male) offering up a small plucked bird to the Falcon as a gift.

3rd egg laid from LeedsBirder on Vimeo. Footage from the nest camera, showing the female laying the third egg at 07:46:51 (42 seconds in to the video).

This year the Leeds Uni birds were ahead of their fellow Yorkshire urban Peregrines, after laying eggs nearly a month behind most other Peregrines last year. In 2019 laid their first egg on the 18th March, beating Wakefield, Sheffield and York Peregrines to it! Three more eggs followed, each spaced out by a couple of days. The birds started to incubate from the third and penultimate egg – typical behaviour for Peregrines.

Leeds Peregrines during egg laying week from LeedsBirder on Vimeo.

Both birds usually remained close to the nesting ledge during the week the eggs were laid, departing only briefly to hunt for food. This was a great time to watch the Peregrines, and see them interacting with other raptors in the area. Passing Sparrowhawks were carefully observed by the Peregrines, but were otherwise left alone. A buzzard was ignored. A wandering Red Kite was quickly intercepted by the Tiercel and mercilessly mobbed, or dive bombed, before beating a hasty retreat.

Other Peregrines were also frequently seen around this time, sometimes drawing the Leeds birds into the air. The interlopers may well have been looking for a mate. Our Leeds adults appear to be the same birds that have been in residence of a few years now, but neither are ringed so it’s difficult to tell for sure.

All four eggs have now hatched, as of April 28th. The parents take turns on the nest while the other hunts for food. On May 14th the University of Leeds Sustainability Services worked with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to weigh and ring the four chicks.  All are healthy weights between 550g and 725g. The whole process was completed quickly and all four chicks were safely returned to the nest. We are expecting to see them fledge between the 29th May and 3rd June so keep your eyes peeled!

If you’re interested in Peregrine data, a brilliant Dutch project has collected information from hundreds of Peregrines nests around the world (https://sites.google.com/site/nestkalenders/home/slechtvalken).

 

Last year, myself and keen University birder Les (@uolperegrine), organised some guided walks to help locals see the fledged Peregrines and raise money for raptor conservation charities. We’re hoping to do the same this year, so watch out for news on this in early June. The walks will be advertised at short notice when the birds fledge.

Keep watching the NestCam, check out @uolperegrine (https://twitter.com/UoLperegrine) for the latest news, and please let us know your sightings around campus (and further afield) by including @leedsbirder, @uolperegrine and @uol_sus in your tweets.

 

Paul Wheatley @leedsbirder (https://twitter.com/leedsbirder) Paul is a local birder, University of Leeds graduate and volunteer Ranger for the RSPB.