Norwich Cathedral Peregrines Update – First Chick to Fledge & What to Expect

Norwich Cathedral Peregrines Press Release – 9 June 2016

At Norwich Cathedral our four peregrine juveniles have now reached that crucial point in their development where they will be fledging from the nest, with the chick ring numbered 43 being the first to take flight at 6.44am on Thursday 9th June.  Despite the ups and downs of this year’s season with the disappearance of our resident falcon, the ill chick discovered when ringing, the arrival on the scene of GA from Bath and our ‘Super Dad’ rearing all four chicks on his own from the second week after they hatched, the chicks have all developed well to be strong and healthy.

Their first flights can be some of the most crucial for the chicks and are nerve racking for all to watch, including the Hawk and Owl Trust.  The average survival rate of Peregrine chicks is approx 50% meaning that danger is still present whilst they are learning to fly and hunt.  In previous years accidents have occurred where a chick may accidentally fly in to the Cathedral wall, or netting of a goal post in the nearby Cathedral Close.  In the event of an injury, the Hawk and Owl Trust will intervene working with a local bird of prey rehabilitation group, to assist and treat any injured chicks.  However if it were to die as part of an accident then that is sadly just nature.  We at the Hawk and Owl Trust are hoping, as is everyone watching our webcam, that all four juveniles prove successful this year, however we must be prepared in case the worst happens.  As our first chick fledged (43) on the morning of the 9th June, she ended up landing on the wall of the Deanery in the Cathedral Close, being that low to the ground and unable to make her way back up to the nest box, Nigel Middleton from the Trust intervened by taking the chick back up to the roof of the bell tower and the base of the spire.  At that height she is more likely to be fed by the male than nearer ground level.

An added issue for our chicks to face this year, and which we at the Hawk and Owl Trust have not witnessed before, is the presence of GA, who has so far shown little interest in our chicks whilst they have remained in the nest box.  However now that they have started to fledge, she may well start to see them as intruders in to what she now recognises as her territory in the absence of our resident female.  When all four juveniles eventually take to the air, we are hoping that GA’s reaction will be less aggressive, however at this stage the Hawk and Owl Trust cannot predict the outcome and we are observing this as unseen behaviour, as well as the public, for the first time.  Whatever may happen with interactions between all the peregrines once airborne at Norwich Cathedral, we must accept that this is nature as seen red in tooth and claw and must be allowed to occur without any intervention.

With the disappearance of our resident female, our male will now be responsible for teaching the juveniles the skills they need to hunt, food pass and survive a life as adult peregrines.  He has been a fantastic ‘Super Dad’ so far providing enough food for the chicks in the nest, however now that his chicks are fledging and will want to explore the surrounding area, he will have his work cut out to teach them all.  This is a natural process that must occur to allow the chicks to learn the essential survival skills that they will need to survive.  We will all be rooting for him to succeed as best he can under the circumstances.

Our present understanding of this area of Peregrine behaviour involving GA and the loss of our resident falcon is poorly understood and it is possible that this could be a common scenario in the peregrine world. Because we have a webcam viewing the activity, alongside a regular watchpoint to record what happens, that is the reason we get to see all this behaviour occurring.  This highlights the need to continue research and use new technologies to better understand raptor behaviour.  The Peregrine is one of the most well-studied raptor species but what is happening in Norwich shows that our knowledge of this species is still limited and needs further work well into the future. Whilst it may be uncomfortable viewing for some, what may happen at Norwich Cathedral are natural occurrences and we should remain as observers.

Caution should also be exercised in regard to anthropomorphising peregrine behaviour. Interpreting animal behaviour in the context of human behaviour can lead to misunderstanding why species behave in the way they do. All species are in a constant struggle for survival and have a strong need to pass on their genes to the next generation. This will create competition between and within species and is what may witness at Norwich Cathedral.

Chick 43 just about to take the leap and fledge the nest
Chick 43 just about to take the leap and fledge the nest
Off she goes with a leap of faith
Off she goes with a leap of faith
Nigel Middleton returning chick 43 to the roof of the bell tower to give it a better chance of being fed by dad before she learns to catch her own food
Nigel Middleton returning chick 43 to the roof of the bell tower to give it a better chance of being fed by dad before she learns to catch her own food

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