Brilliant photographs of peregrine falcon chicks being rescued in Cambridge city centre after fledging goes wrong
Leaving the nest for the first time can be a daunting experience and it doesn’t always go according to plan, as two peregrine falcon chicks discovered in Cambridge.
They had to be rescued by bird watchers after their first attempt at fledging ended with them on the ground, negotiating the traffic and amid bemused pedestrians, as these pictures from University of Cambridge engineering student and keen photographer Jamie Clarkson show.
Saimon Clark, who monitors the peregrines and runs the @camperegrines Twitter account, explained: “The first one fledged and was found on the ground on Saturday May 29, and rescued.
“The nest site building normally looks after the rescue of the birds but they weren’t open at the time, so it went to Pembroke College. They have a box and a towel to look after them, and then it went to the Raptor Foundation.”
The charity, based in Woodhurst, near Huntingdon, found the chick was uninjured.
And its exploits had clearly not deterred its sibling, who tried the same feat shortly after, with similar results.
“The second one was found on the ground on Trumpington Street at 12pm on Tuesday. It was rescued by fellow peregrine watchers, as Jamie’s photos show,” said Saimon.
It too went to the Raptor Foundation, before they were taken back to the top of the nest site building in Cambridge city centre on Wednesday.
“When a chick fledges, and it’s moving about the city, you don’t want to lose track of it,” says Saimon.
“And you want to release them when the adults are around. We tend to release them from the nest site building, so you need to get it done as quickly as possible.
“We release them from the top because it is more exposed and they can feel the wind. They can flap and strengthen their wings and also the adults can see them.”
On Wednesday (June 2), Saimon witnessed the two male chicks’ sibling show how it should be done.
“The third chick fledged and it flew to the roof of Corpus Christi,” he said. “We believe it’s a female but we can’t be 100 per cent sure. The males tend to be smaller.
“This happens pretty much every year. Most of the time they are found on a nearby road.”
Saimon says the parents - who have been breeding in Cambridge since 2015 - picked a nest site that simply isn’t high enough.
“The nest site building doesn’t give them a chance to get enough lift and take off,” he explained. “But on Wednesday, the conditions were good because it wasn’t windy. The chick got to the highest point it could and managed to fly off.
“The site is the parents’ choice - we can’t do anything about it. There have been thoughts about blocking it off and putting a nest site somewhere else, but logistically that’s really hard. It’s a historic building so you can’t have anything unsightly on it, and the peregrines might just go back and lay eggs there anyway.
“When I’ve spoken to other experts, they’ve said you have to have a very good option for them to go for a different choice.
“They were once seen mating on the University Library building and might have tried to nest there, but the first nest, when I found them, was on the current building in 2015.
“They laid on sediment inside a gutter. Afterwards, we cleared it out and put down nesting material and that’s been changed twice so they have something better to lay their eggs on.”
High buildings mimic the rock faces that peregrines use in natural environments. Cathedrals - including Ely and Norwich - are popular choices for them, and often man-made nest boxes are provided in such locations.
“They can have up to five or six chicks, but three is a good average. We have had three another year, but one died at the nest site.”
Based on the birds markings, it is believes the same parents have been using the site for the last six years - although there was a brief hiatus.
“A couple of years ago, we think the male was taken out by an intruding male and was found injured,” says Saimon.
“He went to the Raptor Foundation to recover from the equivalent of a broken collar bone.
“He was released and was seen again several months later after the intruding male had left.“
Life for peregrines can be brutal.
“In Norwich, a female came in and killed the other female and all the chicks, and got together with the male,” Saimon notes.
The peregrine is famously the fastest animal on Earth - reaching speeds of around 200mph as it dives to take out prey.
They can live for up to 15 or 20 years, but the first year of life is typically the most challenging.
And the skies above Cambridge could witness some acrobatic displays in the coming weeks.
“The first few weeks of life is their training. The parents will teach them how to hunt and carry prey for them to catch in their air before they try and go for a pigeon or something.
“I’ve seen it around King’s. Once the chicks are more mobile and vocal, it’s easier for people to look out for them,” says Saimon.
“At this time of year, they will mainly eat pigeons, juvenile starlings and blackbirds, but they hunt lots of other things, especially in winter time, when there are migrant birds coming through. They will go for ducks like teal and also golden plover and woodcock, so they’ll have a varied diet.”
Fortunately, both of the chicks that required rescuing have been seen since, none the worse for their ordeal.
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