Peregrine falcon retains perch on St Peter’s

Photo by Richard Chandler

Photo by Richard Chandler

The peregrine falcon, now identified as a mature female, has continued to hold its territory on the spire of St Peter’s since it was first spotted in November. Plumage details such as a streaked throat and upper breast show that the bird is a female.

Richard Chandler, a resident in Oundle, has climbed the church tower to retrieve the bird’s half-eaten prey and has found a diverse range of different bird species. Originally thought to just be pigeons, there were actually common teals, lapwings, woodcocks, black-headed gulls, white feral pigeons, fieldfares, a golden plover, a common snipe, and a potential blackbird.

He said: “The female has been seen on most days since the initial sighting. It appears to catch a prey item approximately on alternate days, most often early in the morning. It uses the small platforms on the top point of the four lowest windows on the spire on which to pluck and eat its prey. It also leaves items on these platforms to which it sometimes returns to continue feeding. After feeding it usually moves to a perch towards the top of the spire where it sits for extended periods, preening periodically.”

The most popular prey turned out to be a redwing. Noah Wood said: “This suggests it is hunting down by the river mainly, and quite probably, in the dark or half-light. Birds like woodcock are nocturnal, flying down to the river to feed at dusk and returning to woodland at dawn. She certainly seems to be feeding mainly first thing in the morning and then roosts for most of the day thereafter.”

A second bird, presumed to be a male from its un-streaked throat and upper breast was occasionally seen until the start of April with the female bird perched side-by-side. He was smaller and darker than the female and had a ring on his leg.

At the beginning of April, a second male with no rings on either leg appeared almost daily. There was interaction between the female, including calling, and potential mating was seen on two or three occasions. “He knows she is here, but it is a matter of whether he decides to return and try to set up a territory/mate with her; this is anyone’s guess and may well not happen,” said Mr Chandler.

Breeding usually occurs in late March, with eggs laid in May depending on the weather. It is uncertain whether the male bird will return; hatching females are larger and stronger in birds of prey and usually more dominant.

The peregrine falcons usually breed on a shallow scrape when on a cliff or quarry, but on a building, they tend to lay their eggs on a flat surface about the size of a tray with raised edges to protect them. Some buildings use nest-trays to encourage breeding. There are some flat sites on the top of the castellated corners of the parapet on St Peter’s spire which could be useful.

Because of concerns that the falcon might breed and nest on the spire, the work on the clock dial has been postponed. Peregrines are a Schedule 1 listed species of The Wildlife and Countryside Act and cannot be disturbed once they lay eggs.

For some churches, falcons have threatened costly delays in urgently required restoration work. At St Botolph’s Church in Boston, Lincolnshire, a pair of peregrine falcons had been nesting in the tower since 2014. They were encouraged to move home to enable the start of a renovation project to preserve the 15th century steeple.

Erica Pascoe
May 2019