Four peregrine chicks have hatched in the nestbox at the top of the Cathedral Tower. The first chick was spotted just before 11am on Monday, 16 May and two more emerged on Tuesday morning. There was some anxiety about the fourth egg, but the final chick popped out at around 17.15 that afternoon.
Gary Price, Clerk of the Works said:
“The female laid her first egg on Easter Monday and then there was a long gap before the remaining three came along. During that time she wasn’t incubating it. We were a bit concerned but it has all turned out fine.”
Cathedral and RSPB staff, volunteers and visitors have been observing developments in and around the nesting box since just before Holy Week, when the peregrines settled down on the Tower. HD cameras are relaying pictures live to monitors in the Cloisters and near Eight Doors at the base of the Spire.
Philip Sheldrake, RSPB Conservation officer said:
“To have four hatched chicks this year, after the successful fledging of four youngsters last year, is great. We have been wondering whether this is the same mother, or a younger female. It’s hard to tell. Certainly there was a long spell between the first egg and final egg being laid, which might be an indicator.”
The Cathedral has an historic bond with peregrines, which was broken in the twentieth century because of persecution and pesticides. There were nine fully authenticated sightings between 1864 and 1953, details of which are held in the Wiltshire archive. However a long period of absence followed, from 1953 until 2013, when the peregrines returned to the Tower but failed to nest successfully.
There are documents in our archive that indicate the presence of peregrines in the 17th and 19th century. In 1874 a report gives details of two very fine stuffed peregrines, which were seen at the Vicar of Britford’s house. They had been shot from Eight Doors while the spire was being restored.
Other raptors have made the Cathedral their home over the years. The archive also contains an old glass plate negative of a kestrel on the Tower, taken by well-known Salisbury photographer Wilfred Chaplin - and in 1913, just before the First World War, Edward Thomas wrote in ‘In Pursuit of Spring’:
“Never had I seen the cathedral more beautiful... it seemed to belong to the birds that flew about it and lodged so naturally in the high places.”
There is also an intriguing reference to ‘eagles’ in a bundles of notes about life and work at the Cathedral during the 17th Century. Emily Naish, our archivist explains:
“The notes indicate that the Dean and Chapter owned two eagles, which were brought down from London in 1670. One can speculate as to whether they were brought in for hunting or pigeon clearance but there are regular references to ‘meate for eagles’, which stop in July 1672, after which there is a record of ‘a pound of shot', which may account for the omission.”
Nowadays peregrines are protected from pot-shots and persecution and, thanks to the Cathedral team led by Gary Price, Clerk of The Works, and Philip Sheldrake, RSPB Conservation Officer with his RSPB volunteers, seven peregrine youngsters have successfully fledged from the Tower since 2014.
For those interested in a spot of peregrine watching, a marquee manned by RSPB volunteers with telescopes will offer a grandstand view of the birds from the Cathedral Lawn, Monday-Friday throughout the summer, and there are plans to introduce once-a-week Peregrine Tower Tours with Anya Wicikowski, RSPB Community Officer. Anya will accompany regular Tower Guides on the tour and answer any peregrine-related questions visitors might have. Dates and times of tours will be made available in due course.
For any other enquiries contact Marie Thomas on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01722 555148