On Friday 12 May, history was made when the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) fitted a satellite tag to our female peregrine nesting on the South Tower balcony.
The tagging of the nesting female, filmed by BBC Springwatch, is the first of its kind in the UK and carried out by specialist Dave Anderson under the supervision of Ed Drewitt, who holds a licence to ring and tag birds in the South West. Phil Sheldrake, RSPB conservation officer, who has spent nine years working with the Cathedral to return peregerines to the Tower, assisted Dave Anderson.
The small ‘backpack’ worn by the female peregrine will allow experts to follow her movements 24/7 sending messages back to a control centre via mobile phone masts. Experts hope to learn more about where urban peregrines travel to hunt, particularly when finding food for their young. The tagging was filmed and the results will be shared in the new series of Springwatch starting on the Monday 29 May.
The female, named Sally by the Cathedral’s Clerk of Works Gary Price, was also given a blue colour-ring bearing the initials SY. Her mate, who was named Sebastian, was ringed with a distinctive blue ring bearing the initials SB.
Phil Sheldrake, RSPB Conservation Officer said: “This is groundbreaking for us and another chapter in the story of the Cathedral peregrines. We started the re-introduction programme nine years ago and it has gone from strength to strength. The more we know about our birds, the better. It was not long ago that the population was decimated but now the numbers are slowly starting to build and research like this will contribute to that process.”
Dave Anderson said: “The satellite tagging went very smoothly and the female remained calm and quiet throughout, which is always a good thing. The aim is to work as quickly as possible to minimise the time that the bird is off the nest. The tag we put on is only temporary, fixed with hemp stitches that will gradually rot, so that it will eventually fall off. In the meantime, we hope to discover a lot more about peregrines, particularly given that they are known to travel great distances in search of food and territory.”
To add to the excitement, a chick has already hatched but as yet no sign of any more hatchlings. The peregrines produced five eggs in all this year, an unusually high number indicating that there is plenty of food to be had in the area. If all the eggs hatch the parents will be busy hunting a variety of different birds to feed their young. Diving at up to 180 miles per hour, the peregrine is the fastest bird in the world. The falcons hunt both by day and at night, using the light from Salisbury’s street lamps and the Cathedral’s floodlights to see their prey.
Victoria Webb, BBC Springwatch producer, said: “This is a very exciting development and means that we can bring viewers cutting edge information about one of our most beautiful raptors. We have been watching the Cathedral pair for a while now via our remote cameras, and their unfolding story will be told in the new series.”
Peregrine numbers have been increasing in towns and cities across the UK during the past 20 years. They returned to nest on Salisbury Cathedral in 2014 after an absence of 61 years. Urban peregrines, such as those at the Cathedral, stay both local to where they hatched and travel as far as Yorkshire and Norfolk from the west. Aveline, a female peregrine hatched last year at the Cathedral, was spotted at the Floodplain Nature Reserve, Milton Keynes, in January of this year.
The rings and tagging not only provide valuable information to experts but also afford the peregrines a degree of protection because they can be identified and traced via their rings, or in the case of the female, via the new tracking device that will remain in place for between one and three years. This may help to combat the recent spate of incidents nationwide involving peregrine persecution. Peter, one of the first chicks to fledge from the Tower in 2014, was found shot on farmland near Kings Somborne and taken to the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Amport - he is now fully recovered and will be released this week.
The peregrine chicks have now fledged so we have taken our nestcam down. However, until the end of July the RSPB is running a Date with Nature experience, weekdays 11am-16.00, when visitors will be able to view the youngsters honing their flying skills through the RSPB's high powered telescopes. Their marquee is situated on the lawn outside the Cloisters. Just walk up and someone will help you out.
For any other enquiries or further information contact:
Marie Thomas at Salisbury Cathedral firstname.lastname@example.org 01722 555148