Regular viewers of the nest box webcam will have probably guessed why it was switched off for a few hours yesterday morning. Yes it was time to ring the chicks. The socially distanced, fully ‘masked up’ event was understandably carried out as quickly as possible in these difficult Covid-19 times. Every cloud has a silver lining however, as I found that being fully ‘masked up’ and being a glasses wearer meant that I was pretty much ‘steamed up’ climbing the winding open wooden stairs which meant that I was not as aware as usual of the slightly unnerving drop to the floor below!
The ringing was carried out by Nigel Jones, a registered bird ringer with a licence to do so from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). He was assisted by Phil Sheldrake the Nature Conservation Advisor for the cathedral. Each chick had a small lightweight metal BTO ring attached to one leg, and an orange ‘Darvic’ ring attached to the other. These ‘Darvic’ rings have three large letters on them and are, in favourable conditions, readable through binoculars or a telescope. To date, via these colour rings, two of our chicks from previous years have been spotted in the field, one near Stockbridge and another near Milton Keynes.
Many viewers regularly following the progress of the chicks will have probably made an educated guess as to the sex of the four chicks; females are normally substantially bigger than males. It seemed to me, and I suspect a lot of others, that we probably had two females and two males, and indeed the ringing showed this to be the case.
The details of the ringed chicks are as follows;
Male, colour ring TVD, weight 530 grammes.
Male, colour ring PTJ, weight 520 grammes
Female, colour ring TND, weight 830 grammes.
Female , colour ring PHJ, weight 780 grammes.
Several regular viewers of the webcam had mentioned to me that one chick seemed to be quite a lot smaller than the rest, seemed to sometimes look a bit lethargic and often seemed to be at the back of the food queue; I had noticed this myself sometimes. That said he (and it must have been a male), clearly did get his fair share of food as both males were very similar in weight when ringed. It is interesting to note, that an average age of just 18 days since hatching, all chicks are already quite heavy. Adult male Peregrines by comparison average about 680 grammes and females 1125 grammes.
As in past years, the chicks will be named in due course. The cathedral are launching a voting campaign to this end, and in recognition of the amazing work done by the Sarum South vaccination team done in the cathedral and of course all other NHS teams who have worked so hard on the vaccine rollout, the names will all have a medical and public health theme.
Whilst ringing was taking place, a quick examination of the walkway around the nest box revealed something of the prey items being fed to the chicks. Of those readily identifiable, there were some feral/racing pigeon feathers, some from Blackbird and Starling, and a pair of Black Headed Gull wings. Interestingly, as in past years, there were feathers from Great Spotted Woodpecker. On the face of it, this mainly woodland species might seem like an unlikely prey item. That said, like Green Woodpecker and Jay which have both fallen victim to our falcons in the past, the species does have a habit of flying across open areas between trees in a very straight slightly undulating flight, and I suspect is thus quite an easy target; a rather sad end to an attractive bird, but that is nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’.
Safely ringed and back in the nest box, we can now look forward to the chicks developing fast, moulting their white down, growing their full juvenile plumage, and probably fledging in the first week of June. I am sure in the meantime we will have the usual slight panics when the chicks start wandering around in the box, and more especially jumping out of the box and then looking on forlornly as the adult feeds the other chicks still in the box. Will the one outside the box fathom out that it can get back in by using the two bricks we have strategically placed beside the box for this very purpose? Oh the ups and downs of Peregrine watching!
Rest assured however that you are not alone in watching. I gather that since March of this year there have been 188,000 viewing on the web cam with a maximum of 9000 on 3 May. Not only that, but in total between 2020 and 2021 there have been viewings from 88 different countries around the world. What a wonderful testament to the allure of this magnificent bird, not to mention of course the really excellent webcam technology installed by the Cathedral which makes all of this possible.
Granville Pictor 13 May 2021.