Four peregrine chicks, two male and two female, recently hatched on Salisbury Cathedral’s tower were ringed yesterday by a team from the RSPB including specialist, Ed Drewitt.
In the late afternoon the young birds were removed from their nesting box, weighed, measured and then ringed with a bright blue identification rings carrying their unique number. The job had to be done quickly so as not to distress the chicks but there was still time to draw names supplied by Cathedral staff out of a hat. The two males are now called Anthony (possibly after our head verger!) and George (a right royal name). The females are Kate (another royal name) and Justice (to reflect our 1215 Magna Carta values).
This is only the second time since 1953 that the Cathedral peregrines have successfully hatched eggs at Salisbury Cathedral. Last year three peregrine offspring fledged.
The peregrine project has been a four year long joint undertakiing by the Cathedral team led by Clerk of the Works, Gary Price and RSPB conservation officer, Phil Sheldrake.
The Cathedral is the most celebrated man-made structure in the UK used as a nesting site by Peregrines. There are nine fully authenticated historical records of breeding at the Cathedral between 1864 and 1953 and the breeding stopped until 2013. It would appear that even on those nine occasions, the birds were sometimes robbed of their eggs or chicks. In those days Peregrines were not legally protected.
Over the past two decades, single, and sometimes apparently mated pairs have been recorded roosting on the spire of the Cathedral but it wasn’t until early 2012, after an adult pair were observed on the Cathedral over the winter, a nest box was erected on the east face of the tower, one level below the tower walkway. For reasons only the birds can know, it was not used.
The peregrines fared better in April 2013 when Gary Price, Clerk of the Works at the Cathedral observed a lot of peregrine activity on the south face and the RSPB discovered that the pair had laid 3 eggs directly onto the stone walkway used by tourists on Tower Tours. Sadly the eggs rolled apart on the hard surface and were abandoned.
In 2014, given that the Peregrines seemed to favour the South (hot) side of the tower, a design was drawn up for a nest box with ‘sun shade’. Richard, our carpenter in the workshop built the box and the south face walkway was closed to minimise disturbance when it was installed. The three resulting chicks, two males and a female, were colour-ringed by Ed Drewitt and left the Cathedral for pastures new over the summer. They have not, as yet, been tracked.
This year the four eggs were laid at Easter, hatched in early May and the chicks should fledge by late June. The mother peregrine now roosts on a parapet above the nest watching over her young and feeding them regularly. Observers report that at mealtimes the cheeping can be heard from the ground! Cameras have been rigged in the nesting site and relay footage to monitors in the tower and in the cloisters as well as streaming live on the Cathedral website.