The peregrines are back on Cathedral Tower and the cameras are now live.
Candid pictures gathered by Cathedral staff whilst testing equipment on the South balcony of the Tower ahead of the breeding season, show a mated pair making themselves at home on the nestbox.
The pair have been making regular appearances over the past few days, turning up between 06.00 and 07.00 in the morning, popping in for another viewing between 12.00 and 13.00, and re-appearing at around 15.00.
They generally visit independently, but on the morning of 7 March both were caught on camera. This was clearly a prelude to settling in for the season
Last year the Salisbury peregrines were an internet hit, clocking up over 600,000 views across the March-to-August season. On 30 April 2020 the nestcam page peaked at 15,500 views in the one day and sometimes as many as 1,000 people were watching simultaneously.
Gary Price, Salisbury Cathedral Clerk of Works, who has been involved with the peregrine nestbox from the start, said:
“It’s good to see the falcons back again. It’s impossible to tell whether it is the same pair as last year, but they do tend to be faithful to their territory. We got everything ready in good time, the balcony and gravel were cleaned, the cameras are up and running, so it is a matter of time before we see some action up there.”
Phil Sheldrake, Salisbury Cathedral’s Nature Conservation Adviser, who initiated the Cathedral’s peregrine project said:
“This is great news. I took a perfectly timed turn around the Cathedral Close about ten days ago and arrived to find a peregrine perched prominently on the Cathedral. Within five minutes I heard a call and the bird dropped down and then up to meet its incoming mate carrying food...an aerobatic gift. Truly exhilarating.”
The peregrines have also been seen mating, but that doesn’t really tell us when eggs are likely to be laid. It is usually within two weeks but female peregrines can control when their eggs are
fertilised, and she’ll only let that happen when she is sure her nest and territory are secure. Last year the eggs were laid between 22 March and 27 March; who know whether we’ll have an early season this year.
So, for the next few weeks, if you are in the Salisbury area or walking in the Close, keep an eye out for the falcons, and if you tune into the cameras in the Tower you may see them preparing a ‘scrape’ or hollow in the nestbox gravel. They do this by hunkering down and kicking with their legs. It may look odd but they do it for a very good reason. Peregrines generally nest high up on cliffs, where they scrape gravel into a hollow to stop their eggs rolling apart or falling off the rock shelf.
There’ll be regular reports from RSPB volunteers this year, and of course expert commentary from Gary Price (the Cathedral’s Clerk of Works), Phil Sheldrake, who began the peregrine project seven years ago when he was a Conservation Officer with the RSPB, and Granville Pictor of Wiltshire Ornithological Trust.
The Education team are also piloting lessons built around the peregrines and their film archive. These are being trialled by four local schools this year and, if they prove a success the team will offer them more widely.
Katherine Dolphin, Teaching Officer at Salisbury Cathedral said:
“We have wanted to try this for a long time. The peregrines are a useful tool for teaching all sorts of subjects; from basic aerodynamics to learning about the cycle of life on the nest. What’s great about it is that we have loads of footage and stills, experts who can share their knowledge and live nest cameras the children can keep a diary about.”