One of the two peregrine chicks that hatched on Salisbury Cathedral's tower last year has been spotted 81 miles (as the crow flies) away from home. The female peregrine, named Aveline by Cathedral staff, was caught on camera in Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve, Old Wolverton near Milton Keynes, by wildlife photographer and blogger Ashley Beolens, who identified her by her distinctive blue ring, which bears the initials SC.
Her brother, Raphael, has not yet been sighted. He carries a blue ring with the initials ST. Ashley Beolens said: “I was watching the female peregrine hunting and noticed the ring, so I tweeted a picture asking if anyone knew anything about coloured rings on peregrine falcons. Pretty quickly I heard back from Ed Drewitt, who has ringed all Salisbury Cathedral’s peregrines. While I was watching her she was hunting wading birds and tried to snatch an egret, which got away. It was amazing seeing her in action.”
This peregrine sighting is a first for the Cathedral - Aveline is one of only nine falcons that have fledged from the tower in recent years which has been seen again after leaving the Close. For Philip Sheldrake, the RSPB Conservation Officer who has worked with the Cathedral’s Clerk of the Works, Gary Price, to bring the peregrines back to the Cathedral after sixty years absence, nearly five years patient work has paid off.
Philip Sheldrake said: “It is great news. We thought when she left in late summer 2016 that we’d never see or hear about her again. Peregrines travel great distances and only one in every seven ringed in the South West area is ever sighted again after leaving the nesting site.”
All birds ringed the Bristol and West region (which includes Salisbury) carry the distinctive blue ring which is a regional trademark, and each ring bears unique initials that identify that particular bird. The man who oversees ringing in the South West is Ed Drewitt, a freelance naturalist and specialist ringer.
Ed Drewitt said: “My hunch is that Floodplain Forest is a temporary home and our female peregrine is just passing through, spending the winter in a place where there is a ready supply of ducks and wading birds to feed on. She’ll probably move on in the spring and given that she is only six months old it will be at least a year before she finally settles down and breeds.”
NOTES ON INCUBATION, HATCHING AND FLEDGING
The peregrines at Salisbury generally lay their eggs at the end of March and incubation begins once the last egg is laid, taking around 29-32 days per egg. The chicks hatch over a period of a couple of days, and initially the brooding and feeding of the young is carried out by the female, while the male hunts to supply the food – but after the first couple of week the female takes up her share of duties of the hunting.
The young fledge at 35-42 days – last year the two Cathedral peregrines, Aveline and Rapahel, fledged at the end of June and within two months, having learnt how to hunt and handle prey from their parents, they became fully independent. Less than a third of peregrines reach breeding age. Those that do can expect to live 5-6 years. The oldest known peregrine was over 16 years old.
Ed Drewitt and his team ring the peregrines Salisbury Cathedral on behalf of the RSPB. During ringing the chicks are weighed, their new wing feathers and their beaks are measured, and they are given two rings, the significant ring being the large blue ring with unique initials on it, which can be easily seen from the ground. If you would like to interview the team who are involved with the peregrine project at Salisbury Cathedral see contact details below or get in touch with Marie Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org 01722 555148
Philip Sheldrake RSPB Conservation officer
Phone: 0777 2342 758
For any other enquiries contact Marie Thomas email@example.com 01722 555148
NOTES TO EDITORS:
i. Salisbury Cathedral is one of Britain’s finest medieval cathedrals. It offers a warm welcome to all who visit and seeks to strengthen church and community life in the diocese. Salisbury Cathedral seeks to make a difference for God through exceptional worship and outreach, and has a special commitment to challenging injustice and fostering reconciliation, both at home and abroad. Over 300,000 people visit the Cathedral each year to marvel at the peace and beauty of the nearly 800 year old building and admire Britain’s tallest spire. The finest original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta is on permanent display to visitors in the Chapter House.
This year Salisbury Cathedral’s volunteer group, which numbers around 650 and includes the Cathedral, Tower and Magna Carta Guides, received a Queens Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent of an individual MBE. It recognizes the excellent service they give to the Cathedral congregation, visitors and the local community.
ii. Salisbury Cathedral Peregrines
In 2014 three peregrine chicks were hatched, ringed and fledged from the base of Salisbury Cathedral’s spire and a further four in 2015. Last year just two peregrine out of a clutch of four survived and fledged. Prior to that the last time peregrines nested at Salisbury Cathedral was 1953, just eight years after the end of the Second World War and the year Everest was conquered.
iii. History of Peregrines at Salisbury
Salisbury 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.
The peregrines returned to the Tower in 2013 but failed to nest successfully. The following year a nest box was installed and three eggs hatched and three chicks fledged. In 2015 four eggs hatched and four peregrines fledged, though one peregrine name George crash landed in the ground of Sarum College and had to be brought back up to the Tower, from which he successfully flew shortly afterwards.
There are records of peregrines at Salisbury going back to the 17th and 19th century. In 1874 a report details 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. The archive also contains an old glass plate negative of young peregrine on the Tower, taken by well-known Salisbury photographer Wilfred Chaplin.
iv. Fast Facts on Peregrines
According to the RSPB website there are just 1500 breeding pairs in the UK, a remarkable achievement given that the peregrine population went into steep decline during the 1950s and early 1960s. By 1963 just 360 pairs were recorded. According to the RSPB this was largely due to the widespread use of organochloride pesticides (e.g. DDT), which worked their way up the food chain, causing egg shell thinning and failed nests. Subsequent reduction in the use of these chemicals and increased protection of the birds meant that over the last 52 years numbers have begun to climb again.