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Monday, 1 June 2015

Terror in the skies

Is it a bird? Well yes it is, the Exeter peregrines being very vocal, as fledging time approaches. This year there are two chicks, a male and a female, expected to launch next week sometime between Tuesday and Saturday (live nestcam:

St Michael and All Angels Church in Mount Dinham was one of the first churches in the UK to host urban peregrines in 1988, making the church possibly the biggest birdbox in Exeter. Since then almost 50 young have hatched and been reared to maturity. 

Often the fledglings, instead of flying, 'parachute' in a fairly uncontrolled descent down on to pavements and roofs around St David's Hill and Iron Bridge. A group of us is on call again this year to retrieve any chicks from such abortive maiden flights, to return them to the nest. If over the next few days the phone call never comes, I'd be both relieved and disappointed.

The adults are especially protective around this time and don't tolerate any large birds, such as ravens or buzzards, coming anywhere near the church. Nick Dixon, main monitor of the Exeter peregrines for well over a decade, has been recording interactions with buzzards for the last few years, and recently published a paper on this topic with Andrew Gibbs in the May 2015 edition of British Birds.  

The Exeter peregrines seem particularly belligerent, or diligent, in clearing the local sky of potential threats to the fledglings. Nick says: "we have recorded over 100 attacks this year alone with 9 downed buzzards recorded up to the end of May. We have seen a real increase in buzzards over the city in good weather conditions and this year’s tally to date exceeds the total recorded over the previous 6 years.

I've seen this 2-3 times this year through April-May: one peregrine stopping fast and from high at a buzzard repeatedly, while the other sometimes circles round at buzzard height. Each time the buzzard flipped upside down to present its talons at the onrushing peregrine, which would divert away at the last moment, in the last heart beat before impact. On those occasions the buzzard was gradually driven away. 

Nick is interested in any further sightings, and asks for the following information for each attack: 
  • date and time,
  • whether just one or both peregrines involved, and
  • the outcome (buzzard driven off/direction, downed or unseen)

Please forward records of buzzard-peregrine encounters to Emily at Devon Wildlife Trust, who will send them on to Nick (e-mail Nick and Andrew record more detailed information if anyone is interested in making more systematic observations.  

Watch the skies! Especially on warm days with rising thermals, if you see a buzzard over Exeter, look up even further to see if the dark arrow of a peregrine is there above.

STOP PRESS: Nick reports "The male fledged on Thurs 11th, exactly 42 days from hatching, and the female finally left the nest today, 45 days after hatch. There have been some fears that she wasnt feeding properly and seemed to lack the frantic wing flapping of the male to build up the wing muscles prior to her first flight, but she left the nest at 08.10, flew to a stone cross and has spent most of the day on the eastern roof ridge."

Nick is still interested to receive details of any peregrine-buzzard encounters.

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