We normally get a number of enquiries regarding the Peregrine Falcons in Leamington Spa as soon as the breeding season starts in March. If you have any queries or questions please read through our FAQ’s and hopefully we will have answered them already.
Q - Why do they choose to nest here?
Peregrine falcons are wild birds; they choose their own nesting sites. They have been nesting in the Bell Tower at the Town Hall in Leamington for a few years now.
Traditionally Peregrine Falcons nest on cliff faces where the female will scrape a shallow hollow in the loose soil, sand, gravel or dead vegetation where she will lay her eggs. We suspect that they are choosing inland sites because all their rural, cliff-nesting haunts have become saturated and so urban locations, often replicating cliffs, are the next best thing. There is also plenty of food in towns/cities and on the outskirts.
Now that more birds are choosing to nest in land on high buildings they are unable to make their scrape meaning that sometimes these nests can fail due to eggs rolling or getting very cold.
The nesting tray was placed in the bell tower in 2016 and enables the female to make a deeper area (known as a scrape) which will hold the eggs, stopping them from rolling and preventing them from getting cold.
Q – How can I tell the difference between the male & a female?
The male is smaller with dashes on the wings and a clean, white breast. The female is much larger, heavily barred on the wings, flecking on the white breast and, if seen well, you can spot a ring on her right leg.
Q – What do you call a male and female falcon?
Male Peregrines are known as Tiercels. This comes from the latin word tertius, which means “one-third”. Female falcons are referred to as Falcons. Young Falcons that are still in the nest are referred to as Eyasses.
Q – Do the adults pair for life? Do we know if it is the same pair?
Yes, unless one dies or a stronger male/female takes over. The female is certainly the same one and we know this because she has the ring on her right leg. As far as we can tell from markings it is the same male too.
Q – You say the current female is ringed… what do you know about her?
We know that she was ringed in Bristol in 2012. She hatched on the 4th May and was ringed 23 days later. She originally had a blue coloured ring marked “FA” but seems to have lost this. She was rung by Ed Drewitt.
Q – How many eggs do they normally lay?
Peregrines will normally lay 3 – 4 eggs per clutch.
Q - The first eggs have been laid, why are the parents not sitting on them?
Incubation starts once the next-to-last egg is laid. This prevents early development of the first eggs so all the eggs should hatch on the same day. The last egg may be a day later as it was laid after incubation began.
Some of the time spent away from the eggs at this early stage can be dependent on the weather too. If it's colder or very wet, or even very hot/in direct sunlight the parents may shelter the eggs.
Q – When will the eggs hatch?
The eggs hatch after approximately 30 days of incubation. The female does most of the incubation, although the male will do his bit when the female goes hunting for food. Incubation starts after the 3rd egg is laid. It is always the female you will see incubating the egg at night.
Q – What happens to any egg that doesn’t hatch or chick that doesn’t make it?
It is most likely that the mother will at some point move it out of the way. The chances are that if an egg doesn’t hatch it will eventually be broken through activity in the nest (either by the adults or the Eyasses). The egg, like the shells of the hatched chicks will eventually become invisible within the nest. If a chick doesn’t make it then there is also a possibility that the female may eat it, and feed it to the surviving chicks.
Q – If an egg doesn’t hatch or a chick dies why do you not remove them from the nest?
If we remove any unhatched eggs or dead chicks from the nest we would almost certainly be guilty of an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, due to the risk of disturbance. Once a problem has been observed, the female will very rarely leave the nest – sitting tight and doing her best to keep the chicks warm. Therefore, if we chose to access the nest at a time when the adult birds are under severe stress, we would risk the parents deserting the nest site. While we can see both sides of the argument regarding intervening, we feel that as they are wild birds we should let nature take its course even if the viewing can become difficult at times.
Q – There is one little chick who doesn’t get a much food. Why?
The smallest chick is likely to be the one that hatched last, and because of this it will be a couple of days behind the others. The adult falcons nesting in Leamington are experienced parents and have a great track record of raising healthy broods. However, if the conditions are difficult the parents will focus their efforts on the largest, healthiest chicks most likely to survive. We will not interfere as peregrine falcons are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside act and disturbing them is a criminal offence. It is important to remember that these are wild birds and so although it may seem cruel they are acting naturally.
Q – What does fledging mean? When does it happen?
A young bird that has just left the nest has fledged. When it is still in the area and flying it is known as a fledgling. The young fledge between 35-42 days after hatching.
Q – How do the chicks learn to catch their own prey? When will they leave their parents?
Adult peregrines will withhold food items and encourage the fledglings to take longer flights. At this time, the adults will drop prey in mid-air for them to catch in a food pass. Leaving their parents is gradual and spread over several weeks, during which time they gradually learn to fend for themselves. The adults will continue to feed them until they disperse naturally. There is no evidence that the adults drive juveniles away – it is likely that they will detach themselves from the parents as instinct dictates.
Q – What do Peregrines eat?
The most common prey item is pigeons however, they do prey on a wide variety of other bird species too, from smaller birds such as finches and wrens to larger birds such as ducks and magpies.
Q – Are Peregrine’s migratory species or can I see them here all year?
Peregrines across the world do seem to migrate to reach different climates, however in the UK they seem to stick around – so whatever time of year you are walking through Leamington Spa remember to look up. If they are not around the tower then they have also been spotted on local church towers including All Saints.
Q – Are Peregrine Falcons protected by Law?
In the UK, Peregrine Falcons have been given full legal protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. This means that it is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a Peregrine. They are also classed as a Schedule 1 species which gives them extra protection and means that it is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb adults or their young, on or near an ‘active nest.
People who regularly research/ring Peregrines require a Schedule 1 License giving them permission to access the nest site when/if required. In Leamington the council lock access to the Tower at the end of December until the end of the season only giving access to License holders for ringing the chicks or if any young need to be taken back up if grounded on their first flights.
Q – How many breeding pairs are there now in the UK?
The number of breeding pairs of Peregrines across the UK, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands is approximately 1700 pairs (2014)
Q - I've seen a bird of prey in my garden eating another bird. Was it a peregrine falcon?
Chances are that the bird you have seen is a Sparrowhawk. These birds commonly catch and eat small birds in gardens. Peregrines rarely land on the ground to eat prey, nor do they hunt low over gardens. One way of telling them apart is to look at the eyes - A Sparrowhawk has yellow eyes, whereas a Peregrine's eyes are black. Sparrowhawks do not have the dark moustachial stripe which is obvious in the Peregrine.
Q - How fast can they fly?
Peregrines are the fastest birds on the planet! In normal flight they are quite slow. However, when they perform their vertical dive called a 'stoop' they have been timed at over 200 miles per hour! A cheetah at its fastest can only reach speeds of 75 miles per hour.
Q - Do we know where the other ringed youngsters are?
No. To date only the chicks from 2018 and 2019 in Leamington have been ringed. No one has reported seeing them but the chance of this happening increases as they come into breeding age (two years old).
Q – Why do Peregrine Chicks get ringed?
Ringing Peregrine chicks, like many other species, helps us carry out research so that we can understand them more as a species and enables us to build a picture of the population as well as informing us how far they travel and how long they live.
About the cameras
Q - Who do I contact if the webcams aren’t working?
If you find that the webcam has frozen/isn’t working please try refreshing the page first and check your internet connection.
There can also be problems watching the webcam when using Google Chrome as you are unable to open the webcam images to a full page, please try a different browser
Please contact Philippa Arnold if there appears to be something wrong with the webcam and we will contact NW Security Group who stream the feed for us.
Q - Why is there no sound on the cameras on the website?
Unfortunately, the audio on the camera with sound is not compatible with the streaming service.
Q - Will the camera move around the tower like last year?
Yes, we have to be very careful at the start so as not to spook the adult birds. Once the chicks have hatched we can move the camera as and when we need to.
Identify birds of prey
‘Birds of prey’ are large, predatory bird species that have hooked bills, sharp talons, strong feet, and keen eyesight and hearing. The UK’s birds of prey come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes:
Hawks and eagles: medium to very large; hooked bills; rounded or broad wings; sharp talons; tend to soar
Falcons: small to medium-sized; tapered wings and tails; fast and agile; often hover
Owls: small to large; rounded heads; small, hooked bills; forward-facing eyes; mainly nocturnal