Take a look at our Peregrine Falcons!
We are very excited to have become home to two Peregrine Falcons! The birds have attracted a lot of interest and very soon we will be installing equipment enabling us to livestream from the tower, giving us all a closer look into the lives of these fascinating birds of prey. Keep an eye on our social media pages as we prepare to launch the new webcam.
Below, Ed Drewitt, a naturalist who is working on the project, provides some information about peregrine falcons and some advice on finding them at the Cathedral!
Peregrine Falcons on Llandaff Cathedral
Llandaff Cathedral is home to one of the fastest birds in the world, the peregrine falcon. They have been here throughout 2020 and we hope that they may nest here in 2021. A nest tray has been installed in the Cathedral tower, to encourage the peregrines to nest, and to ensure that any eggs that they lay don’t roll away into the gutter.
What does a peregrine look like?
Peregrines belong to the falcon family. They are crow-size with long, pointed wings, and a sharp, hooked beak. Their wings, back, tail, and the top of their head are mainly blue-grey in colour. They have white-cream underparts with spots and fine barring. Below each eye they have a thick, dark stripe. The legs and base of the beak (known as the cere) are bright yellow. The female (or falcon) is much bigger than the male (tiercel). Young peregrines are browner on the back and head, with a streaked chest, pale yellow legs, and a blue-brown cere.
Where can you see them on the cathedral?
The peregrines are often resting on the pinnacles and gargoyles of the cathedral’s towers – particularly on the east facing pinnacles at the base of the cathedral spire. If still, they can be difficult to see. Other times they may be flying around, often circling overhead and calling. They can be quite noisy, giving out screeches and other calls.
During February and March, the breeding pair may be very visible and noisy. They can be seen circling overhead, and heard calling as part of their courtship display. Later in the year, when the young have left the nest, the whole family may be seen flying low overhead.
Peregrines lay between one and five eggs in mid March to early April. Their nest is a small scrape on a rocky ledge or on gravel in a nest tray provided for them. The eggs are incubated mainly by the female, and during this time the male does most of the hunting.
In late April to early May, the eggs hatch. The chicks are fed by both parents, and they stay in the nest for six weeks. Whilst they are in the nest, they make a lot of noise, and frequently flap their wings. This helps them to strengthen their wing muscles as they get ready to fly.
Leaving the nest
The chicks leave the nest after six weeks, around mid-June. They may stay in the area throughout late summer and autumn, learning how to hunt and fend for themselves. After this, they will leave and find their own nest site a year or two later. Occasionally a young bird may stay and help their parents to look after the following year’s chicks.
What do peregrines eat?
Peregrines mainly eat other birds, hunting by chasing or diving at great speeds, with their wings half folded. They can dive at speeds over 200 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest birds in the world! Sometimes peregrines hunt at night over the city, using the street lamps to help them see their prey. Once they have caught their prey, they often take it to a favoured perch on the cathedral where it is plucked and eaten. Peregrines also store food in favourite crevices on the roof known as a cache – a natural fridge! We can study the diet of the peregrines by collecting the feathers of their prey, which drift down from their plucking-posts. From these studies we know that the peregrines at Llandaff Cathedral feed on a variety of birds including feral pigeons, goldfinches, jackdaws, blackbirds – and they sometimes even catch bats.
Sometimes peregrines hunt at night over the city, using the street lamps to help them see their prey.