Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Peregrines Become Parents (Finally!)

It's times like these when it becomes increasingly difficult to work from home. From last Wednesday until Monday, I've had the live stream of the Chichester peregrines permanently playing on my computer while I simultaneously attempted to work on my commissions and keep an eye on those eggs for signs of hatching. I feel I've come to know these birds very well indeed with the amount of viewing time they've had from me!

My patience paid off, although there was one point when I was worried we might not be getting any hatching at all! After another shift in Chi on Thursday with still no positive signs, I woke up on both Friday and Saturday morning with the same thought running through my head: "today is the day." It turns out I was right on the latter but only just. Around about 11:30pm on Saturday night, I was just about to switch off the camera when I saw the female suddenly spring up from her seated position in the nest. She had spent that whole day fidgeting and wriggling about, clucking and peering down so I had an inkling that she knew something was happening.

She sprung up, dipped her head and one moment there were four eggs, the next there was a freshly-hatched chick! She picked it up gently and carried it over to the right of the nestbox briefly, before placing it back among the eggs and settling back down on top. I was thrilled to have caught the moment, the one I had been endlessly watching for for over four days or so. I went to sleep happy. I woke on the Sunday even happier; at 5am, a second chick had hatched!

 The female (L) and male (R) with their two chicks

The thing that has blown me away since this all happened is just how much of a part instinct plays in the cycle. These eggs were laid and the parents knew that they needed to be kept warm through incubation. Then the chicks hatched and without missing a beat, the male began to bring in small prey items which are passed to the female for plucking and feeding to the hatchlings. There was no hesitation or uncertainty. This may well only be this pair's second breeding year but they know exactly what they are doing. 

 One of the first feeds and the female mantles her prey

 It's been a treat to see the feeds taking place every couple of hours. Despite the fact that the male and female divided the incubation period more or less equally between them (the female took over for the nights), now that they have chicks, the female has gone into full "mother mode" and is incredibly reluctant to let the male brood them. The most I have seen him do is half an hour, just enough time for her to stretch her wings. I have particularly enjoyed listening to the amount of communication that goes on. The female and male call to each other loudly when they are trading food. When the female tears off small strips of meat for the chicks, she clucks as a form of encouragement so that they know food is coming. There have been a few moments when the male has flown in with the intention of taking over brooding and the female has remained sitting, but they exchange several "phrases" as if having a conversation. It's fascinating stuff.

By yesterday, the team were beginning to think that, like last year, we would only have the two chicks as the hatching bracket of 28-36 days was closing fast. For more rural peregrines, the bracket is 28-33 days but I've learnt recently that urban falcons have slightly longer, although I don't know the reason for this. This wouldn't have been unusual to only see two out of four eggs hatch out but we were hoping for more. Fortunately, our hoping wasn't for nothing and in the early hours of this morning, a third chick hatched!

 Male (L) and female (R) with chicks

 Fantastic view of the females talons!

I've been going screenshot mad over the past couple of days as it is all a new experience for me and I want to capture as much as I can. I feel so privileged to be observing this process in such a natural, unobtrusive way. To gain insight into the instinctual behaviour of this species without disturbing them is wonderful and being able to share it with the public in the way that we have been is extremely rewarding. 

There is still the matter of the fourth egg. Given that we have now passed day 36, there is very little chance that the fourth will hatch out. I'm writing this at 11pm so I could very well wake up tomorrow morning to see I've been proven wrong! Either way, the next few weeks are going to be equally as fascinating to observe. At this stage, the chicks closely resemble three balls of cotton wool more than the high-speed, streamlined falcons they will grow up to be. They are going to be eating enough food to double their weight every 7 days so that by week 6, they will be the same size as their parents and ready for fledging. Never a dull day with the peregrines; watch this space!

Male with two chicks in sight, third hidden behind.

All three chicks being fed by the female.

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