A pair of peregrine falcons are nesting on St Albans Cathedral for the first time ever. The pair are now sitting on their eggs which have been laid very high up on the cathedral in a nesting tray, purposely installed for the birds to use.
This is a hugely rewarding development for the Wilder St Albans project, a collaboration between Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and St Albans City and District Council. The Wilder St Albans team linked up with local ornithologist and licensed bird-ringer, Barry Trevis, to construct and install the nesting tray at the Cathedral. The gravel-lined tray simulates the birds’ natural nesting sites usually found on cliff-top ledges and gives them a safe place to lay their eggs.
Heidi Carruthers, Wilder St Albans project officer said: ‘This is hugely exciting news and we’re delighted that the peregrines have been able to use the nesting tray. Peregrine falcons are such an iconic species so it’s fantastic to see them in the skies over St Albans. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the eggs hatch safely and the chicks fledge successfully.’
A powerful bird of prey with blue/grey plumage, a white face and a contrasting black moustache, the peregrine is extremely quick and agile. It holds the record for being not only the fastest bird in the world, but also the fastest member of the animal kingdom with a diving speed in excess of 200 miles per hour.
Peregrines are only found in a small number of isolated spots in the South-east of England and the St Albans pair are one of only five pairs breeding in Hertfordshire. Other pairs have bred in Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn Garden City and Wymondley.
Numbers of the species fell through the first half of the twentieth century to critical levels in the 1960’s but today peregrine falcons are protected by law as a Schedule 1 listed species of The Wildlife and Countryside Act. With it now being an offence to disturb the birds in any way, their numbers are slowly increasing – albeit with an estimated 1,500 breeding pairs nationwide their recovery still has ways to go.
As well as monitoring the progress of the St Albans peregrines, Barry Trevis has been studying breeding peregrines across Hertfordshire to help ensure the species’ safety. Barry said: ‘It is important that where possible a specially designed nest platform is provided for pairs of urban Peregrines. This encourages them to nest on any particular high building that they have been frequenting. It is then very important to monitor the breeding success of the birds, along with their survival rates and movements. We will also look to ring the chicks which can help provide valuable information on the birds.’
Peregrines normally mate for life and can remain loyal to their nest site each year, so it is likely that this pair will remain in St Albans and make the City, and, indeed, the Cathedral their permanent home.
Kevin Walton, Canon Chancellor of St Albans Cathedral said: ‘It is a great excitement to see – and to hear – these peregrine falcons making their home here. Jesus said, ‘In my Father’s house are rooms’ – and at St Albans Cathedral all God’s creatures are welcome!’
The countdown to the eggs hatching has now begun with the hope that there may be first sightings of chicks on the Cathedral from mid-June. Updates will follow on the progress of the expectant peregrine parents and, all being well, their young in due course.