A pair of Peregrine Falcons that bred on St Albans Cathedral are once again capturing people’s interest. One of only five pairs in Hertfordshire, the birds have been seen on and around the Cathedral since early spring and for the second year in a row the birds are breeding. In an exciting development, the public will now be able to view all the action from their nesting tray live via a newly installed webcam at the Cathedral.
Peregrine Falcons normally mate for life and often remain loyal to their nest site each year, so the Cathedral have taken the step of having the webcam installed, giving the public a birds-eye view of the iconic birds of prey. The webcam sponsored by Leica, who manufacture high-end optics, cameras and lenses, will provide a live feed for all to view via the Cathedral’s website. David Adams, Director of Property and Fabric at St Albans Cathedral, worked closely with David Faraday of Express Telephony to install the camera and get it up and running, so everyone can see these incredible birds in real time.
Heidi Carruthers, Engagement Officer at Herts and Middlesex Trust said: ‘The nesting tray was purposely installed high up on the Cathedral in March 2022, following the first sighting of a Peregrine Falcon pair by the Cathedral. Our team from the Wilder St Albans project, a collaboration between Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and St Albans City and District Council, linked up with local ornithologist and licensed bird-ringer, Barry Trevis, who constructed the tray with help from local bird photographer, Kevin Garrett.
‘The tray and bags of shingle were then carried up high on the Cathedral to an area that the Peregrines were known to be favouring. The shingle was placed inside the tray to provide the correct substrate for the Peregrines to be able to make their shallow nest ‘scrape’, simulating the birds’ natural nesting sites usually found on cliff-top ledges and providing them with a safe place to lay their eggs.
‘There has been so much interest in the birds, it’s great to know that this year we’ll be able to get a close-up view of their antics and I’m hopeful that we will see chicks too!’
In 2022, sightings of the two birds enthralled the public and they became the subject of many discussions and social media posts. The team at the Cathedral organised a public vote to name them and ‘Boudica’ and ‘Alban’ went on to successfully raise one chick, who, in a second round of voting, was named ‘Artemis’. This year, it will be all eyes on the webcam to see what happens next!
A powerful bird of prey with blue/grey plumage, a white face and a contrasting black moustache, the Peregrine Falcon 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.
The number of breeding pairs of Peregrine Falcons in Southern England are gradually increasing and are mainly using high buildings such as cathedrals, churches and office blocks in our cities, towns and some villages, along with some more natural sites such as quarries. Despite this, the St Albans pair are thought to be 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 and the national breeding population is considered to be in excess of 1,700 pairs.
Barry Trevis has been studying breeding Peregrine Falcons across Hertfordshire to help ensure the species’ safety. Barry said: ‘The new webcam, which was carefully installed prior to the birds breeding, is an excellent tool in helping us to monitor the breeding success of the birds. Should they be successful, we will look to ring the chicks which can help provide information on the birds, giving us valuable insights to their survival rates and movements.’
Kevin Walton, Canon Chancellor of St Albans Cathedral said: ‘It is a great excitement to be able to see, watch and 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!’
Within hours of the webcam going live, the first egg was laid! You can keep an eye on what happens next on the nest tray and explore the Peregrine Falcons’ behaviour on the Cathedral’s webcam by visiting www.stalbanscathedral.org/peregrine-live-cam.
Additionally, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and the RSPB are organising Peregrine Watch within the grounds of the Cathedral over weekends throughout spring and summer enabling the community to find out more about these magnificent birds and get a close up view through telescopes and binoculars, which will be provided. A schedule of these events will be published online at www.hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/events.
You can find out more about Peregrine Falcons in this fact file from Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust.
Image © Patrick Wainwright