Bath - St Johns

About the Peregrines in Bath - How They’ve Done This Century

Peregrines were first observed regularly at Bath from around 2000.  After three years of peregrine residence without any indication of successful breeding, in 2005 a nest platform was installed on the spire of one of the peregrine’s favourite roost sites, St John’s RC Church in South Parade.  The birds first bred successfully the following season, and they have hatched young every year since.

View along the River Avon with St Johns RC Church in the distance – Photo by Hamish Smith

For a number of years, local conservationists had been monitoring the progress of the adults and their clutch(es) via a locally accessed camera installed above the nest site.  In 2014 a high quality wildlife camera system streaming live on the internet was funded by the Hawk & Owl Trust and installed by the same group of local conservationists who had built and installed the nest box and the original camera. Across the world, the observations via these urban nest site camera systems provide invaluable insight into the feeding and breeding ecology of these magnificent birds.

Under the authority of a Natural England / British Trust for Ornithology Schedule 1 licence, the Bath eyasses are ringed at around 23 days from hatching by the Hawk & Owl Trust’s Bath Peregrine Project Officer (BPPO).  At the same time, under a separate project run throughout Avon, Wiltshire and Somerset by the BPPO on behalf of Urban Peregrine expert Ed Dewitt, the birds are fitted with a blue colour ring.  This ring carries two unique letters to allow identification later in life.

The first bird ringed under the project in 2007 (blue ring AA) is the current breeding tiercel (male) at Bath, and a falcon (female) ringed GA at Bath in 2013 has made her way to Norwich where she has installed herself as the breeding female at the Norwich Cathedral UPP nest platform.

Normal peregrine clutches are three or four eggs, with two or three hatching. This is the breeding record for the Bath Peregrines since 2006:

 

Year

H/R/F

Gender (Blue Ring)

2006

4/4/4

Not Recorded

2007

2/2/2

M(AA) F(AB)

2008

2/2/2

u/k(AC) u/k(AD)

2009

1/1/1

F(AP)

2010

4/4/4

F(BZ) F(CA) M(CB) F(CC)

2011

3/3/3

M(CT) F(CV) u/k(CX)

2012

2/2/2

M(DR) F(DS)

2013

2/2/2

F(GA) M(GB)

2014

1/1/1

F(HG)

2015

3/3/3

F(JX) F(JY) M(JZ)

2016

3/3/3

M(KP) F(KR) u/k (believed M - not ringed)

2017

4/4/4

F(PW) F(PX) F(PY) M(PZ)

2018

4/3/3

M(TA) M(TB) F(TC)

H/R/F = Hatched / Reared / Fledged

 

A good clutch does not always guarantee a good number of fledglings.  In 2018 one of the Bath eyasses died in the nest at 9 days old after, it is believed, the falcon inadvertently ‘spiked’ it with a talon while moving in the nest to accept food being delivered by her mate.  While unfortunate, this is not an unusual occurrence, although it is the first time we have witnessed it at Bath.

In their first few months on the wing, young peregrines spend their time with the adults developing their socialising, flying and hunting skills over the city.  As the season progresses, in autumn the young birds having become self-sufficient begin to disperse, gradually disappearing individually at first for a few days, and then for longer, but seeming to return to Bath regularly in their first year.  While they remain immature, their presence is not resisted by the adults, which do not drive the young away.  However, after the turn of the year, when the young have developed adult plumage, their parents start to view them as competitors for the forthcoming breeding season, and that is when the young have to move away or risk their parents attacking them.  If an adult dies or disappears, an individual from an earlier brood may take its place and pair with the surviving adult.  This was the case at Bath in 2008 when, after breeding and the eggs hatching, the resident male left the area.  His place was taken by his ‘son’ AA which has been the breeding male at Bath ever since.

The composition of the Urban Peregrine diet was the subject of a ten year study by Ed Drewitt and Nick Dixon (Exeter Peregrines), the results of which were published in a paper (Diet and prey selection of urban-dwelling Peregrine Falcons in southwest England) carried by British Birds in February 2008.  Bath Peregrines continue to support this research thrust through the analysis of prey remains from below the nest site and from the nest itself once the young have fledged.