University falcons stirring more than a degree of interest

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AFTER a nesting platform was created for them more than two years ago, a pair of peregrine falcons at Sheffield University have become Yorkshire’s first urban breeding pair.

Professor David Wood, from the university’s department of Hispanic studies, is also chairman of the Sheffield Bird Study Group.

He has kept a close eye on the behaviour of the pair of birds since a nesting platform was placed atop the St George’s Church lecture theatre in early 2010.

He said: “In February I saw the first signs of territorial behaviour around St George’s as the pair attacked a kestrel over Brook Hill roundabout.

“Then in late March copulation was observed on several occasions.

“This was a clear indication that they intended to breed at the site and both birds were seen repeatedly on and in the nest platform.

“They’ve been sitting on eggs for a few weeks, and the adults’ behaviour indicates that the eggs gave now hatched.”

Sheffield University now plans to install a webcam near the nest to record the peregine falcons’ activity over the summer.

University energy manager Phil Riley said: “This will not only act as a security camera to ensure the nest is not tampered with, but will also allow us to make high quality images of these beautiful wild birds available to the public.”

Peregrine falcons have previously been an endangered species because of factors as varied as indiscriminate pesticide use and being a target for egg collectors.

Their population has steadily increased since the 1970s because of better legal protection.

Prof Wood led the project to get peregrines nesting in Sheffield after seeing similar platforms used in Derby, Manchester and Lincoln.

He added: “For the pair to be successful on their first breeding attempt is fantastic and I was really thrilled when I watched the female taking food to the nest, the clearest indication yet that the chicks have hatched.

“Peregrines are one of the most spectacular species in Britain, traditionally associated with remote sea cliffs and inaccessible sites, and to be able to see them in urban Sheffield is an absolute privilege.”