Frequently asked questions about the NTU Falcon Project
1. How many chicks in total have fledged this site?
This has been a very successful nest site, with 32 chicks fledging successfully in the last seven years. This included four chicks in 2016.
2. Why doesn't the nest box have a roof to it?
A nest box with a roof was trialled many years ago, but the falcons chose to ignore it. Very early on when they first arrived they laid their eggs in the gutter, and consequently these were washed away. This is why we installed the tray-style box we have today.
3. Can I tell whether the falcon is male or female?
The best way to tell the male and female apart is their size. The female is considerably larger than the male – up to a third bigger overall. As well as being smaller, male birds also tend to have a more slender look. Females can often have bolder, more striking markings, and also have longer beaks.
4. There often seems to be one chick who doesn't get fed adequately. Why is this, and can you help?
It is likely that this will be the chick that hatched last, and because of this it will be a couple of days behind its siblings. Fortunately, our parents here in Nottingham are very experienced and have an excellent track record of raising full broods of healthy young. Despite this, if the conditions for the family are difficult, the parents will concentrate their efforts on the largest, healthiest chicks. Sadly we cannot intervene, as doing so would risk making us guilty of an offence under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, due to the risk of disturbance.
5. Do you keep any records of the pigeon rings discarded in or around the nest?
Yes. Once the falcons have left for the year, the team from NTU clear the nest and any rings found are passed on to Notts Wildlife Trust. They are then logged with the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. You may find this NTU falcons blog entry of interest.
6. Why can't we watch the falcons getting ringed?
Once a year representatives from Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust come to the nest and put identification rings on the legs of the chicks. The cameras are turned off because the birds are protected, and in the past people have actually phoned the police to report that chicks are being stolen when they aren't! Also, the ringer would likely obscure the view as they have to stand directly in front of the camera to reach the chicks. We thought it would be better to video and photograph the ringing using different, portable cameras to get the best views possible.
7. What is the process of ringing the falcons at NTU? How long does the process take?
The ringing team waits until the parents are away from the nest and the whole operation is carried out as quickly as possible, often in under ten minutes. Ringing is part of a scientific monitoring programme and is timed to minimise any disturbance. It is very unlikely that a carefully executed ringing operation would cause any risk of the parents abandoning the nest. We would encourage you to watch the video made by NTU and the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust about the ringing of the 2012 chicks.
8. If you can visit the nest for the ringing process, then why can't you intervene if the chicks are struggling?
The decision about whether to intervene when the chicks were struggling is a much wider issue. It is possible that during a difficult period any further stress could lead to the adults abandoning the nest completely. Most importantly, we will not intervene as they are wild birds, and if we removed them from the nest it would be almost impossible to return them to the wild.
9. How can I contribute to protecting these peregrines and other wildlife in Nottingham?
We are now taking donations for this project. All the money raised will split 50:50 between NTU and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. NTU will donate all money raised to birds of prey research projects.
10. If a chick dies, why can't you remove it from the nest?
If we remove chicks from the nest in this way we would almost certainly be guilty of an offence under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, again due to the risk of disturbance. Once a problem has been observed, the female will very rarely leave the nest – sitting tight and doing her best to keep the chicks warm. Therefore, if we access the nest at a time when the adult birds are under severe stress, we would risk the parents deserting the nest site.
In terms of the design and location of the nest itself, the pair have used it very successfully over many years, raising numerous clutches without any real problems with the weather. While we can see both sides of the argument regarding intervening, we feel that as they are wild birds we should let nature take its course. The cameras were initially installed for security, to prevent the nest being attacked. We now have the added privilege of being able to share the ability to observe the family with the general public – even if the viewing can become difficult at times.
11. Since it is not possible for dead chicks to be removed from the nest by human intervention, what is likely to happen to them?
It is likely that the mother will at some point move them out of the nest, but there is also a possibility that she may eat them, and feed them to the surviving chicks.
12. Do peregrines eat their own eggshells?
While eating the shells would make good sense, both in terms of preventing the white interiors of the eggs giving away the location of the nest to predators and as a means of recovering minerals lost in the egg making process, there is nothing to suggest that all female peregrines do this. One expert, Derek Ratcliffe, has suggested in his book that peregrines nibble at the shells to break them up rather than to eat them. All of this research is thanks to Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project.
13. Are our peregrine family a bit speedy, or do raptor eggs usually hatch so close together?
Peregrine chicks tend to hatch over a period of a couple of days.
14. Will the fledged chick return to the site? How far away from the birth site do they usually fly?
Once they have mastered the art of flying, they will probably still be dependent on their parents for food for a little while longer. We think they'll stay within a 60-mile radius.
15. How will the fledged chicks learn to hunt, and when will they leave the parents?
The adults will withhold food items and encourage them to take longer flights. At this time, the adults will drop prey in mid-air for them to catch in a food pass – this activity contributes to bringing about the day when they will become independent. The loosening of ties with the parents is gradual and spread over several weeks, during which time they gradually learn to fend for themselves. The adults will continue to feed them until they disperse naturally. There is no evidence that the adults drive juveniles away – it is likely that they will detach themselves from the parents as instinct dictates.
16. Has any news been heard of chicks from past years?
At times we have noticed that there have been three adult peregrines around the nest, and it's possible the third is a chick from previous years returning. All of the chicks were ringed, but we can't say for certain where they have made their new home – unless we find one with its ring, of course. We are considering using a new monitoring system in the future that might make it easier to track chicks after they leave the nest. Updates will be posted about this in due course.