Rare falcons ringed but weather and raiders take their toll
Forest chiefs are working to ensure that rare Peregrine Falcons continue to grace northern skies. Forestry Commission experts have begun ringing chicks produced by the magnificent creature, which until recently was one of the most persecuted birds in Britain. This year 11 nests are being monitored in the 62,000-hectare (155,000-acre) Kielder Forest, Northumberland, most built on rocky ledges that offer protection from potential predators.
Back in the 1990s the bird had become so rare that, when a pair nested in Kielder, a 24-hour security operation was mounted to protect the site. Since then the bird's revival has been a success story for the Forestry Commission and other conservationists in the region. But many threats remain. Early reports suggest that the stormy weather that struck the region in mid-May has taken its toll. Gales and lashing rain made it almost impossible for adults to hunt for food and some famished new-born Peregrine chicks perished.
Paul Pickett, Forestry Commission wildlife ranger, abseils down a Kielder Forest cliff face to retrieve Peregrine Falcon chicks for ringing (Photo: PA).
Martin Davison, Forestry Commission ornithologist, said: "The bad weather couldn't have come at a worse time. Young chicks have no body-fat reserves and so need feeding soon after birth. One of the Peregrine nests I'm monitoring has been reduced from three chicks to just one. And that little one only pulled through because mum fed it with the two dead chicks."
Whilst little can be done about the weather, it is worrying that human predation is also on the increase. Last year three local nests overseen by Martin — although none on Forestry Commission land — were raided, two for their eggs and the other for the chicks that were taken. Suspicious activity has also been seen around one nest site this spring. This mirrors a national upturn in illegal activity targeting Peregrines.
Peregrine Falcon chick is ringed before being returned to the nest (Photo: PA).
Martin Davison continued: "Back in the 1980s, half of all Peregrine nests in the county were raided by criminals searching for eggs or young birds. We are certainly not back to those desperate levels and the bird's revival has been encouraging, but we can't be complacent, as last year's thefts show."
Chris Collett of the RSPB said: "The thefts of Peregrine Falcon eggs and chicks are selfish and callous crimes that rob us of the chance to see these amazing birds in their natural habitat. In the UK, wild Peregrines are protected by law and any theft from a nest is punishable by heavy fine or even a custodial sentence."