A lot goes on behind the scenes at Ealing Wildlife Group that isn’t posted publicly. For several years now, we’ve been watching, monitoring and keeping tabs on some of the rarer wildlife species in or near the borough of Ealing. Where threatened or endangered species may be prone to disturbance or persecution we’ve made it our priority to keep an eye, check in with other local experts, get in touch with landowners, developers and the ranger team to make sure that vulnerable wildlife is protected. And for several years now we’ve been watching a few pairs of peregrine falcons on the periphery or just outside the Borough getting on with their daily lives, and in a couple of cases breeding successfully. All with the hope that some day we’d see this incredible raptor species move in to Ealing proper, and expand their range.
Well, the last couple of months has seen a rising number of reports of peregrine falcon sightings around Ealing Hospital. And sure enough, there’s a pair roosting on the West face most days. The falcon, or female bird, much bigger than the male known as a tiercel, has a ring on each leg. On her right, a small silver British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ring. And more excitingly, on her left leg, an orange ring with a more obvious alphanumerical code. Our talented photographers have been out checking on them and finally we received a photo confirming her ring number from Steve Morey. Using that unique identifier, we got in touch with the licensed ringer who fitted this ring. It turns out our falcon was born in a quarry near Farnham in Surrey in 2018, and ringed as a well grown chick with her two siblings on the 28th May 2018 by a BTO licensed ringer. It wasn’t recorded whether she was a male or female at the time as the chicks were all similar in size. But now we can tell she is a female as she is much larger than her mate, a trait common in birds of prey.
Peregrine falcons are a globally widespread bird of prey, traditionally occupying habitats like sea cliffs and preying on the ancestor of domestic pigeons, the rock dove. In the 1950’s and 1960’d the global population crashed due to accumulation of agricultural pesticides in the food chain, namely DDT. Because they are apex predators, feeding on birds who in turn feed on agricultural grains and insects, the levels of these harmful chemical built up in peregrine tissues and caused breeding failure. They weren’t rendered infertile, but their egg shells became very thin and often broke, resulting in a global failure of the population to successfully raise chicks. When the use of these pesticides was banned enough peregrines had just clung on to make a slow recovery over the following decades. In many respects, it was the release of the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962 which shone a light on the destruction of wildlife by the agrochemical industry which saved the peregrine falcon and many other species. She died in 1964 aged 56 so didn’t live to see the wildlife population recovery she prompted, but her book is recognised as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.
Tall buildings and feral pigeon populations in urban areas nowadays mimic their natural habitat quite closely and as the population has recovered we’ve seen a movement of these magnificent raptors into cities and towns, where they find suitable ‘rock ledges’ to nest on and plentiful food supplies. But they are still persecuted by gamekeepers, racing pigeon fanciers and egg collectors. There is also a lucrative market for peregrine chicks to be used as falconry birds in the Middle East. So it’s important that their nest sites are protected, and in some cases where they are very vulnerable, kept entirely secret.
Many conservation bodies have discovered that sometimes the best way to protect vulnerable species is not to hide them away however, it’s to tell the public all about them and generate a community of people around them who will advocate for them, monitor them and feel a sense of ownership for ‘their’ birds. And in this case with our new peregrine pair on such a public building as Ealing Hospital, we feel that’s exactly the right approach. They are already in full view of Ealing residents. They are an apex predator, a great indicator species for the health of our local ecosystems and bird life, and what a fantastic species to engage the public with nature. Literally the fastest animal on the planet, with speeds of up to 200mph in a hunting stoop to capture other birds in flight. So let’s celebrate our newest wild residents!
How can we help?
We have been in touch with several other building managers or developments to discuss installing a nesting box or platform on rooftops in Ealing, and now have contacted the facilities manager at Ealing Hospital too. Luckily, they are already aware of the falcon pair and being careful not to disturb them,. One of the benefits they’ve seen already is the reduction of feral pigeon numbers around the hospital which are unfortunately a health hazard with their droppings if they occur in high numbers.
We’re hoping to collaborate to install a nest box in early 2021 to help these birds breed here and establish the hospital as a permanent breeding site. 2021 would be about the right time for our female P4V to breed for the first time, in her third year. This year the pair seem to roosting on the hospital and establishing their bond ready for breeding next year hopefully.
Naming the pair…
One of the ways we can engage the community with wildlife conservation in the borough and take an interest in protecting these birds, and by association our important habitats nearby, is to name the pair and make them something on an Ealing wildlife mascot. We’ve been busy collecting suggestions on our Facebook group, so now’s the time to put it to a public poll
Have your say here:
What shall we call our Ealing peregrine falcons?