They’ve had twitchers in a flap for the last three years.
And this year a staggering 20,000 people from across the globe have been tracking the progress of the latest peregrine falcon chicks to hatch at Sheffield’s St George’s Church.
The city centre building first became home to Yorkshire’s first breeding pair of rare peregrine falcons three years ago and have been attracting the attention of bird watchers from around the world ever since.
While locals have been flocking to the site on foot to spot this year’s new additions, thousands of wildlife enthusiasts have been tracking the chicks’ progress via a special webcam, installed by conservation experts at the University of Sheffield.
“Traditionally peregrine falcons would nest and breed at sea cliffs and inaccessible sites so to be able to see them in Sheffield is an absolute privilege,” said Prof David Wood, from Sheffield University’s department of hispanic studies.
“As urban locations have come to pose much less of a threat to the birds than their natural habitats, they’ve been increasingly spotted in city centres.”
Prof Wood has worked alongside the university’s energy manager Phil Riley and Jim Lonsdale, from estates and facilities management, to develop a specialist breeding platform which has encouraged the falcons to nest successfully for the third consecutive year.
“When we became aware the rare birds were in Sheffield we were eager for them breed,” said Prof Wood, who is chair of the Sheffield Bird Study Group.
“We’d learnt from other experts that if the birds can’t find a suitable nest, providing one for them can be like sprinkling fairy dust to make magic happen.
“We chose to install a breeding platform at St George’s as we knew the birds had been using it as a vantage point during the day and its structure and stone exterior provides a good replica of a cliff face.
“The first box installed wasn’t successful but the second was used almost immediately.”
The four latest arrivals hatched on the platform on May 5, bringing the total number of peregrines born in Sheffield to nine.
“In the 1960s the amount of peregrine falcons in Britain fell to dangerously low levels,” said Prof Wood. “But in the last 15 to 20 years numbers have increased, though they are still rather scarce.
“In recent years there have been more of the birds spotted in urban locations including Derby, Nottingham, Manchester and Wakefield. That said, the birds do require a large territory so you wouldn’t get more than one pair breeding in a city.”
While bird lovers can follow the chicks’ development as they prepare to fly the nest via peregrine-cam and a blog written by Prof Wood, their parents can often be spotted on the city’s BT Building. One or two unsuspecting shoppers are even said to have witnessed the fine feathered creatures plucking feral pigeons off Fargate to feed their offspring.
Before the chicks fly the nest, bird enthusiasts can learn more at a special peregrine watch and talk from 6pm to 8pm at St George’s Church tomorrow.
n To watch the live webcam visit, efm.dept.shef.ac.uk/peregrine, or to read the blog, visit sheffieldperegrines.wordpress.com/