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Experts Ascend 208 Steps and 130ft to Ring Peregrine Chicks at Chichester Cathedral (posted 18 May 2016)

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Experts ascend 208 steps and 130ft to ring peregrine chicks at Chichester Cathedral

Ringing of Peregrine Chicks 2016 by Luke Dray
Ringing of Peregrine Chicks 2016 by Luke Dray

The ringing of the 2016 peregrine chicks took place on the evening of 17 May 2016.  The visit, to weigh, measure and ring the chicks, was undertaken by a small team who ascended 208 steps and 130ft to emerge at the base of the Cathedral spire.  Graham Roberts, an expert from the Sussex Ornithological Society, then made a further, precarious climb, on a ladder to scale over the top of the Cathedral's south east turret to where the peregrines are nesting.

So as not to cause the chicks too much distress, two chicks at a time, were placed in fabric bags and lowered on ropes to the team down below at the base of the spire.  Graham then descended to ring the chicks, measuring their wingspan and the size of their heads.  The chicks were also weighed in a small fabric hammock.  All went well and the chicks - all 21 days old - are fit and healthy.  The ringing also enables the team to establish the sex of the chicks - three males and a female.  They can be told apart by subtle differences in their size, the female will eventually be larger than the males and at this stage she has much bigger feet than the male chicks.  The female chick weighed in at 890g, whereas the three male chicks weighed 635g, 660g and 670g.  Although this process is inevitably disruptive to the peregrine family, the chicks were relatively relaxed throughout the process.  The parents were circling above, making a lot of noise but managing to fend off a buzzard attack at the same time.

Peregrine Chicks in Nesting Box by Luke Dray
Peregrine Chicks in Nesting Box by Luke Dray

The special identifying rings, fitted to the chick's legs, have no ill effects on the rare birds, but allow conservationists to monitor them throughout their lives.  This gives valuable insights into the behaviour of a species.  One of the male chicks born at Chichester Cathedral in 2015 has since been spotted almost 70 miles away in Durlston Country Park, Dorset.  This year was the first time that all four chicks hatched on the same day and they have about three more weeks in the nest before they fledge.  Over that time they will continue to develop and will then leave the nest and become adults, eventually raising chicks of their own.  In total 54 chicks have now bee raised from the nest box in the 15 years since they first bred successfully in 2002 - a very productive nest site!

The family of peregrine falcons have been captivating Cathedral audiences for over a month now as part of the RSPB's free Date with Nature event.  Visitors have been able to watch the peregrine family grow and fledge on the Cathedral's south east turret.  The site at Chichester Cathedral was the first in Europe to host a peregrine webcam that gives an intimate view of the peregrines raising their young.  Live HD footage beamed from the nest to the Cathedral's Cloisters Café, where a special viewing area is being run by the RSPB.  Entry is through the Café and is free of charge, and telescopes and binoculars are available for visitors to see the birds.  The RSPB Date with Nature event runs until Sunday 10th July 2016. 

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