Sparrowhawk is killed by peregrines

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk

LAST week the Chichester cathedral peregrines killed a sparrowhawk and brought it home for the four chicks to eat.

The RSPB staff on duty at the Cloisters café and shop reported seeing the prey which had a grey, barred tail like this one in the photograph by reader Joan Scowen of Fishbourne.

This particular bird in Mrs Scowen’s picture was sitting in her garden border having just missed catching a bird and was recovering for several minutes after the abortive chase. This is quite a common occurrence. They usually take time to get over the excitement of the chase and have to sit quietly to get their breath back. One can just imagine how this slippery bird which can twist and turn at speed through small gaps in the bushes must have tried every trick in the book to avoid being caught by a peregrine.

Of course, peregrines rely on speed and surprise so the sparrowhawk just may not have known what had hit it as it in turn was in pursuit of something else.

Back in 1921 my father saw a peregrine on Baggy Point in North Devon stoop onto a kestrel which was hovering above the heath looking for a vole to catch. The kestrel was bumped on the back and it fell dead and the peregrine came down and ate the carcas there and then.

But the usual target of the tiercel at Chichester, he being much smaller than his mate the falcon, has been juvenile starlings. These breed in the rooftops of the city on old chimney pots and old buildings. These are easy to carry and prepare for the family.

Once last week the falcon went out and got a wood pigeon, which is much heavier to carry home. A few years ago she actually brought back a mallard which is probably heavier than she is herself.

She is still a very strong mother despite having produced 42 children over the past decade. She also joins in chasing buzzards and red kites away from the cathedral.

She stooped onto a buzzard last year and hit it with such force that a small cloud of feathers burst from the buzzard’s back.

RSPB staff who watch every move of this famous pair of peregrines on film (also available to the public until July) saw the tiercel bring back a magpie last week. That must have been quite a struggle for him. It may have been a youngster, just out of the nest. Few will deny him one of those.

So far this year there do not seem to have been any piracy from the herring gulls which also nest nearby on rooftops. Last year they had their eye on the young peregrines and made one or two sorties close by the nestbox in the south east turret.

They do not seem to have been part of the prey potential but my father did see them knocked down in Devon back in the twenties.

Richard Williamson