History made at St Albans

25th May 2022

A peregrine falcon chick successfully hatched on St Albans Cathedral last week, making history as the first of the species to be born in the city.

First Peregrine Falcon Chick Hatches at St Albans Cathedral

Earlier in the month, it was announced that a pair of peregrines had bred on the Cathedral for the first time ever and that two eggs had been laid. Since then, there has been cautious excitement in the countdown to the eggs hatching, along with high levels of interest in the falcons from bird watchers and the local community, who have been visiting the Cathedral grounds to spot them.

The chick hatched in a purposely installed nesting tray in a location very high up on the cathedral and is being tended to by its parents. The peregrine project is part of the larger Wilder St Albans project, a collaboration between Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and St Albans City and District Council. The Wilder St Albans team linked up with local ornithologist and licensed bird-ringer, Barry Trevis, to construct and install the nesting tray at the Cathedral.

Heidi Carruthers, Wilder St Albans project officer said:

“It is thrilling to see a chick has hatched safely and we are all really excited to follow the bird’s journey on to fledging. Peregrines are such an iconic species so it’s fitting to have them making a home on the most iconic building in St Albans. There has been a lot of interest in the birds so we’re hoping that we can use this as an opportunity to teach people about these birds and the other wonderful wildlife all around us in Hertfordshire.”

The news that St Albans now has its very first peregrine chick is very exciting for everyone who has been following the story and whilst one of the eggs failed to hatch, it is understandable given that this happens in nature and it being the first time the inexperienced pair have bred.

Barry Trevis added:

“With the first egg having hatched over the period 16/17 May it now appears that the second egg will not hatch so long after the first. It is probably infertile. With an inexperienced, new breeding pair then that is not particularly unusual. At least we have one chick and considering the sheltered and secure nest position, with the benefits of cover that the tray provides plus plenty of food around, then it should survive to fledging around the last week of June.”

The adult peregrine is a powerful bird of prey with blue/grey plumage, a white face and a contrasting black moustache, who is extremely quick and agile. It holds the record for being not only the fastest bird in the world, but also the fastest member of the animal kingdom with a diving speed in excess of 200 miles per hour.

Numbers of the species fell through the first-half of the twentieth century to critical levels in the 1960’s but today peregrine falcons are protected by law as a Schedule 1 listed species of The Wildlife and Countryside Act. With it now being an offence to disturb the birds in any way, their numbers are slowly increasing – albeit with an estimated 1,500 breeding pairs nationwide their recovery still has ways to go.

Peregrines are only found in a small number of isolated spots in the South-east of England and the St Albans pair are one of only five pairs breeding in Hertfordshire. To celebrate the successful breeding of the peregrine pair, St Albans Cathedral ran a poll to name the birds resulting in Boudica and Alban winning the public vote.

Kevin Walton, Canon Chancellor of St Albans Cathedral said:

“We are very pleased to welcome our new peregrine falcon to its temporary home in the Cathedral tower, and as it prepares to take to the skies, we wish upon it God’s blessing. Congratulations also to Alban and Boudica!”

Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust, St Albans Cathedral and RSPB East have teamed up to deliver regular Peregrine Watch events so that the public can enjoy seeing these majestic birds close-up.

Starting on 28 May and running over every weekend and bank holiday until 17 July, between 11-3pm, they will set up an area within the Abbey Orchard in Verulamium Park, where telescopes will be trained on the peregrines and their chicks.

Additionally, there will be a camera and small screen for one of the telescopes, which will make watching the birds accessible, particularly so for children or adults in wheelchairs. Volunteers will be on hand to provide information, literature and to answer questions about the birds.

Whilst the arrival of the peregrine chicks is a first for St Albans, it is likely that they will not be the last. Peregrines normally mate for life and can remain loyal to their nest site each year, so it is hopeful that this breeding pair will remain here and continue to add to the numbers of the species.

It is hoped that there may be first sightings of chicks on the Cathedral from mid-June.