We want to be talon you more about our peregrines

27 April 2016

Peregrine Falcons nesting at NTUWe have been lucky enough to have two peregrine falcons nesting at Nottingham Trent University for more than ten years. Dr Louise Gentle of the School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences (ARES) applied for Alumni Fund money to purchase a thermal imagery camera so that scientists can investigate whether the birds are bringing freshly killed (warm) prey back to the nest, or food which has been killed earlier and stored in a larder (cold). The project will also enable the scientists to determine whether the peregrines are hunting at night. 

Peregrine falcons are believed to be the fastest animal on the planet, reaching speeds of more than 200mph when diving for prey.

The study will involve monitoring the university's resident peregrines, which have nested on a ledge of the university's Newton building in the city centre. Dozens of chicks have been raised and successfully fledged during this time. While peregrines typically nest on cliff edges and open landscapes, in recent years peregrines have started nesting on tall buildings in towns and cities, which mimic these conditions. It is thought to be the first time a thermal camera has been used in this way and is part of ongoing research at the university to compare the behaviour and ecology of urban and rural peregrine falcons. It is known that rural peregrines will store food for later, especially during the winter when it is more scarce, but less is known about the feeding habits of urban peregrines which potentially have access to a greater abundance of food.

Esther Kettel, a PhD research student in ARES said: "If the prey is displaying as warm on camera, we'll know that it's freshly killed, whereas cold temperatures would suggest the adult birds are caching food and returning to it later." She is studying how peregrine falcons have adapted to an urban life, which will involve looking at both urban and rural nests all over the UK. Along with BSc Wildlife Conservation student George Wells, they have collected prey remains to further understand what urban birds are feeding on. So far they have found many feral pigeons, but also a wide variety of other species, including whimbrel, lapwing, coot, woodcock, and a cuckoo.

The NTU peregrines chicks hatched a few days ago so it is hoped that the increasing number of kills brought in for the chicks will be displayed on the thermal camera as either warm or cold. Interestingly, the thermal camera has already shown how warm the eggs and chicks are after the parents have been incubating them. Why not follow Esther's blog and read more about the chicks hatching?

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