Peregrine Falcons at the DVLA, Swansea

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


I have mentioned in passing previously on this site the pair of Peregrine Falcons that live and hunt off of the top of the DVLA building on the outskirts of Swansea. I have the joy of spending my working week on the fifteenth floor there and the occasional glimpse of one of these magnificent birds as it soars past on the wind currents that whip around the structure is always a great lift for the soul. Usually we are treated to a couple of fly pasts a day, and occasionally something more. A good example would be an occurrence late last year when I was staying in the office later than normal to monitor some processing. Whilst stood at the window chatting with a co-worker the female bird flew straight at us, talons reaching out and wings outstretched before pulling up at the last minute to land on the windowsill of the floor above. I had never seen a Peregrine at such close quarters before and certainly not in such an action packed situation. The only thing separating us had been a couple of inches of glass and air and the effect certainly wasn't lost on the rest of those present in the office that night.

This week however the Peregrines have really been outdoing themselves. I had suspicions previously that the pair may have managed to rear a couple of young last year after noting that the female bird seemed to differ in size from day to day, and I have finally been able to confirm that. On Thursday we were able to watch four Peregrine Falcons doing acrobatics around the building pretty much non-stop from early morning until late evening. At times the birds were flying around individually whilst at others seemed to be chasing each other. The speeds that they were reaching were far in excess of anything that I have seen them achieve thus far and really gave a sense of what formidable hunters they are. At times we saw a bird return to the building with some prey clasped tightly in its claws. I didn't get to see a kill being made due to having to do some of that annoying work stuff but my co-worker did. I did however get to see an extraordinary bit of behavior that I would love to hear feedback on if anyone else has seen anything similar. I watched one of the Peregrines carry a piece of prey out from the building as another approached from the side. The second bird swept underneath the first and flipped over to grab the prey from the other Falcon in its talons. The two then carried on flying and were lost to sight. Now I am fairly sure that this wasn't a 'hostile' event if I can use that term, as both birds seemed relaxed and to be expecting the situation to unfold. My best guess is that this could have been some form of bonding exercise in preparation for the upcoming breeding season. This could certainly tie in with the increased activity that day that hasn't been repeated since. Wikipedia also seems to point to this being the reason.

As to be expected there is good evidence around the site of the successful nature of the hunting in the vicinity. We regularly see feathers dropping past the windows as the latest kill is plucked, whilst many of the flat roofs hold at least some part of one bird or another. I was surprised however to find the head of a male Mallard outside one window though. I hadn't realised that Peregrines would also take ducks in flight as I had always associated them with being almost exclusively pigeon eaters. Unfortunately I don't have any photographs due to security restrictions on site but I will keep you posted as I hope for another successful breeding season.

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