The alert Judith Harvey finds there are feathers on certain Winchester rooftops.
You may have heard the screams. If you live in Winchester and are outdoors in the early morning or evening, listen and look up. You could catch sight of a large bird with broad pointed wings flashing across the sky. It is a peregrine falcon, and it is a local resident.
Peregrine falcons have lived round Winchester for centuries, and not just in the wild. In medieval falconry, the peregrine was the princes’ bird. There are still several falconries in the area. They offer displays, the opportunity to try falconry out and even full-fledged falconry courses. Contributors to TripAdvisor recommend them highly.
Tall trees are where wild peregrines traditionally nest, but in urban areas they have found an alternative: tall buildings. Winchester Cathedral has had a peregrine nest – called a scrape – on one of the tower turrets since 2000, and most years they raise several chicks, known as eyasses. Visitors can watch the birds through a telescope. But having peregrines nest on your cathedral is not unusual. What makes Winchester unique is not its cathedral peregrines but those that nest on the police headquarters.
Apparently a pair went house-hunting at the police headquarters several years ago, and in January 2013 the Force agreed that Hampshire Ornithological Society could put a nesting box on their roof. So it’s not a police dog kennel up there, but a falcon nest. A police spokesman says the peregrines have been good tenants and never yet called them out for domestic disputes. In 2013 they reared two chicks – sorry, eyasses – and this year four hatched on 21st May. They fledged after about six weeks, but are dependent on their parents until they can hunt for themselves.
That is a very skilled task. Peregrines eat small and medium birds. They help control Winchester’s pigeon population, but your pet cat is safe. Diving at up to 200 miles per hour, they are said to be the world’s fastest animals. When they spot a suitable prey they tuck in their wings and drop like a guided missile. They stun the prey with their powerful talons and then twist to catch it in their beak. A spectacular sight.
In 2015 the police will move to new headquarters. The current building will be demolished and redeveloped for housing. It is unlikely to suit the peregrines, so they will be looking for a new home. Has anybody got high-rise accommodation available?