A new season begins...

For fifteen years, we have been observing the nesting period of peregrine falcons in Brussels, but this time, the season doesn’t start like it did the previous years!

It is the first time since 2004 that there is no female peregrine nesting on the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gondola! Hence, on top of the City Hall’s tower of Solute-St.-Pierre and in the bell tower of the St. Job Church in Uccle, both couples have laid four beautiful brick-red coloured eggs in the beginning of March. Since yesterday, live images of the nest sites are available for everyone through streaming. Observe the peregrine falcons in high quality images, day and night.

But what is happening at the cathedral? Since the beginning of this spring, there were no longer observations of the old female falcon, which originated from Herdecke in Germany and used to breed here every year since she arrived in 2006. We were expecting something like this to happen. This female, hatched in the spring of 2002, would have been 17 now, the maximum age of peregrine falcons recorded in the wild. Last spring, she still laid five eggs, but only one fledged. Our fear, that the old female falcon would disappear this year, became therefore a fact.

And is the nest then left empty? No! Since the end of January, three female peregrines have been observed at the cathedral. First, there was a female without ring. Her breast feathers were very pale, suggesting that she might be quite young. Not immature, because than she would have looked similar to a juvenile falcon when it is about to fledge.  There is a change that she hatched in 2017, but we do not know for sure.

At the end of February, we observed a second female. Caramba! It is the same  big hybrid female from last year! An intruder, sitting on a gargoyle, agitating the old female, who attacked her over and over again, not stopping, until the hybrid had no choice but to flee (http://www.falconsforeveryone.be/blog/exceptional-visit-to-the-cathedral?lang=en).

This hybrid female falcon, escaped from captivity – we know that because of the little ring on her right leg – was already observed near the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg in 2018. Moreover, there have been many conflicts on the balconies of the cathedral between the latter hybrid falcon and the young non-ringed female who was already present at the cathedral. The hybrid falcon, being much bigger, prevailed;  the non-ringed female then quickly disappeared.

 But, in the beginning of March we were able to see another female, with a very reddish breast, sitting  on a gargoyle of the cathedral ! Did the “historical” female peregrine come back? No, it wasn’t her,  although the new female  was also ringed  in Germany. Our colleagues, German ornithologists from North Rhine- Westphalia, have confirmed to us that she was being ringed at the power station of Frimmersdorf, situated between Cologne and Düsseldorf, a 160 kilometers from Brussels. Will she be the successor of the old one from Herdecke? Not for sure, the hybrid female is still there. But, surprisingly, the two females appear to live together at the cathedral. Very few conflicts have been observed between the two, in contrast with what was happening earlier.

Three females in one nest! And what about the male? Well, there is one, and only one. Hence, it was not the male who was nesting here the previous year, which apparently left the cathedral as well. It is a new male that is living there with the tree females. He is ringed (grey 7/7), so we know he hatched in 2017 at the Collegial Church of St. Peter and St. Guido, Anderlecht. The nest, located  high on the bell tower, is inaccessible. As a juvenile, he missed his first flight, falling like a parachute onto the pavement. Quickly, it was taken by an expert team to the Revalidation Centre for Birds and wild Mammals of the Royal Belgian League for Avian Protection, nearby  Anderlecht. Examined by a vet, the bird did not seemed to be harmed, so the next morning it was replaced on the tower, on the fourth storey, from where he could reach his family again. Two years later, we are finding him back in the center of Brussels!


Didier Vangeluwe


P.S. In the pictures next to the blog, you can see the big, hybrid female falcon (picture 1), the new, reddish, German female peregrine (picture2) and the new male, who was born in Anderlecht (picture 3, he is smaller than both females, and has a grey ring  “7/7” ).