Big problem at Schaerbeek Helmet

In the spring of 2018, someone living near the Sainte-Famille “Holy-Family” Church in Helmet reported the presence of a Peregrine Falcon couple on the building. Several observations on site indeed confirm the presence of an adult couple, from which the female is ringed. But no chicks.

Therefore, we contact the Church Factory this spring to organise the visit of the bell tower. We are welcomed with kindness and enthusiasm. At the top of the tower, on a floor open to all winds, a female Peregrine incubates a clutch of three eggs. It's always beautiful to see! The nest, invisible from the outside of the building, is a bowl scraped into the substrate: dried droppings of pigeons. The oldest must be of pigeons that have known Napoleon !

Several observations from the forecourt have allowed, for weeks, to observe the Peregrine pair. Last week, little falcons’ screams were heard from nearly 200m away.

So we made an appointment yesterday to check the nest and ring the falcon chicks. Each ringing operation is well prepared but remains quite delicate. But what has been observed here is unprecedented in those 24 years of follow-up!

Arrived on the floor of the nest, there are indeed juvenile falcons. There are two of them. Beautiful! But right in front of them, there is the corpse of a Peregrine Falcon. An adult male. The throat is eaten and part of the back!

He must have died 4-5 days ago. To their left, on the threshold of one of the windows, lies the corpse of an adult female Peregrine. She is still intact, obviously dead since 2-3 days. She is ringed: a falcon born in Sint-Niklaas (West Flanders) in April 2015. Between the two, there are the remains of a third juvenile falcon.  Very little remains: paws and some typical feathers. What a massacre! One of the two falcons is captured. It's a female. She is in good condition, her weight is 884 g. The other fledges, awkwardly. He land at the top of a tree, in a city block.

There is no doubt; it is their parents who are dead! The dead ringed female corresponds to the one observed in May 2018. Someone of the neighbours confirms not to have seen adult Peregrine movements in and out of the bell tower for several days. During our presence, almost over one hour, no feeding Peregrine was observed. No alarms. Everything strangely calm. The two juvenile falcons survived by eating their brother or sister and then their father.

What happened ? It is certainly too early to say. X-rays of the cadavers do not show any lead that would indicate that they have been fired. The theory of poisoning is therefore a priori most likely. The corpses are refrigerated, they will be autopsied and ecotoxicological analyses will be carried out.

 

But, we need to help the juvenile falcons first! Still a few days and they will fledge. A  juvenile falcon that  is not "surrounded" by his parents during this extremely delicate period and during the weeks following fledging, has no chance to pull through. The parents stimulate them (juveniles) to fly, feed them when they are still learning to hunt, protect them from crows that will not hesitate to attack them. The solution is simple. You put them under adoption! Peregrines do not know how to count. Another falcon chick is thus not disturbing. Although age consistency is important. The adopted falcon must be the same age as the falcon chicks of the foster family. And that is the case in the Peregrine family of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre! Administrative green light. The juvenile falcon  is mounted on the balcony of the tower of the City Hall. To be continued !

 

Photo 1 : the corpse of the adult male Peregrine of Helmet, the throat is eaten and part of it’s back. (Photo DV)

Photo 2: the corpse of the adult female Peregrine of Helmet, still intact. (Photo DV)

Photo 3: the juvenile female orphan Peregrine of Helmet is about to fledge. (Photo DV)

Photo 4:  the juvenile female orphan Peregrine of Helmet captured by the ringing team…

Photo 5: …and released on the balcony on the top of the tower of the City Hall of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, close to the nest.

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