Murder at the cathedral!

The recent and dramatic fire ravaged the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, therefore it makes sense that all the electrical devices installed in the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula are checked and verified. The building, which construction began in 1226, is one of the heritage treasures of Brussels’ centre. It is the Brussels firefighters and the specialists of ‘la Fabrique d’église’ that carry out this inspection.

It is in this context that the small ornamental balcony that adjoins the one where the Peregrines of the cathedral traditionally nest has been visited. The place is frequented assiduously by the Peregrine Falcons.  From the ground, we watch them landing there regularly and disappearing behind the pilasters. Shortly after, a rain of feathers scatters in the air. A Peregrine is busy to pluck a prey before eating it. Since the arrival of the Peregrine falcon in the heart of Brussels in 2004, 63 prey species have here been identified on the raptors menu.

Well, we'll have to add a sixty-fourth one!  Hence, a bit peculiar! In the middle of the remains of thrushes, pigeons, grebes, quails, lapwings laying everywhere on the balcony, there was an emaciated skeleton of a Peregrine Falcon (photo 1 & 2)! It was in such a state that it is almost certain that the package dates from last summer, during the 2018 nesting season. The Peregrines of the cathedral killed and ate a congener! But that's not all. The unfortunate Peregrine was banded in the Netherlands. Information received from our Dutch colleagues, we know that the bird was ringed at the nest on May 10, 2013 in a nest box installed on an office building located in Veldhoven, near Eindhoven, 97 km away from Brussels. The family counted 2 males and 2 females. The killed bird is one of the females.

Peregrines are (very) territorial birds during nesting season. The subject has already been discussed in several previous blogs. As a reminder, all blogs posted since 2010 are and remain available online. And it is above all the females who show this territoriality. Males are not very responsive in this respect. The nesting female who spots an intruder in "her" airspace will chase her until she is leaving for good! And if that is not the case, the fight is committed and can be deadly. This must have been the case the past spring at the cathedral, but we only discover the facts now. A similar case was found in Laeken in April 2017 when the local female killed an intruder on the same terrace where her nest is located (photo 2). A deadly fight is listed in Belgium almost every spring. Is this normal? Yes, with regard to territoriality. On the other hand, such a mortality rate seems rather abnormal. Is this a consequence of the high density nest box placement in some areas? Probably. But in the case of this "murder at the cathedral", finally, it should rather say "murder and cannibalism at the cathedral"; it is singularly the aspect cannibalism that seems exceptional. Such behaviour was never in Belgium observed before.

The Peregrine falcon will never cease to surprise us!


Photo 1: We distinguish the skeleton of the predated Peregrine in the middle of a pile of prey remnants (photo DV).

Photo 2: Detail of the remains of the Peregrine, predated at the cathedral, the Dutch rings are clearly visible. (DV photo).

Photo 3: Spring 2017, the breeding female of Laeken killed a rival. Her remains lie at the foot of the nest (photo DV).