The joys of observation

It’s here, a new Peregrine Falcon-watching season begins today! And it will last for about two months, until the younglings fly out.

It was in 2004 that a pair of Peregrines naturally settled in the heart of Brussels, at the top of the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula. Unheard of among ornithologists! Therefore, this year marks the fifteenth anniversary of this bird of prey, the fastest animal in the world, nesting in the city.

Little by little, the observations of Peregrine Falcons in the Brussels’ sky have become more and more plentiful. Today, they fly daily over the Grand-Place but they can also be spotted at the Royal Park, the Barrier of Saint Gilles, the Sonian Forest, Elisabeth Park, the center of Schaarbeek, the European Parliament, ... The city proves to be welcoming to this bird which has been hunted down for decades to the point of disappearing completely from Belgium and most parts of Europe – a topic which we will revisit. Last spring, we counted twelve couples in Brussels, how many will there be this year? Stay tuned!

This spring, we are going to observe together, live and in detail, the nesting and brooding process of three pairs of Peregrines settled in Brussels; the couple in the cathedral, the pair in the tower of the Town Hall of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and the birds in the bell tower of the Saint Job church in Uccle. The purpose of the program? To observe! Have the pleasure of discovering their surprising and natural behaviour. No special effects, no editing. Only the real thing! The HD streaming of the images of the three nests offers everyone the opportunity to observe, day by day, how male and female falcons take turns brooding, how the hatching unfolds, how the young falcons grow, how they feed themselves, or rather: how they are fed by their 2 parents and, finally, witness their first flight, the jump into the great unknown. It’s not only educational but quite exciting as well!

At the Institute of Natural Sciences, we have been observing and monitoring the Peregrine Falcons since their return to Belgium in 1994, from Arlon to Ostend. The goal: to understand them better so we can protect them well. One of our methods of study is banding the falcons. This enables us to follow their movements but also to study their demographics and – if need be – sound the alarm in time, should a new wave of abnormal mortalities occur.

Observations made by telescope in recent weeks have shown that 5 of the 6 breeding adult Peregrines we will observe together this spring are banded. We can identify them precisely. The couple in the cathedral is the same one as last year, which means that the female is now in her 17th year since she was ringed by German colleagues, in May 2002, in the Rhur, 230 km from Brussels. This is exceptional, since 17 years is the maximum lifespan known for this species! Moreover, the female is reproducing once more. This is probably the only case on record in the world of a female Peregrine brooding at such an age! The male was born in 2008 in the cathedral, he has been nesting there since 2010. Considering that his female has been settled in the cathedral since 2006 ... You’ve guessed it: he is nesting with his mother! The female falcon in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre is not ringed, so we do not know where or when she hatched. The male's rings indicate that he hatched in the spring of 2012 in Etterbeek, another Brussels municipality. He has been nesting in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre since 2014. The Uccle couple is the last of the three. They first nested in 2015. At that time, the female had not yet been ringed. In May 2016, however, she was ringed at the same time as her younglings. Things haven’t changed this spring: the male is also the same as last year. It hatched in April 2012, at the top of Saint Rombaut Cathedral in Mechelen, 27 km North of Brussels. This means that the 5 banded Peregrines nesting on the 3 sites today, are the same ones as last year. A 100% survival rate, we could not have wished for a better outcome!

Brussels, the city of the Peregrine Falcons!

Didier Vangeluwe