Brussels: the city of the Peregrine 2024

Extraordinary spring in Brussels in 2004! For the first time in the memory of an ornithologist, a pair of Peregrine Falcon nested in the city! They have taken up natural residence at the very top of the north tower of the magnificent St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral.

But what led these birds, the fastest in the world, to settle in the heart of a city of 1,100,000 inhabitants? It's a mystery... But no, we know! It's the fact that they're welcome here! And that hasn't always been the case. The history of the Peregrine Falcon is indeed exceptional. It was first venerated for 3,000 years in ancient Egypt, where it was symbolised by the god Horus, meaning "the Far One", in reference to the majestic flight of the bird of prey. His representations are each more beautiful than the last, the best known probably being the one depicting his stylised eye.

In the Middle Ages, Peregrines were highly prized by the peoples of the steppes and high plateaux of Central Asia: they were trained for hunting. Falconry* then developed in Europe, deserving the first laws specifically designed to protect animals. And it was no joke! Here is the sentence defined by a decree issued by King Henry III in 1327: "The capture of a falcon is punishable by death. Anyone who visit an eyrie in order to find a young bird is sentenced to a year and a day in prison".

In the 20th century, the tide turned for the Peregrine and many other species of bird of prey: they were trapped and shot because most hunters considered them intolerable competitors. But it was the arrival of permanent organic pesticides, such as DDT, that dealt the final blow. In the space of 20 years, Peregrine populations collapsed in Europe and North America. In Belgium, the species stopped breeding at the end of the 1960s. All breeders were poisoned. The last surviving females lay eggs whose shells break like glass because the calcification process is derailed by the chemicals. And if this is not the case, the embryos do not survive. What a sad state of affairs.

And then, energies mobilised! DDT were banned from Europe, and birds of prey were protected thanks to a European Directive that ensures and organises the conservation of all wild birds in the European Union. And it worked! The first pair of Peregrines returned to nest in Belgium in 1994, in the Meuse valley. Ten years later, in 2004, a pair settled in the heart of Brussels. Soon followed by a second and a third and... 20 years later, a dozen pairs of Peregrines are nesting in Brussels. What a story!

There's no doubt about it, Brussels has become the City of the Peregrine Falcon!

We invite you to watch together several broods of these superb birds via the 24/24 HD live streaming that you can discover on this site. The cameras will be reconnected to the site on Friday 5 April at noon. Just a little more patience!

Welcome to the website of the Peregrine Falcons of Brussels!

Didier Vangeluwe

*Falconry is the art of hunting with birds of prey, not keeping them in a cage or displaying them in a show.

Go to the video album

Map of the breeding sites of the peregrine falcons in Brussels