York Minster Peregrines in 2014 – By Jack Ashton-Booth
In recent times Peregrines, once considered birds of wild inaccessible places, have been increasingly found in cities, making tall buildings such as Cathedrals their home.
On moving to York it was immediately evident to me that York Minster was the kind of place these birds favour. I knew that if I was thinking about the suitability of this 56m high artificial cliff face of magnesian limestone looming over the River Ouse, then Peregrines would most certainly have beaten me to it.
Sure enough, this was the case and Peregrines had indeed been observed intermittently on the Minster. Reports would suggest that they have even bred on it in the last decade, raising a single chick that died at or nearing fledging stage and was found by a Minster Policeman (2003).
However 2014 allowed for documentation of York’s very own urban Peregrine pair. An adult female was first observed perched on the North Face of the North-west tower on 16/02/14, with a pair observed on the same face the following day, an adult male after having just flown in with a pigeon caught over the Heworth area. After personal communication with Minster Staff it is more than likely the pair had been in and out of residence for over a year. This most certainly makes sense and a ties in nicely with a story I was told by one of the very amicable Minster Policeman. He told me how he had been speaking to one of the stone masons who had thought he had cut himself, after noticing fresh blood dripping from his person. After a period of bewilderment given he wasn’t in any pain or couldn’t see any obvious wounds he looked up to see blood dripping from the above scaffolding, from prey being consumed by none other than a Peregrine.
I would suspect that this scaffolding was the same scaffolding that was situated at the top of the North West tower throughout the start of last year, making up a proportion of the 16 miles of scaffolding erected for renovation work on the ever eroding building.
During early observations the pair would regularly reside on the crown of scaffolding on the NW tower and the female would readily roost behind its framework in one of the small ornate arches set back into the north face of the tower. The male however had a greater affinity for the Central Tower especially on the east face where he could get himself out of the wind and scan over the east of the city. He had a tendency to head towards the River Foss and given the information we know now, he would most likely have been coming and going between hunts and stints perched up on the tall chimney at Morrison’s on Foss Island Road.
After being absent throughout summer, their return ties in with the end of the breeding season and Peregrines were sighted again on the 18th August 2014 and judging from prey remains may had returned around the 2nd week of August.
Despite being discreet at times and disappearing against the incredibly lavish masonry work it was always relatively straightforward to determine whether the pair were still in occupancy by the clues they left behind. Although the height of the Minster is sometimes a hindrance for seeing the birds, this height is a blessing when establishing the diet of an urban York Peregrine. The building essentially acts as a giant sail and deflects the wind in every which way around it, ensuring numerous feathers and skeletal remains of the birds that have fallen victim to the Peregrine pair are blown off and may be found on the ground below.
Prey remains frequently seen around the Minster include Woodcock, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Teal and Feral Pigeon, plus several other species.
The Peregrine pair stayed in residence through the Autumn and Winter and into 2015.
(A version of this article first appeared in the York Ornithology Club Report 2014)