The screaming calls, like the call high-pitched irate gulls, drew my eye to the sky, and there above the Museum of London was a female peregrine. With a dead bird clasp tight in her talons, she was noisy pursued what could only be her young.
She ended up for a moment on one of the domed roofs of the Barbican, north of the Museum. The younger birds, inexperienced flyers, tumbled from the sky to join her. But there was a fourth bird perched where she had landed. Dragging the dead bird she climbed to the sky and the three original birds followed. A cacophonous aerial dance infolded above us, as the younger birds chased her. Was she trying to encourage them to hunt?was she reserving the bird for the other one still perched and perhaps not as strong as the others?
Who knows? But it took me back to when I and Dave Morrison (who runs the London Peregrine site) used to monitor the birds at Battersea Power Station. I can claim to have discovered this breeding pair back in 2000. I had been asked to go into the Power Station to check on black redstarts and to my delight they were there. But there were also three peregrines perched high on the brick ramparts of the icon. One young bird and two adults.
Over the next three or so years we both were allowed to keep an eye on the birds during the breeding season. Once we were called to the station by the clerk of works. A dead bird had been found. Killed by a fox. A day later another bird was found ‘grounded’. On a windless day of in June, the young had stretched his wings and set off on his or her first flight. But to no avail. The lack of wind and the lack of lift and the lack of strength had coursed the bird to glide to vulnerable stop on the ground. Without the power to to take off these young birds are vulnerable to predators and there is little for the parents to do but to scream encouragement.
We chased the bird waving our arms. desperate for the bird to get enough lift to rise above the ground and find a safe perch somewhere.
After an hour he or she managed a to beat and flap enough to rise some 2 or 3 metres off the ground and found sanctuary on a low wall on the power station.
He or she survived and added yet another bird to increasing population of Peregrines (Falco peregrinus), master urban predators of the sky. And a true wonder to behold.
I, these days, have little to do with Peregrines officially. I see them from time to time. Occasionally check on the bird across the river from my house with my telescope.
But I know Dave is still very active and no doubt has chased many a young bird since then – Dave Morrison London’s unofficial peregrine protector.