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over 5 years ago
Heard the one about the peregrine falcon that spent the night "doing bird"?
Peregrines are not common birds in East Anglia and as breeding birds they are decidedly rare. So, when a pair turned up in the middle of an East Anglian town this Spring and nested on top of a tall telecommunications tower, the big question was, "Can they pull it off"? There was certainly plenty of prey available - pigeons, gulls and the like - but the area is also a minefield of potential hazards surrounded by busy industrial parks, barbed wire, cables, and busy roads, not to mention a nearby railway line.
Sure enough, the very morning that the first young peregrine left the nest I got a panicky call from Peter, a security guard who works near the tower. "It's happened", he said. Apparently, a young female peregrine had managed to impale herself on a spiked fence during her first flight. In freeing herself she had ripped out one of her talons, there was a wound on her chest and she couldn't fly. To his great credit, Peter quickly brought in a local raptor rescue team who followed the trail of blood and managed catch her up and take her into care.
It was touch and go to start with. She wouldn't eat and refused to fly - clearly all was not right. However, x-rays revealed no obvious internal injuries. Luckily, after ten days of TLC, she was eating well, putting on weight and - most crucially of all for a winged predator - she was starting to fly. Hurrah! But now for the tricky bit - introducing her back to her family in the wild. What if she shot off never to be seen again? What if her parents didn't accept her after all this time and chased her away? We couldn't be sure of success - but we had to try.
So it was that one evening, the team of raptor rescuers, Peter the security guard, a few bemused workers and yours truly gathered at the nest site to watch the release. The young peregrine was carefully placed on the roof of an adjacent building in the hope she would fly back to the tower. Her siblings were calling and she answered back. "That's good", we thought, "Contact has been re-established". It was all looking promising. Suddenly, she took off flying strongly. Great! But hang on a minute - she's going in the wrong direction! We watched horrified as our newly released peregrine flew off into the distance, over the perimeter wall of the nearby prison, collided with the wall of an accommodation block and promptly dropped out of view into the prison compound! She seemed to have been trying to make it to the roof of the prison building, but in her inexperience had miscalculated and missed by about two feet. We looked at each other in exasperation. What to do next?
I can guarantee that the request that I made at the prison gatehouse about half an hour later was probably the strangest that has ever been made at one of HM's establishments. I didn't exactly say, "Please can we have our peregrine back?", but it wasn't far off it! Not surprisingly, as it was after lock up time, the prison guards wouldn't let me in to look for her. But they did promise to call me if anyone found her grounded in the morning. By now it was getting dark so we had to leave her there, "banged up" for the night. At least, we thought, she would be safe and secure. But I think we were all a bit uneasy how it would all end up.
We needn't have worried. Next morning, Peter called to say that shortly after dawn he had seen her flying strongly back over the prison wall making a bee-line for the tower where she joined her brother and sister with much raucous calling. A few hours later, Peter saw her again, clearly recognisable by the silver BTO ring on her left leg, tucking into a breakfast of feral pigeon that she had been brought by one of her parents. At the time of writing, the family are all doing well, the young birds becoming more proficient and confident in their flying skills every day.
So, if you happen to catch a glimpse of a female peregrine in East Anglia some time in the future, look out for a shiny silver ring on her left leg. There's just a chance it could be our escaped jail bird!
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