For some reason I have started to take a lot more notice of our feathered friends on the Manchester Island in recent years. I am no Twitcher, but I do get a buzz out of seeing the Cormorants in Salford Quays, the Great Crested Grebe at Heaton Park Boating Lake, the Grey Herons in many of the country parks and the occasional Kestrel above the wooded uplands of Whitefield.
These are great sights but nothing had prepared me for my encounter with a Peregrine Falcon in the City Centre. It was two months ago and I had arrived early on a Saturday morning. Making my way through Cathedral Gardens I was stopped by a “scraa, scraa, scraa”. Within 10 metres a fight seemed to be going on between two birds, but on closer inspection a blackbird was being battered by a much bigger bird. A bird that I later realised, having consulted the RSPB Handbook of British Birds (no, owning a copy of that book does not make me a Twitcher) was a Peregrine Falcon.
I had heard of the Peregrines in Manchester and even met people who had seen one take out a pigeon in flight. Mind you it was quite a shock to the system to witness a kill in progress and I didn’t know what to do. I like blackbirds. I wanted to help, but then it was gone, struggling skywards at first, even coming back to ground for a moment, before picking up speed and heading off behind Chetham’s. Damn!
My knowledge of the Peregrines was increased massively today when I met Adam and Anna from the RSPB. As part of the RSPB’s “A Date with Nature” event series they are monitoring the progress of a pair of Peregrines that are nesting in the City Centre. Apparently, this is the fourth year that the Peregrines have nested in the city and this year they have had four chicks that are just leaving their nest and learning to fly.
Apparently the Peregrines fair better in the city than in some rural areas where the birds can be shot or poisoned by game-keepers or have their eggs stolen by collectors (isn’t that the most bizarre hobby). It is great that the Peregrines feel at home amongst the “rocky crags” and “cliff faces” of the Town Hall, Arndale Tower, Renaissance Hotel and Highland House.
Pigeons are their favourite food and there is a fantastic picture of one of the Peregrines with a pigeon in its claws on the BBC Manchester website credited to Adrian Darcy. In fact, their love of pigeon was one of the reasons that Peregrines became endangered in the UK. In WWII they were killed to stop them eating homing pigeons which were considered an important part of the war effort.
The RSPB’s Adam reckons that there are buzzards, sparrow hawks and kestrels to be seen as well as the Falcons in the City Centre. In the next week or so the fledging chicks will be learning to hunt which could be entertaining too. When they hit full speed the Peregrines are the fastest moving birds in the world which is pretty amazing. As long as they don’t pick on the blackbirds. I like blackbirds.
Visit the RSPB stall and find out more about what goes on in the skies above us. RSPB staff will be on hand at Exchange Square until 5th July on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 11.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. At certain times live images will be beamed onto the big screen. For more info visit: www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature