So what happened next? Well, ill tell you. The time was 18:38 and the tiercel was calling to the falcon to change over and take her place on the eyrie for the night shift. She eventually obliged him just in time before a rather strong gust and really heavy rain started, after about 10 minutes the weather died down into a more tolerable shower and steady but chilling wind. It’s fair to say it was cold, I was glad our only egg was under the warm insulated brood patch of its mother, the falcon, but that didn’t last for long. After a total of 12 minutes incubating in rather unsavoury weather, she left the egg and flew to a nearby larder where she had been picking at a left-over pigeon wing earlier in the day.
The larder, which we had decided to call “the green room” due to the lush green vegetation that grows from it, and probably due to slight irony as the keen eyed volunteer who first spotted it is extremely colour blind and made its initial description a tad tricky.
Anyway back to the tale of the lonely cold egg and the tattered old pigeon wing. The falcon, now in her larder shelter, was picking at a meatless wing with what seemed like complete disregard for her only egg, now exposed to the harsh wind and rain. This was really surprising behaviour even for our falcon, whose incubation instinct we have questioned in the past few weeks, but it’s what happened next that really shocked me.
The tiercel now perched high up a nearby oak tree began calling insistently at the falcon, giving a very loud “rekk rekk rekk” almost alarm-like call; she ignored him. The tiercel then moved closer, landing on “the knuckle” of the overhanging branch of the oak just below the “plucking post”. Taking up a position just above the falcon and clearly within her line of sight, he must have felt he needed to be seen and heard. He continued to call, only now it was louder and more aggressive: he was making it very clear he was unimpressed with the falcon’s actions; surely this would get her attention. Yet the falcon just carried on plucking at the already spent pigeon wing, ignoring her enraged mate and their only egg.
The wind stayed up and rain continued to pour. I didn’t know what the tiercel could do? Does he return to the eyrie and leave the falcon to her bad habits? Or hope she sees the error of her ways and soon returns to the eyrie? He made up his mind: in a dramatic turn of events he chose a very daring and desperate move, flying directly at the falcon, calling loudly as he went and landing almost on top of her on the larder ledge and beginning to challenge her. After a brief altercation in “the green room” the falcon fled down the gorge, flying past the eyrie and the egg as she went. The tiercel gave chase but stopped just beyond the eyrie and continued to call for his now out of sight mate. Maintaining his instincts to guard the egg, he couldn’t go any further after her. She gave no reply. With no sign of an improvement in the weather and now daylight starting to fade, I started to worry.
After a further 20 minutes the tiercel stopped calling. I checked the eyrie to see the falcon silently skulk back onto the egg; it’s fair to say I breathed a sigh of relief.
It is extremely unusual for the tiercel to exhibit such dominant and challenging behaviour towards his larger mate. Although it is the male peregrine that holds the territory, it is almost always the falcon who exercises her extra weight and size advantage to assert her dominance over her mate. Calling for the male to go hunting, aggressive calling before eating prey as well as doing the majority of incubating and feeding of the eyasses are examples of the falcon displaying her dominance and maternal instincts. It will be interesting to observe over the next few days how this incident will have influenced the pair’s behaviour especially as we hopefully edge closer to the big hatching day in mid-May. It’s worth noting how far behind schedule the peregrines are this year as by this time last year we were just celebrating the hatching of our second and final eyass of the season.
Hope to see you soon.
Adam Murphy – Peregrine Ranger