The rollercoaster saga of the Salisbury Cathedral peregrine falcons is continuing this spring, with one bird protecting an egg on a balcony of the great building but another missing in action.
A female that has been visiting the balcony regularly in recent weeks has laid one egg and can be viewed hunkering down on the nest via a cathedral webcam.
Less cheerfully, a GPS tracking device that was attached to a bird, known as Sally, that used to nest at the cathedral has stopped giving out its signal. It could be that the device has stopped working or that, sadly, Sally is no more.
Phil Sheldrake, species recovery officer with the RSPB, said: “It’s great that we have an egg – and quite a bit earlier than last year.”
The female on the nest does not have an identity ring, meaning that it is not known if she is the same one that produced four eggs last year, but Sheldrake said it was highly likely that it was the same bird.
“Peregrines do not like to be overlooked,” he said. “Salisbury Cathedral sticks out like a sore thumb above the rolling countryside. It’s like a five-star hotel for them.”
There are generally three or four eggs in a clutch and incubation doesn’t start until the last egg is laid. Once that has happened, the female – and male – will sit on the nest at intervals to keep eggs warm. Incubation lasts 29-32 days, so if all goes well, chicks should appear in early May.
Meanwhile, the tracker attached to Sally, who became a television star after featuring on BBC’s Springwatch in 2017, last pinpointed her on 3 November 2019 above the village of Coombe Bissett, three miles from Salisbury – but no signal has been picked up since.
Sheldrake said: “We don’t know if she’s alive or whether the tracker has simply stopped working. We haven’t seen her on the cameras at the cathedral and it’s quite possible the tracking device has just stopped working after nearly three years.
“She is possibly 10 now, and whilst the oldest peregrine known was at least 24, the average lifespan is around 10.” The tracker works on solar power, so if Sally has died it would probably not receive enough light to carry on working.
Salisbury Cathedral has a historic bond with peregrines, which was broken in the 20th century because of persecution and pesticides. The first pair to breed in modern times arrived in 2014. The birds have done well there since then, apart from in 2018 when no eggs were laid following an unholy scrap between Sally and an unringed female.