What a season!

It was an eventful spring for the peregrine falcons in Brussels this year!

The nesting process of the couple of the cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula was remarkable in a lot of ways, mainly because of the outstanding behaviour of the female. Born and ringed in Germany in April 2002, she has reached the age of 14 this spring, which is remarkable considering that the oldest known peregrine falcon is 17 years old. This is the eleventh consecutive year that she nests with success at the cathedral. Such a success over so many years is very rare. She laid five eggs, which is exceptional in itself, but even more because of her age, and because of the fact that this is the third time she lays so many eggs. On at least two occasions, she showed unprecedented behaviours, never seen before in a peregrine falcon, or even in another predatory bird. She lifted her falcons and transported them by grabbing the scruff of their neck. UNBELIEVABLE! Finally, and this has been the case since 2011, she nests with one of her sons, since the male was born at the cathedral in the spring of 2008. In the end, the couple successfully raised two falcons. Two eggs did not hatch, while a third falcon died at the age of 3 weeks, infected by avian trichomoniasis that it probably contracted from a pigeon. In total, 45 falcons have taken their first flight from the cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula since the arrival of the peregrine falcons in the heart of Brussels in 2004.

The nesting process of the couple installed at the top of the tower of the town hall of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre was more “traditional”. Big news in 2016 however, because we installed a camera for the first time this spring. The female laid four eggs, of which one didn’t hatch. Three falcons took flight for the third consecutive year in this green commune in the east of Brussels. The father is the same as in 2014, he was hatched in April 2012 in the tower of the church of St. Anthony of Etterbeek. The mother is not ringed.

The couple of the church of Saint-Job in Uccle has, for the second year in a row, raised four falcons. With success, the young falcons were observed in an exceptional way, just after their first flight, while they were exploring various buildings on the Place Saint Job. The father is the same as last year. He was born on the St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Malines in April 2012. The mother was ringed at the same time as the falcons.

Second year with a nest in the town of Schaerbeek. The female is the same as the previous year. They came in 2010 on the dam tower of
Plate Taille which dominates the lakes of l’Eau d’Heure. She laid 3 eggs, 2 of which were hatched. The two falcons left the nest at the end of May. The father is ringed, but the ring code could not be deciphered.

Successful nesting attempt this spring in the church of St. Anthony of Etterbeek, where four falcons left the nest. The father's ring could be deciphered: it's the same bird since 2012. He was born on one of the cooling towers of the nuclear power plant in Vilvoorde (10 km north of Brussels) and settled from 2008 to 2011 in the Saint-Hubert church. He left his wife of St. Hubert, and formed a new couple with the female of Saint Anthony. The mother is not ringed.

Chaos at the Notre Dame in Laeken this spring! Early in the season, the female from last year was observed with an immature male, whose ring taught us that he was born in Belgium. It was therefore unlikely that the pair would propagate this year. Fifteen days later the young male disappeared from the picture, and was replaced by an adult version! Is this the male from last year, or is it a new male? In May, the peregrine falcons still weren’t nesting in Laeken. What was happening? This became clear in June: the female was not the same as in March! She apparently disappeared at the beginning of the nesting period. Was she killed? Did she die of illness? Or was she slain in a fight between females, something that we often see nowadays? Anyway, she got replaced by a female born in the Netherlands, as indicated by her ring. In the end, she didn’t make a nest. The male was ringed, but his code could not be read.

In Saint-Gilles, the peregrine falcons were playing with us! Each visit, a female - born and ringed in Anderlecht in the spring of 2014 - was spotted at the city hall, sitting on the imposing building. The female that was observed this year was not ringed. An immature male followed her everywhere, but no trace of a nest. In May, a pigeon was repeatedly observed near the falcon space at the top of the tower. A bad sign! However, on June 8, against all odds, a falcon was photographed on a high building not far from there. No doubt, he had left his nest a few days before! With the help of data that was collected from a GPS transmitter on a falcon from the cathedral last year, we could conclude that he had hatched in the immediate vicinity. It seems a couple nested in Saint-Gilles this spring, but where?

More changes at the church of St. Hubert of Watermael-Boitsfort. In February-March, the couple consisted of the same female that we’ve known since 2013, and an immature, unringed male. No nest in sight. By early April, an adult male was observed on the top of the bell tower. His ring code tells us that he was born in the cathedral in 2011. This is another indication that males often settle on a small distance from their place of birth. The nest took a slow start, the female laid four eggs, with 3 falcons successfully leaving the nest on June 8th.

At the Saint-Guido College in Anderlecht the nesting, as usual, started late. No one can explain why. The nest was hidden behind a stone ornament near the top of the tower. The place is inaccessible and therefore it wasn’t possible to determine the exact number of eggs and young. Between 6 and 8 June, two young falcons attempted to fly but failed, which allowed them to be ringed. The father's ring could be deciphered, once again it’s a falcon from the cathedral. He was hatched in 2009 and was already observed in nests at Anderlecht in 2011 and 2012. It’s almost certain that he has nested at the college for years. In that case, he has been nesting for a total of seven years. The mother isn’t ringed.

A couple was observed again at the IT-Tower in Brussels. No indication of reproduction.

Nothing new at the Basilica of Koeckelberg: a couple, but it choose not to settle because of the presence of visitors on the panorama at the top of the building. Peregrine falcons tolerate humans as long as they stay on the ground, but when searching for a nest site they want to have a little quiet.

The couple of the Reyer Tower in Schaerbeek seems to have left the site. Maybe they have come to the realization that the place is not suitable for nesting.

According to the current state of affairs, there were 11 pairs of peregrine falcons present in Brussels this spring, of which 8 have nested successfully. This is comparable to last year. However, the number of falcons that left the nest was lower: 21 this spring, compared to 26 last year. This seems to be the case in the whole of Belgium. The team that follows the peregrine falcons in all corners of the country, regular found eggs that hadn’t hatched, dead falcons in the nest or nests that were completely unsuccessful. Is this a result of the weather, of the rising concentration of nesting couples, or some other factor?

Thanks to a GPS transmitter that was put on one of the falcons of the cathedral last year, we know that the young falcons will likely remain dependent on their parents in the coming months. We also know that this period will be very difficult for them. They’ll have to learn to fly in the wind and rain, and to avoid the dangers of windows and power lines. They will also have to learn to chase prey, to catch them in mid-air, and to not let go! When they finish their training, they’ll still have to escape from diseases such as avian trichomoniasis, which killed at least 2 falcons last year, and one this year. This is natural selection!

Every year we learn more about these unique birds, and we do it together. We gradually build more knowledge. Who would have thought that a female peregrine had the intelligence and the ability to lift a falcon with a beak as sharp as a razor. In one case this happened to teach one of the chicks a lesson, in another to lift another young. This was the first time she did this! Of this we are sure, as we have observed her since 2006. She has learned through observation. This female of 1100 grams and 14 years old learned new gestures and new behaviours, with the aim of protecting the falcons, and thus increase the chance of survival of her offspring.

And learning is protecting. We ensure that the population of peregrine falcons never dwindles or disappears from Belgium or any other part of the world. Obviously, this is a team effort. Thanks to all. A special mention to the fellow ringers from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, who together monitor more than 130 nests of peregrine falcons throughout the country. In addition a big thanks to the owners and users of the nesting sites. Stonemasons and priests, electricians and mountaineers, thank you for respecting the peregrine falcons.

Finally, thanks to the readers of this blog and viewers of the streaming service, for your interest in this program and in these amazing birds. We counted 3.23 million website visits during the two months that the streaming service was available, with visitors from 136 countries. An absolute record! The falcons thank you.

See you in 2017!

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