Prey

Peregrine falcons feed almost exclusively on birds they catch in full flight. Very exceptionally, they’ll catch a bat or a prey on the ground. Thanks to the cameras by the nest, the ornithologists can study the feeding habits of the Peregrines on the cathedral. All images are automatically stored when any type of movement occurs in the nest. This way, ornithologists can count the number of prey the parents bring to their young, they can compare the male’s behavior with that of the female, note at what times the chicks are fed and see from what age the young can feed themselves. 

The identification of the prey also happens by means of the cameras. But this isn’t easy. Since the parents usually pluck the prey before bringing it to the nest, it is often difficult to see what species they have caught. The prey are therefore usually identified through direct observation with telescopes and through the remains that the falcons drop from the nest. You can see this collection of feathers from prey at our observation post. A final method to identify prey, is by going through the falcons’ supplies. The falcons regularly hide prey in the bell tower. These form a spare supply in case the weather is too bad to go hunting. 

The prey are enormously diverse. Since the couple took up residence in the cathedral in 2004, they have feasted on at least 44 different bird species. The smallest, the Eurasian Reed Warbler weighed about 10 grams, whereas the largest, the Wood pigeon, weighed over 500 grams. The prey that is most often caught, is the City pigeon. It’s therefore not surprising that he is found in Brussels in large numbers.  Some prey are non-migratory birds, such as the Great spotted woodpecker. In other cases, they’re migratory birds such as the Curlew sandpiper. He was caught over Brussels, while he was on his way from Africa to the coasts of the Arctic Ocean in Siberia. Mostly, their prey consists of birds that we encounter frequently, such as Merles and Thrushes. But sometimes, the falcons catch species that are very rare and that were not known to occur in Brussels, like, for instance, the Corn crake. Thanks to the falcons, the ornithologists gain a lot of knowledge about the bird collection of Brussels. 

Thanks to the project, another discovery was made. The Peregrine falcons on the cathedral hunt both day and night. A surprising discovery for a species that usually is only active by day! This behavior is an adaptation to city life, because the halo of the street lights provides enough light for the falcons to also catch their airborne prey by night.  And this explains how some migratory birds that only fly at night, such as the Quail or the Grey plover, have found themselves on the Peregrines’ menu. 

This table contains a list of prey that the Peregrine falcons of the cathedral have caught since 2004. The number of times a specific prey has been observed, is listed as well (these numbers have been split up into categories). In the case of rare species, the year is mentioned as well. 

If you have seen a prey that is not yet listed, please let us know by means of the contact form.

English name    Scientific name                  First observation  Number of times caught
 Little grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis  2005  >20
 Teal  Anas crecca    6-10
 Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus  2008  1
 Kestrel  Falco tinnunculus  2010  1
 Quail  Coturnix coturnix    >20
 Water rail  Rallus aquaticus    11-20
 Spotted Crake  Porzana porzana April 2010  1
 Corncrake  Crex crex  April 2009  2-5
 Moorhen  Gallinula chloropus    11-20
 Little ringed plover   Charadrius dubius April 2011  1
 Kentish plover  Charadrius alexandrinus  May 2012  1
 Golden plover  Pluvialis apricaria    11-20
 Grey plover  Pluvialis squatarola    2-5
 Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus    >20
 Knot  Calidris canutus  2009  1
 Curlew sandpiper  Calidris ferruginea  May 2009  1
 Jack snipe  Lymnocryptes minimus  March 2010  2-5
 Snipe  Gallinago gallinago    >20
 Woodcock  Scolopax rusticola    >20
 Black-tailed godwit  Limosa limosa  April 2015   1
 Whimbrel  Numenius phaeopus  September 2011   2
 Redshank  Tringa totanus  April 2006  6-10
 Common sandpiper  Actitis hypoleucos    11-20
 Black-headed gull  Larus ridibundus    1
 Domestic pigeon  Columba livia
 domesticus    
   >20
 Wood pigeon  Columba palumbus    2-5
 Collard dove  Streptopelia decaocto  June 2006  2-5
 Turtle dove  Streptopelia turtur  May 2009  11-20
 Rose-ringed parakeet  Psittacula krameri    6-10
 Budgerigar  Melopsittacus undulatus  April 2011  2
 Cuckoo  Cuculus canorus  June 2009  2
 Common Swift  Apus apus    >20
 Great spotted  woodpecker  Dendrocopus major    2-5
 Skylark  Alauda arvensis    11-20
 Meadow pipit  Anthus pratensis  April 2011  2-5
 Grey wagtail  Motacilla cinerea  April 2015  1
 Blackbird  Turdus merula    >20
 Fieldfare  Turdus pilaris    11-20
 Songthrush  Turdus philomelos    >20
 Redwing  Turdus iliacus    >20
 Mistle brush  Turdus viscivorus    2-5
 Reed wabler  Acrocephalus scirpaceus    1
 Blue tit  Parus caeruleus  May 2006  1
 Jay  Garrulus glandarius  April 2011  1
 Magpie  Pica pica    2-5
 Carrion crow  Corvus corone  May 2009  1
 Starling  Sturnus vulgaris    >20
 Greenfinch  Carduelis chloris  March 2010  2-5
 Chaffinch  Fringilla coelebs  Maart 2013  1
 Linnet  Linaria cannabina  May 2014  1
 Reed bunting  Emberiza schoeniclus  May 2013  1


The bird species in this list were caught by the Peregrines of the cathedral. By selecting a name you can see the collection of feathers that allowed us to identify the prey.

Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Starling, Song Thrush, Fieldfare, Swift, Chaffinch, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Woodcock, Snipe, Golden Plover, Common Kestrel, Common Moorhen, Common Cuckoo, Common Quail, Jack Snipe, Feral Pigeon, European Turtle Dove, Northern Lapwing, Red Knot, Common Redshank, Eurasian Collared Dove

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