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Will university rooftop become a home for peregrine falcons?

PUBLISHED: 19:46 24 January 2019 | UPDATED: 20:05 24 January 2019

An adult peregrine falcon in full flight  Picture:  Ivan Ellison/British Trust for Ornithology

An adult peregrine falcon in full flight Picture: Ivan Ellison/British Trust for Ornithology

IVAN ELLISON/British Trust for Ornithology

Conservation students have stepped in to help create a nesting place for peregrine falcons after the birds’ existing site on Ipswich Waterfront was damaged.

Conservation student Jamie Everett (foreground) who helped Peter Merchant (behind) build a nest box for peregrine falcons on the roof of the James Hehir building on Ipswich's WaterfrontConservation student Jamie Everett (foreground) who helped Peter Merchant (behind) build a nest box for peregrine falcons on the roof of the James Hehir building on Ipswich's Waterfront

Since 2014, a pair of peregrines have nested in a specially built box on top of the Mill tower but after the box was recently destroyed by wind, and with building work due to start on the residential block, the decision was made to build a new box in a different location.

Up stepped the University of Suffolk, which offered the rooftop of its James Hehir building at the other end of the Waterfront from the Mill towards the Port of Ipswich. First year student Jamie Everett, who is studying a BSc in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation, worked with Peter Merchant, a volunteer with the Hawk and Owl Trust, to build a new box and a feeding table there. They are now waiting to see if the returning peregrines take up the new home.

READ MORE: Investigation launched after death of peregrine after Ipswich shooting

“The new box is exactly the same dimensions as the old one, has the same ledge and faces the same direction,” said Mr Merchant, who monitors and rehabilitates peregrines for the Trust in Suffolk and north Essex.

“One issue is that the university building isn’t as tall as the Mill but I’ve brought peregrines down to a lower level in the past. We’ve built the new box in the centre of the roof, so it is private and can’t be seen. We’ve built a feeding table because peregrine falcons like to have a larder where they can keep their food.”

Mr Merchant said a carcass of a gull had been found on the university rooftop, which suggests that peregrines have already been in the vicinity, although there isn’t much time for the raptors to move in. He said the courting between male and female birds would be in “full swing” by now with peregrines typically laying their eggs in late March.

Peregrine chicks nesting on The Mill tower on Ipswich Waterfront in 2016Peregrine chicks nesting on The Mill tower on Ipswich Waterfront in 2016

“We’ve covered as many angles as we can and just hope that we have done enough [to attract them],” he added.

According to Dr Mark Bowler, a lecturer at the university, should the falcons take up residence Mr Everett will be involved in monitoring the box via a webcam and recording what the birds are eating to gain practical conservation experience for his studies. It would then form part of a series of projects the students are carrying out aimed at surveying urban wildlife - they are due to soon start a survey of mammals living within a mile radius of the university’s Waterfront building.

When it comes to peregrines, Mr Merchant said falcons in urban areas tend to lay more eggs than their counterparts in more wilder areas although the fledge rate tends to be same, as young birds in towns and cities face more dangers when they drop out of their nests.

In the Ipswich area there have been two pairs of peregrines: the pair on the Mill who tended to feed on feral pigeons and another pair at the Orwell Bridge, where young were first reared in 2008 – the first time peregrines had successfully bred in Suffolk in 200 years.

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