Written by Lucy Brzoska
For 2 or 3 weeks a year, when the Montjuic peregrine falcons fledge, you can watch incredible displays as they practice their flight skills. Often you get very close views as they pass close to the hillside.
But it’s not often you find one sitting on the ground in the middle of the Cami del Mar. I could see its heavily stippled breast – these markings turn into lightly spotted horizontal bars in the adults.
On my approach, the falcon flew up to the wooden fence, scanned the sky for its siblings and went back up to join them.
All three were out flying, constantly tilting at each other, raising their talons. You could see one was smaller – the only male. Sometimes they chase each other low down, skimming the slopes, negotiating the pine trees. They practice stoops, wings held stiffly at the sides, transformed into missiles. They sometimes break off to go after a seagull or unwary magpie.
The week before, I’d watched a gull lunge at one of the young falcons, briefly grasping it on the back. The juvenile raptor screamed and feathers floated down. Yellow-legged gulls are large, with wingspans of up to 140 cm. The Peregrines seem much smaller alongside them, more compact, a female wingspan reaching 113 cm. The gulls are aggressive, and saturate the air space over the Montjuic cliffs.
A week of experience later, and the falcons are outmanoeuvring the gulls with ease. A flicker and they’re out of reach. They go after the gulls and make them squeal. The play is still very gentle.
One of the falcons comes to rest in a nearby pine tree, wings outstretched. It looks straight at me, with enormous dark eyes, and moves to a branch a little further away. They haven’t learnt to be fully afraid of us yet.
Peregrine falcons have become urban birds, encouraged to nest on buildings with specially installed boxes. Barcelona has several pairs, most famously in the Sagrada Familia. You could describe those on Montjuic as semi-urban, as they nest in a scrap of inaccessible wilderness, but when they take to the air, they are soaring over cranes, heavy traffic, and ship containers.