Close encounter on Montjuïc: Peregrine falcons

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.

 

Peregrine falcon chicks on Montjuic get ringed

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The two agentes rurales had the difficult job of abseiling down Montjuic’s inaccessible cliff face and retrieving the three Falcon chicks from their nest, while one of the adult Peregrines repeatedly dived towards them, calling in alarm. The fiddly work was then in the hands of Eduard Durany, general overseer of Barcelona’s Peregrine population, with help from Josep García, an expert on herons among other things.

First out of the bag was a male, identified by its smaller size.  At just over three weeks old, it was still covered in sparse white down.

peregrine-falcon-chick-in-montjuic-barcelona

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Peregrine Falcon chicks stolen from Sagrada Familia

Shortly after being born, this year’s brood of Peregrine falcon chicks were stolen from their nest in one of the Sagrada Familia towers.  The robbery took place out of range of the web cam installed. Visitors have no access to this tower, but there are always plenty of workers milling around, since the Sagrada Familia is still under construction. Eduard Durany, responsible for monitoring Barcelona’s Peregrine falcons, emphasises the need for better security.  Last year suspicious individuals were spotted trying to take food up to the falcons, who fetch a high price on the black market. After the theft, two chicks born in a wildlife recuperation centre were placed in the nest, but sadly the intended foster parents rejected them.  See also the report on the ringing of Montjuic’s young falcons.