Melbourne’s favourite family of peregrine falcons has just welcomed some new chicks. The new arrivals can be viewed in their nest on the 33rd floor of 367 Collins Street via live webcam.
But while the new hatchlings may be a reminder of the bountiful new life that comes with spring, their arrival is also tinged with anxiety following the grisly deaths of last year’s chicks – which ended with the parents eating the dead bodies of their young. Unfortunately the carcasses of the chicks were removed by the adults before any tests could be performed to determine what caused their deaths, but Dr Victor Hurley – project leader of the Victorian Peregrine Program – guesses they died after eating poisoned pigeons brought home by their parents.
“I’m assured by the City of Melbourne no one is allowed to use these sort of chemicals,” says Hurley, referring to a sulphuric acid gel that some contractors put out on perches to prevent pigeons roosting. “It basically gets tangled up in their feathers and burns their feet. The peregrines kill [the pigeons] because they’re injured, they then find themselves ingesting some of these poisons. So when that’s fed to the chicks, it’s lethal for them. It’s possible that the adults have survived.”
Hurley began studying the birds as a hobby after he finished university.
“I wanted a hobby that involved climbing, some travel, meeting people and making a difference,” says Hurley.
Since studying the falcons Hurley has become fascinated by their industrious and adaptable nature.
“I’m really interested in industrial locations,” says Hurley. “There’s a coal mine at Loy Yang [a power station in the La Trobe Valley] for instance. One of the cranes had a pair [of falcons] breeding on it. So every five minutes the building is moving and the falcons have to follow it.”
Peregrine falcons can establish nests that are used for generations. The nest at 367 Collins has been home to peregrine falcons since 1991. At one site still used by a pair of falcons, Hurley has found leg tags from pigeons raised by breeders that date back to 1896.
Despite the sad deaths of last year’s chicks, Hurley believes it’s important not to focus on individual falcons but rather the population as a whole.
“It’s frustrating that [the deaths are] what’s getting the most attention. The positive thing is that Melbourne can support [the falcons] and there’s enough green space that allows them to be able to hunt a range of species. Not just the usual suspects like sparrows, starlings and feral pigeons.”