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Teenager turns bird detective

TRACED: Daniel Wilby used webcam footage to help identify the origins of this city centre peregrine.
TRACED: Daniel Wilby used webcam footage to help identify the origins of this city centre peregrine.

The identity of Wakefield Cathedral’s resident male peregrine falcon has been revealed thanks to an eagle-eyed teenage birdwatcher.

Daniel Wilby, 16, from Ossett, used nest webcam footage to piece together the identification numbers on a small ring on the bird’s leg.

The bird was ringed on May 16, 2014 at St George’s Church in Sheffield. He has bred three times in Wakefield and has fledged ten young.

Daniel’s discovery means that the bird was only one when it first successfully mated here. This has also helped shed new light on the bird’s breeding behaviour. It was previously thought peregrines needed to be much older to successfully breed.

Daniel said: “They are usually thought to breed at about three years old, but ours was only one-year-old and in juvenile plumage. Webcams can show behaviour that you can’t usually see and this shows more like the ages they breed at.”

Peregrine project leader Francis Hickenbottom, from Wakefield Naturalists’ Society, has thanked Daniel for his detective work. Mr Hickenbottom added: “Daniel has been glued to the webcam and has gradually collected enough images of the male’s leg ring to allow us to put together the full ring number: GC20732.

“This confirms that he was one of three young peregrines ringed in Sheffield in 2014. Remarkably, he raised three young in Wakefield when only one year old and still in juvenile plumage. Falconers have told me, on more than one occasion, that birds have to be at least three-years-old to breed. It is really interesting, therefore, that this one produced three young while still in juvenile plumage. It was a real achievement for a youngster to gain and hold onto a prime territory and an eligible female. Getting pieces of information such as this is important to us because we like to try to build up a complete and detailed knowledge of the lives of the birds. We now know the origin of one of the parent birds and rings that have been placed on the Wakefield offspring have allowed us to gain information about where some of the youngsters have gone after leaving Wakefield.”

Meanwhile, eyes are on the nest on the spire at Wakefield Cathedral to see when this year’s clutch of four eggs will hatch. May 12 is the predicted date for hatching.

See wakefieldnaturalists.org/webcam to watch the nest live.