Peregrine falcons ate less pigeons during Covid in London, UK

You will find peregrine falcons in London, UK. They nest in St Paul’s Cathedral for instance, high up towards its pinnacle. They are protected. During Covid-19 there were less people wandering around London. There were less people to feed the pigeons which is a pastime for tourists and others.

And because there was less food for the pigeons there were less pigeons. Because there were less pigeons there were less prey animals for the peregrine falcon. They had to hunt more starlings and parakeets during Covid-19 lockdowns.

During Covid-19 lockdowns there were less people feeding pigeons which meant less pigeons for falcons to eat
During Covid-19 lockdowns there were less people feeding pigeons which meant less pigeons for falcons to eat in London UK. The building is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Image: MikeB.

It is very much an example of the human-animal relationship. Raptors can thrive in cities such as London where food supplies are abundant. And the peregrine falcon’s food supply alters with changes in human activity levels.

These are the findings of a study by a team at the University of Bristol and King’s College London which is published in the journal People and Nature. The researchers: Brandon Mak, Edward J. A. Drewitt, Robert A. Francis, Michael A. Chadwick. The study title is: “The raptor lockdown menu—Shifts in prey composition suggest urban peregrine diets are linked to human activities”.

In the summary to their study, they say that:

“During lockdown, London peregrines took a lower proportion of pigeons (-14.5%) offset by a greater proportion of starlings (+6.9%) and ring-necked parakeets (+3.2%).”

However, in other cities in the UK, “lockdown diets showed no change for pigeons (+0.3%), starlings comprised a lower prey proportion (-4.3%), while non-dominant corvid prey (+2.2%) and waterbirds (+2%) had greater importance. Racing pigeon prey also decreased during lockdown, significantly outside London.”

They concluded that urban peregrine falcons probably didn’t experience food shortages despite restrictions in prey animals i.e. pigeons.

Their overall conclusion was that:

“Human activity can influence urban peregrine predation opportunities but is unlikely to be more important than other factors like habitat availability. It also highlights how impacts can vary regionally, which may have been driven by social and geographical differences between the capital and other cities.”

There is a secondary question which is whether pest control by humans affect predators such as peregrine falcons which rely on pest species for food.

Personal viewpoint

Personally, I don’t regard the pigeon as a pest. A lot of people do because they are so successful and numerous. Personally, I regard all birds as equals. In fact, I regard all animals are equal and I do not participate in speciesism which is what preferring one bird over another is. They should all be as important as each other but sadly when a bird is very capable of survival and becomes numerous, they become devalued in the eyes of people.

The same applies to ground dwelling animals. Take feral cats. Feral cats are less important in the eyes of people then domestic cats. Which is why people can shoot feral cats but they can’t shoot a domestic cat or that is one reason why you find it happens (another is that domestic cats are often someone’s property!).

I am digressing. There was a time when the peregrine falcon’s population declined dramatically in the UK due to human persecution. The species is now making a comeback particularly in towns where it nests in tall buildings. My research indicates that it is classified in the UK as “Green” under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List of Birds (2021). I interpret that to mean that they are not endangered in the UK.

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Post Category: Birds