2013 Yearly Report
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A Peregrine Diet Study
A study into the diet of coastal Peregrines in South Devon
As a part time ecology student, I am interested in predator-prey Interrelationships and the role of apex predators in ecosystems. Apex predators are often seen as indicators of ecological health and one of the essential roles they fulfil is in regulating the abundance of the species they prey upon.
Since April 2012, I have been studying the diet of two pairs of Peregrines on the South Devon coast. The diet of urban Peregrines in South West England has been well documented over the past decade but there is still a lack of knowledge about coastal Peregrine diet. This study could develop a greater understanding in this area of Peregrine ecology and possibly document previously unrecorded hunting behaviour and movements.
One of the major difficulties in studying coastal Peregrine diet is obtaining regular prey samples from sea cliff sites. Through observation and fieldwork from the coastal breeding survey, I have found two territories where it is relatively easy to access the plucking points of the birds to retrieve prey remains and more importantly, without disturbing them.
I collect prey remains and pellets from each site once a week from various perches and plucking points situated in their territories. These are then analysed and identified using reference books, a feather reference website and also with help from friend and colleague Ed Drewitt.
As you would expect on the coast, feathers do not take long to be blown away by strong winds and often I am recording species from just a few pieces of evidence left. However, I have had some excellent weekends of collecting and recording and during one weekend in December I recorded 16 prey items from 13 different prey species from both sites, including Feral Pigeon (2), Woodpigeon, Blackbird (3), Starling, Woodcock, Jackdaw, Lesser Black Backed Gull (Juv.), Chaffinch, Little Grebe, Magpie, Black Headed Gull, Razorbill and Redwing. This list illustrates the diverse range of prey taken by coastal Peregrines and how effective they are at adapting to seasonal prey availability.
At present it is still too early in my study to draw any definite conclusions but as more samples are collected a broader picture of the coastal Peregrines’ dietary behaviour should start to develop. I plan to do another 3 more years of fieldwork and then publish my findings.
This work is kindly supported by a research grant from the Hawk and Owl Trust who donated funds for travel costs and reference books.
My own GRIN profile
Examples of Coastal Prey