Provisioning rate research at NTU

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Dr. Louise Gentle with some owl chicks at the Brackenhurst Campus, near Southwell.

Persecution, followed by intensive farming practices and heavy pesticide use, caused a decline in the peregrine falcon in the 1960s. The species has since recovered and adapted to the changing environment by demonstrating an increased use of urban habitats. However, despite being widely studied, there is still a distinct lack of information on the breeding ecology of peregrines.

Previous study methods have used human observations or expensive cameras. However, online webcams have become increasingly available and offer a simple, inexpensive and unobtrusive method for observing avian behaviours.

Recently, several of the BSc (honours) Wildlife Conservation students have undertaken research for their final year projects on the peregrine falcon, including the ones on NTU’s Newton Building.

Howes (2012) explored the provisioning rates of peregrines from nine UK webcams during the breeding season of 2011. Provisioning rates are a recording of the amount of food provided to the chicks by their parents. Findings revealed that provisioning remained constant for the female but were positively related to brood size for the male. In addition, provisioning peaked when the chicks were 11-20 days old, with the male providing most of the prey items until the chicks were 30 days old. Although prey items largely consisted of pigeons and starlings in equal proportions across all sites, coastal peregrines frequently captured more gulls, terns and waders than urban sites. Interesting prey items included a kestrel, a moorhen chick and several jackdaws.

Sanders (2014) investigated the provisioning rates of the NTU peregrines during both the 2012 (low success) and 2013 (high success) breeding seasons. Findings revealed that provisioning was four times greater during the high success year, influenced by the reduced provisioning from the male during the low success year. In the high success year all three chicks were fed equal proportions of food, whereas in the low success year the female preferentially provisioned one chick (the only survivor out of four chicks), suggesting that increased frequency of provisions were associated with higher fledging success.

Heaver (2012) studied differences in provisioning rates between two peregrine falcon sub-species in the UK and US. Findings indicated that there was no significant difference between the provisioning rates of the sub-species, suggesting that chicks are dependent on consistent provisioning rates in order to survive and hence contribute to population recovery in both the UK and US.

In conclusion, webcams offer an important tool for education and conservation purposes, adding to the scientific knowledge on the breeding behaviour of peregrine falcons, and highlighting the high potential of webcams in avian research.

We would like to thank all organisations who have allowed us to record data from their webcams.

Dr Louise Gentle
Senior Lecturer in Wildlife Conservation
Nottingham Trent University

 

If you wish to support NTU wildlife research projects please use the Give Now button on the webcam page.

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4 Responses to Provisioning rate research at NTU

  1. So does this mean that the female in Saunders study deliberately fed 1 chick more than the others, and if so does this happen often or only when not enough food is being brought to the nest? And I didn’t know you did Wildlife Conservation at NTU…..makes me wish I were 20 years younger…at least!

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    • Louise Gentle says:

      Hi Melonie,
      Yes, the female only fed the one chick so it appears to be a deliberate decision although further research is necessary to determine if this occurs regularly or just in poor years….
      You’re never too old to study wildlife conservation – we have quite a few mature students!
      https://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/pss/course_finder/142326-1/8/bsc_(hons)_wildlife_conservation.aspx

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      • Thanks Louise for answering my question….
        When you say ‘mature’ would this also include someone who is now 60, slightly deaf, riddled with arthritis and tends to forget new things from the second of being told it! Cos if so, thats me! 🙂
        I’d love to study but I doubt I have the concentration required any more…..it was hard enough doing my HND in 93-93 in Blackpool…….thank heaven for younger students who were more techno minded than I was!

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  2. Pam Birley says:

    The first chick will invariably get fed first. It is usually therefore the biggest and strongest and if food is in short supply then Chick 1 will survive when the others may perish. It has been very interesting to see the strategies of the weaker chicks sometimes, struggling to get to the front of the food line. There was a very famous little Osprey chick called Flag on the Dennis Puleston Osprey nest in New York State, who in spite of being bullied and browbeaten by the bigger, stronger ones, found a way to get some food and he survived in spite of everything. As a general rule though, as in the case of the last snowy winter at NTU, it will not take long for chicks to perish without food. Let’s hope this year will be another kind year for the Nottingham birds and that from four eggs we will get four flying Peregrine falcons.

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