London falcons ate fewer pigeons during lockdown

London falcons ate fewer pigeons during lockdown

Research suggests peregrine falcons inhabiting London ate fewer pigeons during lockdown, instead resorting to other bird species

Changes in peregrine falcon diets during Covid-19 lockdowns highlight the impact of human behaviour on urban predators.

In the study, researchers from King’s College London and University of Bristol found that during lockdown, peregrine falcons in London were forced to change their diet away from pigeons, with fewer of these birds being drawn in by human food supplies such as discarded food waste or direct feeding.

In the study, citizen scientists used online live streams to monitor 31 peregrine falcon nests in 27 UK cities over the course of three breeding seasons, the first of which took place during pandemic restrictions.

In London, peregrines took a lower proportion of pigeons as prey (-15%) and replaced them with starlings (+7%) and parakeets (+3%). However, in other cities, pigeons remained the dominant prey.

See also: Hen harrier argument could unlock other conservation conflicts



The study was written by Brandon Mak – a King’s College London PhD alongside Ed Drewitt – a University of Bristol ornithologist.

Mak said: “Our results indicate that peregrines in larger, highly urbanised cities like London may be more dependent on, and hence more vulnerable to, changes in human activities which support their prey populations, particularly feral pigeons.”

The changes to peregrine falcon diets during the study raises questions surrounding how pest control may affect falcons and other predators that depend on ‘pest’ species.

For example, northern goshawk populations in Poland almost halved when farmers stopped rearing domestic pigeons and other poultry that would otherwise have been prey for them.

The management of pest species and their food sources are usually human-driven. Therefore, reductions in pest species, like pigeons, can force raptors to switch prey or forage further away from their nests, which can result in poorer nutrition from less ideal prey, or a decrease in energy for fitness or reproduction due to the effort spent on hunting.

Mak explained: “The world is still learning about the consequences of lockdowns on wildlife, which promises to shed light on how human and animal lives are linked in our shared environments.”

In the future, the authors of the study hope to contribute to the Global Anthropause Raptor Research Network (GARRN) which brings together similarly conducted research from the pandemic.

“How did UK peregrines fare compared to elsewhere, and how did other raptors experience the lockdowns? We hope these questions will be answered in the coming years,” Mak asked.

The findings are from a new study published in the British Ecological Society journal, People and Nature.

Image: Peregrine falcon © Vladimir Kharuk (CC BY 4.0)

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Aether: Issue 3 Feb 2023

Aether: Issue 2 Nov 2022

Aether: Issue 1 Aug 2022

Subscribe for free

Latest Testimonial

What a beautiful motto: Discoveries must be read and not just published. When I was contacted by Aether as a new digital service to share scientific and technological insights I had my doubts that this was really going to be according to what I call the “open source & makers’ spirit”: knowledge should be free and it is there to be shared.

Well, Aether is faithful to its motto and shares discoveries freely. It has been a pleasure to collaborate for the interview and subsequent article. It has been greatly self satisfying to see how the interview was professionally and truthfully redacted and then published. Sharing thoughts and sparks for discussions is fundamental to the progress of society. Your journal offers clarity and brevity and I believe it provides the sparks to ignite any reader whether academic or not into action.

Dr Maria-Cristina Ciocci
Co-founder and Manager of non-profit organisation De Creative STEM,GirlsInSTEM