Thousands worldwide watch livestreams of birds nesting in West Yorkshire cathedral - as first chicks of the season hatch

Thousands of viewers have tuned in to watch livestreams of peregrine falcons nesting in a West Yorkshire cathedral - as they gave birth to their first chicks of the season.

Cameras have been watching two peregrines nesting in Wakefield Cathedral for 24 hours a day since 2017.

Up to one in five viewers on its YouTube live feed in 2020 were based abroad, across more than 50 different countries, with around 150 people tuning in at a time.

More than 50,000 people have tuned in to see the pair’s four chicks since they hatched at the end of April.

photos: SWNS

Francis Hickenbottom of the Wakefield Cathedral Peregrine Project, which runs live feeds of the birds and their daily activities, said they have now produced 25 chicks that have all survived.

The retired schoolteacher, 59, said: “They have built up quite a following. So many people get in touch to say how wonderful it is to follow the progress of the birds in lockdown.

“People are interested in the life cycle and want to see the family and these two peregrines raise their chicks.

“There are little dramas throughout the day that make people worry.

“People worry about the wind and message us to see if they are OK. I don’t worry because these birds are hard as nails.

“For them to hatch and rear 25 chicks is brilliant.”

Mr Hickenbottom launched the project a decade ago after noticing a peregrine on the roof of the cathedral.

He said: “An individual peregrine turned up in about 2011. I’d always had an interest in peregrines and when I saw there was a peregrine using the cathedral, I suggested we might approach the cathedral about putting a nest in.”

The peregrine left the nest but the current pair soon swooped in and have been raising chicks since they arrived in around 2015.

Since then, they have reared 21 chicks before this year and attracted a worldwide following.

There are two cameras on the spire at the cathedral, one in the nesting box and one on the walls.

Everything is recorded and the global audience is captivated by what they eat, when their eggs hatch and the first flights of their chicks.

People tune in to see the falcons and the project has a Facebook group keeping people informed and educated about the birds.

Last year, nearly a million people in 57 countries around the world spent a total of 4.6 million minutes watching them live.

Mr Hickenbottom added: “We have around 150 people watching at any one time.

"We’ve had a lovely message this week from a woman whose mother is in Bolivia and she’s got the video up for her.

“She’s caring for her elderly husband. She's got the video set up to see these lovely falcons.

“What blows me away is I went to Bolivia 20 years ago and I loved the wildlife there and people in Bolivia will be interested in these peregrines.”

The project rings birds legs before they fly the nest and they sometimes get updates on their progress.

Last month, there was news of a male born in 2019 who was sighted near Croxdale, three miles south of Durham, 72 miles from his birthplace.

Mr Hickenbottom added: “People ask if they can give them names, but we have to be careful about getting attached.

“They are wild animals and I respect them as wild animals, they can’t have names as they’re not people’s pets

“It is a real privilege to have the falcons here. Nature is recovering from mistakes we have made in the past, such as the use of the chemical DDT.

“Peregrines like to perch on the highest cliffs available to them, so you can see why a cathedral spire is a good place for them.

“They are territorial and there won’t be another peregrine for a mile and a half around them.

“But once a chick has left the nest, they can still come back for food from their parents for up to six months. We’ve seen chicks come back for food in October having left the nest in the summer before.”