| Birdwatch: Peregrine falcon|
|They say that Norwich has a pub for every day of the year and a church for every Sunday, which certainly sounds like a recipe for a well-balanced life. And of all the city's churches, one towers both historically and literally above the rest: the magnificent Norman cathedral.|
This splendid building – or to be precise, its slender spire – is now home to the fastest creature on the planet: the peregrine falcon. Two years ago, a pair took up residence here, and last year they successfully bred for the first time, producing three chicks. This year they have gone one better, with a brood of four.
They are not just here in Britain's easternmost city; peregrines are now also breeding in virtually every other metropolis in Britain: from London to Glasgow, Exeter to Swansea, and Manchester to Bath. To a peregrine, a tower block or cathedral is the urban equivalent of a high crag or sea-cliff: a vantage point where they can nest safe from predators, and watch – and catch – their prey.
Peregrines may have been recorded at a speed of 242 miles per hour, but they can be surprisingly inconspicuous – especially if, like most city-dwellers, you don't look up. Even when you do, it would be easy to mistake a peregrine for a pigeon or a gull, especially when it is idling in low gear, leisurely riding the air currents.
Only when it shifts into overdrive do you realise that you are looking at a bird of prey, well deserving the title 'the perfect predator'. The wings push back, and the bird gathers speed, simultaneously gaining height.
From its vantage point high in the sky, we city-dwellers must look like ants – not that the bird has any interest in us. All that matters to a hunting peregrine is the moment when it fixes its steely gaze on its intended quarry, folds back its wings, and goes into its extraordinary diving 'stoop'.
In some ways peregrines are specialists: they only hunt birds. Yet this also enables them to live anywhere in the world, on all six inhabited continents, for they will happily hunt any bird: pigeons and parakeets, starlings and seabirds, doves and ducks.
They hunt both day and night, using the city lights to catch nocturnal migrating birds, which are illuminated from below. Studies show that city peregrines have caught more than 120 different species; a far cry from the customary diet of pigeons (including the racing variety), which has caused so much controversy over the years, and indeed still does.
What the anti-raptor brigade fail to understand (or wilfully ignore), is that the peregrines were here first; and if they are now thriving after decades of poisoning and persecution, this is something we should celebrate, not condemn.
So as I stand in Norwich Cathedral cloisters, and watch a pair of peregrines gliding effortlessly around the spire, I feel nothing but sheer exhilaration and delight; that these birds have managed to come back from the very brink of extinction, to bring a little joy and wonder into our busy urban lives.