It’s not every day that you spot a peregrine falcon feather on your way to a 9 am Cardiology lecture. Damp, bedraggled yet quietly resplendent it was lying there on the second step from the top of Charing Cross Hospital’s Entrance. Having seen posters, videos and brief, tantalising, glimpses of the elusive birds, nothing compares to the joy of having definitive, irrefutable evidence that these remarkable falcons have made Charing Cross their home.
Peregrine falcons are more commonly known as the world’s fastest animals, plummeting earthward at speeds of 300km/hour in the hunt for their prey. These sleek, slate-grey predators have developed an expensive taste in real estate with 30 breeding pairs living in London. With the Tate Modern, the Houses of Parliament and Battersea Power Station under their wing, urban architecture is a far cry from the craggy cliff faces and rocky outcrops that they are used to. However, nature is nothing if not adaptable, and with suitable nesting spots on tall buildings and a plentiful supply of pigeons, it very much seems like London’s peregrines are here to stay.
Freddie and Dusty
Charing Cross is not the only hospital that peregrine falcons have taken a liking to. In early 2020, peregrines were seen roosting at Ealing Hospital. Nestled along River Brent and a stone’s throw away from the fields of Brent Medeaws and Hanwell park, Ealing hospital seemed like an idyllic nesting site, much to the despair of the hospital’s rampant pigeon residents. It wasn’t long before the peregrine pair had captured the hearts of hospital staff and residents alike, christening the duo Freddie and Dusty. After the installation of an artificial nesting box, courtesy of the brilliant Ealing Wildlife Group, Ealing Hospital was rewarded with the piercing squeals of 3 healthy peregrine chicks in the spring of 2022. Ruthlessly plundering the local pigeon and parakeet population, Freddie and Dusty the second (after the original female left) successfully raised Ealing’s first clutch of peregrines, with the 3 juveniles having fledged in July this year.
Tom and Azina
Although Charing Cross Hospital was not blessed with the frantic wing beats, or fluffy down feathers of chicks this year, there’s something incalculably precious about Charing’s peregrines. Having hosted peregrines as early as 2011, Charing Cross Hospital has a decade-long falcon history. The latest couple to rule its rooftops is Tom and Azina. Situated just opposite Margravie Cemetary, Tom and Azina have transformed the solemn, sanctuary of the graveyard into their hunting ground. The dichotomy of life and death is represented in the human architecture of the hospital and cemetery, perfectly mirrored in nature by the aerial battles between predator and prey.
Welcome to Peregrine Wing
Commuting in the brisk early mornings, and walking through Margravine Cemetary, both grass and graves laced with frost, can be a bleak start to the day. But arriving outside Charing Cross hospital and being greeted with the sublime sight of Azina perched on the top of the Lab Block, purveying her kingdom and soaking up the cold winter sun, is enough to make anyone’s day. Moreover, the sight of a peregrine falcon nesting on a hospital building is a reminder of the important role that humans can play in protecting and preserving wildlife, even in the most unlikely of places. Hospitals are often seen as grey, utilitarian, box-like structures, the complete antithesis of the vibrant, dynamic architecture of nature. However, the presence of peregrines adds a new spin to this narrative.
In the era of an increasing need for climate action, hospitals have a large latent potential to benefit wildlife and make strong strides towards the NHS goals of becoming more environmentally sustainable. Small initiatives such as fitting nest boxes to hospital roofs can have significant and long-lasting effects on local biodiversity. Nevertheless, the simplest and most effective thing that hospitals can do is increase awareness and appreciation for local wildlife.
Freddie and Dusty breathed new life into Ealing Hospital. Doctors, nurses, patients and the community at large all took joy and pride in watching their peregrine chicks grow and develop into striking juveniles. The therapeutic power of nature could not be more perfectly displayed by the number of people who have found joy and solace in watching these fantastic falcons soar through the skies.
Flying into the future
The phenomenon of peregrine falcons making hospitals their homes is a surprising yet wholly welcome development. More than just a testament to the adaptability and resilience of these amazing birds, the story of Freddie and Dusty, Tom and Azina, represents the culmination of an endangered species’ rise from the brink and the start of a new age in the NHS’s strive towards a more sustainable future.
Glancing up to the skies outside Charing Cross Hospital, in the cold early mornings and catching a glimpse of either Tom or Azina has been one of the highlights of the year. Hopefully, in years to come, the sight of a peregrine falcon feather will become a more common occurrence in London’s hustle and bustle. But until that day arrives, where ever you are, in a park, in a city or outside a hospital remember to have a look up into the clouds: you never know what you might catch sight of!