If we were to give Paris a mascot, there is a good bet that we would choose the pigeon. Error…. A more noble bird hovers in the sky of Paris and haunts the towers of Notre-Dame: the Falcon Kestrel.
For three years, some 50 observers from the CORIF (ornithological Centre of Ile-de-France) have sifted through the main monuments of the capital. In the context of a national survey launched by the French League of Protection for birds, this prospection will be extended to all the cities of France. It allowed to count 17 breeding pairs in 1987, 15 in 1988 and 20 in 1989. It seems that these little raptors have a predilection for certain monuments.
Thus Notre-Dame shelters five nestlings and offers to the astonished spectators the vision of unusual "Piafs", to whom it is willing to take the trouble to raise their eyes. Notre-Dame does not have the exclusivity of these exceptional inhabitants: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Coeur and other high sites also have their falcons. To these are added high-rise buildings with facades without windows and without opposites which form so many quiet shelters. The small raptors also adopt the tops of towers, modern or older, as long as they find suitable cavities. Whatever the configuration of the place, the Falcons seem to accommodate all the architectures with perhaps, a slight preference for the old stones…
Citizens of Paris:
The Kestrel Falcon is easily confused with our pigeons. Its body size is slightly lower than that of the more slender biset pigeon, it weighs a little less than the city pigeon which reaches an average of 300g. Only the color differentiates it from afar: the females are of a brown-barred black and the males have the red back with the head and tail bluish grey. Its flying wingspan is a little larger than that of the pigeon and its pointed wings give it a more slender silhouette. One of the characteristics of this bird: its spectacular on-site flight called the Flight of the Holy Spirit.
According to some archives, it seems that the Falcons have been "citizens of Paris" for more than a century. Their presence is closely related to reproduction. Hawks choose the places where they can feed and mate, the countryside most often but also in urban settings. Thus Notre-Dame provides them with an impenetrable and reassuring shelter: from there they overlook the roofs and have an inviolable observation post. In addition, the cathedral offers cavities large enough for nests, with statues for Sentinels. If the ancient monuments benefit from the favour of the Raptors, the modern buildings are also not despised.
Unfortunately, Hawks are often forced to leave because of work. And this is one of the main causes of nest failures.
Acrobats of the areas:
The Falcons should never be disturbed during the months of March and April, which are those of the formation of the couple. The latter gives a spectacle of acrobatics, of cries, of incessant comings and goings. Agitation follows a period of silence of one month, during which the female is occupied to brood, supplied by the care of the male. The Kestrel Falcons of Paris mainly hunt voles in the open land around the capital (Bois de Vincennes for example), but during the breeding season, to feed the young, they also capture many sparrows.
At the end of May, small white and then grey balls make their appearance. Twenty days later, we sometimes have the chance to see them leaning on the edge of the nest. After many more or less risky and awkward attempts, these nestlings will finally take off and leave the nest.