Great horned owls are the first native bird(*) to lay eggs every year. During the Second Breeding Bird Atlas their nests were found with eggs as early as January 22. This is earlier than any other raptor including bald eagles.
Look around your neighborhood. Listen for hooting at night. (audio below of hooting great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), Xeno-canto #XC344952 by Ted Floyd)
There are more great horned owls than we ever suspect.
On Throw Back Thursday, read more about the owl who is First to Nest.
p.s. (*) Who is actually the first to lay eggs in Pennsylvania every year? Feral rock pigeons!
"Winter breeding is possible because adults feed crop milk or seeds, and are independent of other animal populations for high-protein, high-fat diets for squabs. ... Bright, sunny weather following a Canadian cold front is characteristic stimulus for courting, copulating, and egg laying in midwinter, independent of temperature."
If you read my article about the Tarentum Peregrines On Ice last Sunday, you learned that Dave Brooke's photos from Friday January 12 identified one of them as black/green 48/BR, banded at the Westinghouse Bridge in 2014. That band size would typically mean it's a female peregrine but we learned this week that the bird is male. It was a group effort.
On Monday Art McMorris, PGC's Peregrine Coordinator, emailed us with news that, though the band is size 7A (for females), 48/BR was banded as "sex uncertain."
"The bird's weight was 660 g. and the measurements on its rectrices indicated an age of 23 days. That would indicate male, but the tarsus (leg) was snug in the size 6 (male) leg gauge, so that would indicate female. ... To be safe, size 7A bands were used."
Dave Brooke sent a few more photos including this super-zoomed version showing both of 48/BR's bands.
I looked at this photo and thought, "Hmmm." This bird has a white forehead above its beak which, in my limited experience, is a male trait. And it's choosing to nest a very short distance from where it hatched. Definitely a male trait. So I looked harder at all the other photos.
Males are 1/3 smaller than females. With both birds on the ice I could see that the bird on the left is smaller. Smaller = male.
Which bird flew?
I compared the icy surroundings of the larger right-hand bird in photo#1 to the surroundings of the stationary bird in photo#2. This two-picture slideshow shows her surroundings don't change. The larger bird (female) stayed on the ice
After he flew the bird remaining on ice looked like this. She's large and bulky, a female trait.
Did the flying bird come past Dave and show 48/BR on its leg? Dave said yes. So 48/BR is the smaller bird = male. But size is tricky. This still wasn't enough evidence for me.
Yesterday Rob Protz emailed us with some history from the Tarentum Bridge: A banded juvenile-plumage male showed up in spring of 2015.
"The banded juvenile plumage male which showed up in Tarentum was first photographed by Steve Gosser on May 9, 2015, so the timing fits as a 2014 fledgling would still be in juvie plumage in spring of it's second year. No juv plumage falcons have been seen (positively) since late summer of 2015."
And then I looked at the fourth photo that Dave sent: a peregrine with lots of dots on its breast, perched on the bridge.
This bird is clearly not 48/BR because he has a clear breast. This is his mate.
Last spring by Steve Gosser photographed a pair mating at the Tarentum Bridge (below, cropped close). Notice that the male (in flight) is banded. The female is unbanded with a dotted breast!
"The Beaufort Gyre is acting strangely," said the news at Yale Environment 360. "Scientists say it could kick off a period of lower temperatures in Northern Europe."
The Beaufort Gyre is a wind-driven current in the Arctic Ocean. Traveling clockwise it keeps sea ice contained and moving so slowly that the ice thickens.
Every five to seven years the winds change direction and the gyre spins counter-clockwise, dumping icebergs and cold freshwater into the North Atlantic near Iceland. Then the winds switch back.
But now the winds haven't changed direction for a long time, arctic ice is melting, and freshwater from the continents is flooding the Beaufort Sea. The surface now holds as much freshwater as the Great Lakes and the gyre is spinning faster, still clockwise.
What will happen next? The past gives us a hint.
Thirty years ago, when the gyre reversed direction for an extra long time, its ice and cold freshwater caused the North Atlantic herring fisheries to collapse and plunged Northern Europe into a temporary deep freeze.
Will the Beaufort Gyre change direction soon? And how long it will spin counter-clockwise? No one knows. Will the change be benign? Probably not.
The globe is warming overall (hence it was called "Global Warming") but the resulting climate change is both hot and cold, weird and unpredictable.
It's a bit like watching chaos unfold.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ...
-- The Second Coming by W. B.Yeats
No matter where they roost, screech-owls work to blend into their surroundings.
Above, Tony Bruno found an eastern screech-owl (Megascops asio) in a sycamore in Pennsylvania. Below, Donna Memon has a western screech-owl (Megascops kennicottii) in a saguaro cactus in her Arizona backyard.
These two species look very similar so how do you tell them apart?
By range: Eastern screech-owls live east of the Rockies, westerns live in the Rockies and West but their ranges overlap a little, especially in Texas. The best way to identify them is by voice.
By voice: Eastern screech-owls make monotonic trills and whinny sounds: (Eastern Screech Owl at Xeno-canto #286959 by Tim Spahr)
Western screech-owls are known for their double bouncing-ball trill: (Western Screech Owl at Xeno-canto #383075 by Lance A. M. Benner)
Listen at dusk and you might hear a pair serenading in late winter.
(photo credits: Eastern screech-owl by Tony Bruno, Western screech-owl by Donna Memon)
Midday on Friday January 12, when it was unseasonably warm, Dave Brooke went down to the Tarentum Bridge and found a lot of ice flowing by on the Allegheny River. He also found a pair of peregrines standing on it.
Soon, one of them took off and flew near him on its way up the river.
At the bird's closest approach it revealed its bands -- black/green 48/BR. They indicate he/she hatched at the Westinghouse Bridge in 2014, offspring of Hecla (Ironton-Russelton Bridge, 2009) and an unidentified male. Click here for Banding Day photos. 48/BR is the one in the back.
Congratulations to Dave Brooke for capturing beautiful photos of these peregrines and for identifying one of them at the Tarentum Bridge!
UPDATE ON 15 JANUARY 2018! News from Art McMorris indicates that band 48/BR is typically a female band but the sex of the bird was hard to determine at the time so Art used a female band just in case. 48/BR is male. See January 17's article: Tarentum Peregrine 48/BR is Male
p.s. In case you're wondering if Hope, the female peregrine at Pitt, will visit her old haunts in Tarentum, she's probably too busy. While Dave was photographing the new pair at the bridge, Hope and Terzo were courting at the Cathedral of Learning.
Scientists didn't know much about sooty falcons because they nest in deserts where it's extremely hot and inhospitable to humans. Their nesting colonies are located where daytime temperatures reach 122oF ! (50oC)
With renewed interest in this Near Threatened falcon, scientists used remote cameras to video them on a desert island in Oman. Notice how much the birds pant in the heat.
Soon we'll know more about this rare falcon of the desert.