Archive for February, 2008

Feb 10 2008

What do they do all day?

Published by under Crows & Ravens

American Crow (photo by Chuck Tague)Where do 14,000 crows go during the day? 

Ever since I counted the winter crow flock this question has puzzled me. 

If Pittsburgh’s winter crows spent their days in neighborhoods, people would complain about their daytime activities as much as they complain about the roosts, but no one comments on daytime crows.  So how do they keep such a low profile?

Today’s weather was lousy for birds and even lousier for hiking - a cold front with high winds and a wind chill of -1oF.  My hunches about crows required driving (an indoor activity) so I decided now was the time.

A snow squall followed me out the Parkway East but the sky cleared as I arrived at the hilltop cemetery in Wilmerding.  I had guessed correctly that the cemetery was on top of the hill but I had not expected the tree line to obscure the huge landfill to the east.  Were there crows at the landfill?  I couldn’t tell, but there were certainly crows at the cemetery – about 30 - and all of them were coming from the landfill.  

Next stop, Duck Hollow on the Monongahela River across from a large shopping mall.  I've seen crows at the malls but I didn't expect to see four crows on the wild side of the river.  Two were eating fallen fruit, one was sleeping low in a tree, another was hunched at the top riding the wind.  When they discovered I was watching they all left. 

On a whim I went to Woods Run to see if I could find the ravens.  Instead I found hundreds of crows gathering near Uniondale Cemetery.  The wind was too strong up there so the flock spilled downhill to the Ohio River and tried to perch on Brunots Island.  Again the wind was too strong so back up the hill they went, ready to cause trouble.  Crows everywhere, poking holes in garbage bags, landing on rooftops, side streets and fences. 

These were the crows I was looking for and they certainly weren't making themselves scarce, but it was the end of the day, near roosting time, and I had no clue what they did before they got here.

So I have a few more answers but I'm still wondering... What do they do all day?

One response so far

Feb 07 2008

Cardinals see red

Northern cardinals feeding together in the snow (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

February 7, 2008:

Spring wants to come early to Pittsburgh but it can't make up its mind.  Two days ago it was 60oF.  In two more days the temperature will dip to 11oF.

The birds are conflicted about the season too.  In winter, northern cardinals feed peacefully together as pictured here by Marcy Cunkelman, but in spring they get quite aggressive and territorial.

This morning during my walk to work I saw three cardinals - two males and a female - having a dispute in a front yard on Forbes Avenue.  All of them were making loud chip calls and chasing each other in circles.  Perhaps one of the males was trying to lure the lady away.  No more peaceful coexistence for them!

In spring, cardinals literally "see red" when a rival appears on the scene.  During the nesting season they will even attack a mirror, trying to rid the area of that red bird in the glass.

They warm up to courtship with other behaviors too.  If you watch at a bird feeder, you may see the male pick up seeds and feed his lady - a welcome change from his cranky attitude toward her in December.

You might even be lucky enough to see them counter-sing.

In most songbird species only the males can sing, but female cardinals don't have this limitation.  When the pair counter-sings, they perch in different areas of their territory.  First one sings a phrase, then the other repeats it.  The first sings again and the other repeats again.  The first singer may alter the phrase.  The other repeats the new phrase.

Cardinal pairs may spend a good part of the day counter-singing but you have to see them doing it to know it's a pair instead of two males claiming nearby territories.

Counter-singing is a beautiful thing to watch.  I have only been lucky enough to see it once.


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

3 responses so far

Feb 05 2008

Hawk eats hawk

Published by under Birds of Prey

Red-tailed Hawk eating Coopers Hawk, Downtown Pittsburgh (photo by Mark Wolz)If you're squeamish, close your eyes and go to another website right now.  Otherwise, read on.

Yesterday I learned about a bird incident that happened last Saturday in downtown Pittsburgh across the street from the Westin Convention Center Hotel. 

Mark Wolz, who works at the hotel, reported it to the National Aviary.  His pictures and story were so fascinating that my friends at the Aviary shared it with me. 

According to Mark, patrons of the Tonic Restaurant said the hawks were chasing and ran into the restaurant window.  By the time he saw the birds, the red-tailed hawk had killed the immature coopers hawk and was beginning to eat. 

As you can see from Mark's picture, the red-tail was very hungry.  Even so, people could get quite close.

Normally red-tails pick up their prey and carry it to a tree to eat.  Perhaps the prey was too heavy or the red-tail decided it would be too hard to move with so many people nearby.  Instead he spread his wings and mantled over his meal.  This made him look large and fierce. 

After the red-tail finished eating, he flew to perch on a street light at 10th and Penn.  At that point another hawk dove and screeched at the red-tail. 

Mark said the attacker had his wings tucked back like a jet fighter as he dove at the red-tailed hawk.  That shape sounds like a peregrine to me and I wouldn't be surprised if it was one of the Gulf Tower peregrines.  Peregrines defend their territory against red-tailed hawks and the Gulf Tower is right next door.

Hawks don't usually eat other hawks so I wonder...  What led up to this?  Was the coopers hawk weak and picked out as a potential meal?  Did the red-tail merely intend to harrass the coopers but decided to take advantage of a stunned foe?  Who was the final attacking hawk?  Was it one of the Gulf Tower peregrines?

The more I watch birds, the more I'm amazed by what they do.

(photo by Mark Wolz)

14 responses so far

Feb 03 2008

Peregrine Dynasty

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine pair at Allegheny River bridge (photo by Dan Yagusic)Thursday afternoon I got a call from Dan Yagusic as he watched and photographed this pair of peregrine falcons at the Allegheny River.  He discovered them nesting on the bridge last spring and was able to read the female's bands but the identity of the male remained a mystery - until that moment.

The light was just right and the male peregrine stood so that Dan could read the band:  Black/Green *4/*5. 

He called me right away.

I am so addicted to peregrines that I keep track of all the pairs nesting in Pittsburgh and the whereabouts of their offspring.  This bird had been on my list for a year and I could hardly wait to find out where he was born.

At first I assumed he'd come from the midwest but none of those states has a Black *4. 

The asterisk (*) means the number is lying on its side so you have to put your head on your left shoulder to read it.  Not only was the Black *4 on its side but the Green *5 was too.

I was about to contact the experts when I thought to check my own list.  Oh my!  This bird was born at the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh.  Ooops!  See the update below.


Update, July 3, 2008:  Careful record checking has revealed that my own list was wrong - I had flipped the numbers.  The male peregrine came from a much more interesting place than the Gulf Tower.  He was born under a shrub on the 32nd floor garden of the President’s office, Federal Reserve Bank, Boston, Massachusetts.  So he isn't Dorothy & Erie's grandson.  Amazing that he came all the way from Boston!

One response so far

Feb 01 2008


Published by under Weather & Sky

Icy morning (photo by Kate StJ)We had sleet and freezing rain overnight.  Fortunately the ice was not very thick and by dawn the temperature rose so it's merely raining now. 

The crows flew over my house later than usual this morning.  I wonder if the ice affected their roost. 

The trees were beautiful before the rain began.  

One response so far

« Prev