Monthly Archives: May 2009

A Wider View

Webcam zoom comparison (photos from National Aviary webcam at University of Pittsburgh)In the next day or two the setting on the falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh will move out for a wider view of the nest. It won't be a major change but those of you who watch daily will see a difference.

Why zoom out?

For the past eight weeks the action at the nest has been focused on one tiny area - the scrape where the eggs were laid - because the chicks weren't very mobile.

But now at fifteen days old (that's today) they've begun to move around the nest platform. They're discovering their feet and wings and will soon figure out they can pursue their parents if food doesn't reach them fast enough. The camera will pull back so we don't miss the action.

To give you an idea of how it will look here's a comparison using a snapshot from last year when the camera was set at the wider angle. I cropped the photo to match the zoomed-in view and placed that above. The bottom one is wide angle.

Notice what the zoomed-in view misses. There's a chick with his beak open at the front of the box near the green perch. Why is he begging? In the top picture all we can see is his parent's tail. In the wider view we know he's begging because Mom is holding food in her beak. Click on the picture for a second example when the chicks are about to fledge. Notice the cute expression you'd never see if the camera was zoomed in!

There's one more thing to know about the camera. During the nesting season its weatherproof cover gets dirty. Sometimes prey feathers stick to it, sometimes the sun glints off the rain spots, sometimes the sun reflects inside the cover and makes it hard to see. This is just a normal side effect of watching wildlife through a remote camera. We can't clean the camera while they're nesting so we'll just have to bear with it. The good news is that it can be cleaned on banding day, if time permits, when the Game Commission goes out on the ledge to band the nestlings.

(all photos from the National Aviary webcam at the University of Pittsburgh)

Don’t Walk. Fly.

American Robin at nest on traffic signal (photo by Sam Leinhardt)

The Don't Walk robins were busy at their nest last week when Sam Leinhardt spent time with his camera at Forbes and Craig.  He captured some great photos which I've highlighted in a new slideshow today.  (Click on the photo to see the slideshow; it repeats until you close the window.)

The babies continued to grow and thrive.  They changed from blind, nearly naked birds into recognizable baby robins. Their eyes opened first, then they grew feathers and began to open their wings.  They must have been surprised to see the world.  Something to flap about!

About halfway through the slideshow you'll see they grew brown feathers on their heads except for two rows of fluff that looked like horns ... another Bad Hair Day for birds.  By the end of the sequence they really look like robins and have nearly lost those horns.

Such a rapid transformation!

By the time I wrote this, they'd flown.

(all photos by Sam Leinhardt)

Bravo! Peregrine found nesting in Pittsburgh

Peregrine Falcon, Bravo, and his nest site, the McKees Rocks Bridge (photos by Beth Fife)Last week the PA Game Commission's Beth Fife solved a peregrine mystery that had lasted a year - or ten years - depending on who you ask.

In January 2008 Joe Fedor reported a pair of peregrine falcons at the McKees Rocks Bridge. The Pennsylvania Game Commission is responsible for our peregrines so Wildlife Conservation Officer Beth Fife worked with PennDOT to see if she could find a nest.

Yes, the pair had eggs last year but they were laid on a girder. The nest was ultimately unsuccessful. However Beth saw that the male was banded though no one could read his bands.

This spring peregrines were still at the bridge and PennDOT wanted to know if they must change their work schedule to avoid disturbing a nest, so last week Beth visited the bridge again.

PennDOT guessed the nest's location and sure enough there it was. The male was incubating five eggs while his unbanded mate watched from nearby. Beth wrote later, "He didn't even make a fuss...we could have picked him up. He just stood there and watched us. He's a little guy! "

Beth snapped his picture and captured a good image of his bands. Ta dah! Black/green V/H. His name is Bravo, born at Cleveland's Terminal Tower in 1999, son of the Zenith and Bullet. His whereabouts had been unknown all this time.

So you see, a ten year old mystery is solved for Cleveland.

We hope his nest is a success this year. Good detective work, Beth!

(photos of Bravo and the McKees Rocks Bridge by Beth Fife, WCO, Pennsylvania Game Commission)


Tent caterpillars in May (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Tent caterpillars in May (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Coming soon to a cherry tree near you... tent worms!

Their real name is the Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) but I've called them "tent worms" ever since a memorable spring in the late 1960's when they overran the neighborhood.  They were everywhere.  We couldn't walk without stepping on them.  Ewwwww!

Eastern tent caterpillars are actually moths that eat plants in the Rosaceae family including apples, chokecherries and black cherries.  Most people don't notice them until they build silken tents in the trees.

Tent worms are among the most social of all caterpillars.  Their mother lays a cluster of 200-300 eggs on a cherry tree (for instance) in spring or early summer. The caterpillars develop inside the eggs but they don't hatch until the following spring.  Just before the tree leafs out, the tiny caterpillars emerge from the eggs and work together to spin a tent to keep them moist and safe.

Every day the caterpillars come out of their tent to eat the leaves. As they walk, they lay scent trails to follow back to their tent at the end of the day.  As the caterpillars grow they make their tents larger to bury their waste and provide a place to hide between eating excursions.

When they're ready to become moths, the party breaks up and each caterpillar goes off on its own to weave a cocoon.

This is what they look like as moths. Rather unremarkable. They have a 2.2 to 4.4-inch wingspan.

Eastern tent caterpillar moth, Malacosoma americanum (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Eastern tent caterpillar moth, Malacosoma americanum (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I'm not fond of tent worms but they're a favorite food of black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos who arrive on migration just in time to eat them. Bring on the cuckoos!


(tent photo by Marcy Cunkelman, moth photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

Where’s Mom?

Peregrine falcon chicks sleep at the nest (photo from National Aviary webcam at Univ of Pittsburgh) 

Have you noticed the transition at the Pitt peregrine nest in the last two days?  This boring picture demonstrates it. 

Brooding is over.  The chicks can regulate their own body temperature so their parents don't need to shelter them all the time.  Here they are asleep, surrounded by the feathers and body parts (wings) of this morning's breakfast.

Where's Mom?  She's guarding them out of camera view or is out hunting while Dad stands watch.  She knows her nestlings will be fine alone.

For more information on peregrine falcon behavior see the Peregrine FAQs page on this blog.

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at the University of Pittsburgh)

May Flowers: White Trillium

White Trillium (photo by Dianne Machesney)

White Trillium are in full bloom throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.  Last weekend I saw them carpeting the hillsides in the Laurel Highlands at Indian Creek and at Wolf Creek Narrows near Slippery Rock. 

Trillium used to be quite plentiful at the Trillium Trail in Fox Chapel until the deer ate all the wildflowers.  Fox Chapel fenced the trail a few years ago and the flowers made a comeback.  Here are some Dianne Machesney found there last weekend.

Such beauty!

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

Messy Nest

Peregrine falcon, Dorothy, shelters her chicks (photo from the National Aviary webcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)Every year I'm amazed at how quickly Dorothy gives up on housekeeping after the chicks hatch.  She's able to keep the nest fairly clean in the first few days but inevitably there's one meal - usually a pigeon - that tips the balance. 

Here she is presiding over her nest and chicks at 7:00am today.  The chicks are so large she can hardly brood them, but it's dark and rainy so she shelters them amidst the wreckage of prior meals.  They make a sweet picture except for the exploded prey around them.

It would be healthier for her family if she kept the nest clean but, as she would tell you, none of her chicks ever died from a dirty nest.  😉

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at the University of Pittsburgh peregrine falcon nest)

p.s. Check the Peregrine FAQs (see tab at top of this page) for a new entry.