Archive for May, 2010

May 15 2010

Churrrr, Churrrr, Churrrr

Published by under Songbirds

European starlings are common in my neighborhood.

They nest in the eaves of my neighbor's house, having evicted the house sparrows who used that hole in prior years.  It's a form of weird justice that one invasive species displaced another in the cut-throat world of nest site competition.

This morning I learned that the starlings were successful.  I could tell their first brood had fledged by the sound:  churrrr, churrrr, churrrr, churrrr.

Fledgling starlings are a dull brown color with almost no variation except for a dark mask from beak to eyes.  The first time I saw one I thought it was a new species until it begged from an adult starling.  Churrrr, churrrr, churrrr.  No doubt about it.  That dull brown bird was a baby.

Young starlings begin to molt into starry winter plumage when they are only 4-6 weeks old so you'll have to look now if you want to see them in their dull brown feathers.  In the photo above, three juveniles are taking a bath with one adult (he has the yellow beak).  Notice how dull the back is on the bird at left.  You can almost see the mask on the bird at right.

Listen for the fledglings and you'll find them easily.  After a while the sound is annoying.

Churrrr, churrrr, churrrr.

(photo from Wikipedia under Creative Commons license.  Click on the photo to see the original.)

p.s.  June 30:  The starlings have fledged their second brood in my neghborhood.  I hear "churrr, churrr" again.

One response so far

May 14 2010

Save These Dates: Chat and Fledge Watch

Two peregrine-related events are coming soon.  Save these dates! 

  • PEREGRINE CHAT:  Next Wednesday, May 19 from 7:00pm to 7:30pm, Dr. Todd Katzner of the National Aviary will guest moderate the Cathedral of Learning webcam chat to answer your questions about peregrine falcons.  Dr. Katzner is a raptor expert and the Director of Conservation and Field Research at the National Aviary.  To participate, login at the "Please sign in or sign up for free" links on the Cathedral of Learning webcam page.   For more background, see this blog about the chat held on April 28.

  • PITT FLEDGE WATCH:  My favorite week of the year is coming -- Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch!   When the young peregrines are about to take their first flight I sit at the tent at Schenley Plaza and watch the fun.  Come join me!  We'll see young peregrines flapping and adult peregrines flying.  We'll see how Dorothy and E2 teach their kids to fly and we'll have a grand old time.  Save these dates, weather permitting.  More details to follow in the days ahead.
    • Friday May 28, noon to 2:15pm.  Kick off the Memorial Day Weekend with peregrine fun.
    • Saturday May 29, 8:00am to 11:00am.  I'll stay until noon if I know you're coming!
    • Tuesday June 1, noon to 2:15pm.  This is the Rain Date for Friday May 28, but I'll be at Schenley Plaza on June 1st even if it didn't rain on Friday!
    • Wednesday and Thursday June 2 & 3, 1:00pm to 2:15pm.  I will also be there before and after work some days, to be determined.

10 responses so far

May 14 2010

Anatomy: Hallux

Published by under Bird Anatomy

Let's talk about toes. 

We have five toes on each foot.  Birds have four. 

Our five toes point forward.  Birds have three that point forward and one that points back(*).

We have a hallux -- called a big toe -- on each foot.  The bird has a hallux on each foot too.  It's the toe that points back.

Here a Baltimore oriole is using his toes to perch on the edge of a jelly container.  In the first photo it looks like he's fine with only his front three toes, but in the second you can tell that without his halluces (red arrow) he'd fall into the dish! 

If our big toes pointed backward we'd be able to perch on edges too -- but then we couldn't wear shoes. 

(* Note:  Osprey feet have three toes that point forward and a hallux that points back but osprey can rotate their outer toes backward. This makes a two-toes-front-two-toes-back arrangement that helps them carry fish.) 

p.s.  See the comments below for more birds who have two-and-two toes.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman of a Baltimore oriole diving into her jelly container to get a snack)

7 responses so far

May 13 2010

How he got his name

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

In case you need a reason to go birding, here's one:  the flame orange throat of the male Blackburnian warbler (Setophaga fusca).

Blackburnians are one of the few birds named for a woman.

Anna Blackburne (1726 – 1793) was an English naturalist who taught herself Latin and the Linnaean system of classification.  Her scientific skills were so well respected that people sent her specimens from around the world to add to her museum of natural history.  Her brother Ashton lived in the U.S. and was among those who sent her birds.  In those days that meant he shot them and sent her the skins.

Anna's primary focus was entomology so when she encountered an unnamed bird she sent it to the bird experts.  The Blackburnian warbler was thus described by Philipp Ludwig Statius Müller who named it in her honor.

Because Blackburnian warblers nest in mature conifer forests, we won't see them in the city after they've passed through on migration.

Now's the time to look for them.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

2 responses so far

May 11 2010

Make that Five Out of Five!

Published by under Peregrines

Every egg has hatched!   The last chick is pictured above, hatching at 5:35pm.

Baby peregrines have now emerged from all five eggs at the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh. 

This is remarkable because of their history.

In mid-March Tasha, the former female resident, laid two eggs but her clutch was not complete when she was challenged by Dori for ownership of the nest site. 

On the night of March 19th the challenge was intense when viewers heard peregrine wailing on the webcam.  The next morning Tasha was seen on camera for the last time.  By that evening Dori had won the site and bowed with Louie over the nest scrape. 

While Louie and Dori got to know each other, Tasha's two eggs were unattended. 

Then, at the end of March, Louie started to incubate Tasha's eggs and made it very clear to Dori that she should put her eggs with Tasha's when she was ready to lay them. 

On the night of April 2, Dori laid her first egg in Tasha's nest scrape.  By April 7 she had laid three eggs and she was incubating all five.

Since Tasha's eggs went unattended for two weeks and Louie incubated them fitfully during that period, many of us thought that only Dori's three eggs would be viable. 

Not so!  It's a tribute to Louie's perseverance and Dori's new mothering skills that all five have hatched.

So now we have five baby peregrines at Pitt and five at Gulf Tower. 

Watch out, pigeons!

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at the Gulf Tower, captured by Marianne Atkinson.)

33 responses so far

May 11 2010

Four Out of Five!

Published by under Peregrines

The Gulf Tower peregrines have really surprised me.  With all the drama that occurred in late March and early April -- when Tasha laid two eggs, then Dori took over the nest site and laid three more -- I really expected the eggs would hatch days apart and that only Dori's would be viable.

Instead, yesterday two more of the five eggs hatched, so that all four hatched within 48 hours. 

There are now four peregrine chicks at Gulf Tower.  

At least one of the chicks came from an egg laid by Tasha (who hasn't been seen since March 20).  Dori will raise all of them as her own.  It's unlikely she can tell the difference.

Here are some "baby" pictures from today and yesterday.  My thanks go to Jennie Barker, Traci Darin and Marianne Atkinson for capturing most of these images.  (I captured the feeding this morning.)

The 3rd egg hatched on Monday, May 10 around 9:00am.  In the photo above, the baby bird is raising its leg and wing out of the shell.


Above, the fourth egg shows a pip hole and the beginnings of the circumference crack.


Dori helps the fourth chick out of its shell, May 10, around 7:15pm.


This morning Dori feeds four chicks at 7:15am.


Will the fifth egg hatch?  Watch the Gulf Tower webcam to see.

p.s. Dori & Louie are TV celebrities!  They were featured on this morning's WTAE news and in a followup article here.  Check the comments below for even more links.

(All photos from the National Aviary webcam at the Gulf Tower)

18 responses so far

May 09 2010

Happy Mothers’ Day

Published by under Peregrines

Today there was excitement at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest when two of the five eggs hatched and made the new resident female, Dori, a first-time mother.

Here are some "baby" pictures captured from the webcam by Traci Darin and Marianne Atkinson.

Happy Mother's Day to Dori!

The first egg hatched around 7:52am.


Dori offers food at 4:00pm, wondering if the first chick is hungry.


The second egg hatched at 7:07pm.


I was out today, birding since dawn and far from a computer, so I missed the excitement.  Thanks to so many of you for letting me know about the hatchings!

There are three more eggs to go.  Will they all hatch?  We aren't sure because two of the remaining eggs were laid weeks earlier by the previous female peregrine, Tasha.

Watch the National Aviary webcam to see.

(photos from the National Aviary webcam at the Gulf Tower.  Thanks to Marianne Atkinson and Traci Darin for sending the screen captures.)

14 responses so far

May 09 2010

Signs of Spring: Field Mustard

Published by under Phenology,Plants

It's early for Field Mustard and it usually blooms by the side of the road but sometimes it's found in very special places.

Dianne Machesney photographed this one blooming alone at Braddock Trail Park last weekend. 

It was blooming so early that it caused some confusion.  Was it really Field Mustard? 

Yes.  Spring is just too early this year.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

9 responses so far

May 08 2010

Gone Birding

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Migration is in full swing.  New birds are arriving every day.

There's no better time to go birding, so that's what I'm doing at Magee Marsh, Ohio.

Magee Marsh, also called Crane Creek, is a hotpsot for migrating birds because it's the last jumping off point on the shore of Lake Erie before they cross to Canada.

It's also a mob scene of birders, photographers and fancy optics.  The birds attract thousands of people and plenty of celebrations.  Not only is today International Migratory Bird Day but the entire week, May 6-16, has been declared the "Biggest Week in American Birding" by Black Swamp Bird Observatory in nearby Oak Harbor.

With this many people around, are there any birds?

Yes, and they're as close as this Nashville warbler that Brian Herman photographed last spring.  I was standing next to him in the Crane Creek parking lot when he took its picture.  🙂

(photo by Brian Herman)

3 responses so far

May 07 2010

Anatomy: Talons

Published by under Bird Anatomy

How do raptors catch their food? 

With their talons.

Talons are the claws on birds of prey and one of the two body parts that identify them as raptors, the other being their sharp beaks. 

On peregrines, the talons are especially long and deadly. 

The photo at left shows a peregrine's feet on a rehabber's glove with one talon circled in green.  See how long and curved that talon is?  About 3/4" long.  Nearly as long as the first joint of the rehabber's finger. 

And whose talon is this? 

Click on the photo to see PittStop, a female peregrine born at the Gulf Tower in 2003 who injured her wing when she hit a building that July.  She was taken to Medina Raptor Center in Spencer, Ohio and underwent flight training in the spring of 2004 to regain her wing strength after her initial injury healed.  That's when this photo was taken. 

Unfortunately Pittstop's injury was too extensive.  Her wing always droops, she cannot fly well enough to hunt, and she sometimes has damage-related seizures. 

Pittstop is now an educational bird at Median Raptor Center.  I'm glad they were allowed to keep her.

(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin, altered to illustrate the feet and talons)

6 responses so far

« Prev - Next »