Lessons For Life

I don't know about you but I'm going through peregrine withdrawal. 

On campus the Pitt peregrines are really hard to find.  Though I've seen the adults carrying prey and know they're still feeding their young, the "kids" are not hanging out near the Cathedral of Learning.

So what are they doing? 

They're learning to hunt.  If they don't master it, they'll starve.  If they aren't really good at it, they can't feed a family.

The lessons happen in the air:

  • The adult peregrine catches a bird (in this case a pigeon) and carries it in its talons to the vicinity of its youngsters. 
  • The youngsters are always on the lookout for a possible meal and immediately chase the adult, shouting for food. 
  • When a youngster catches up, the adult rises up and dangles the pigeon.
  • Sometimes the juvenile flips upside down, raises his feet and catches the prey as his parent drops it (shown here).  Sometimes he dives for it as it falls past him.
  • The lesson is always noisy.  The juveniles shout the entire time, even after catching the prey.  

Thankfully Chad and Chris Saladin saw this lesson in Ohio and were able to capture it on camera. 

Look at the surprise on this youngster's face! 

I wish our peregrines would do this while I'm watching.

(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)


p.s.  At this time of year the adult peregrines occasionally visit their nest (here's why).  At Pitt, you might see Dorothy sleeping at the nest here.

p.p.s.  Chad & Chris reminded me that the birds in this photo are Maddy (adult) and Michelin (juvenile).  Maddy was born at Pitt and nests on the I-480 bridge in Cleveland.  Michelin landed on a pile of old tires when he fledged - hence his name.  He's all grown up now and nests at the lake near Cleveland.

23 thoughts on “Lessons For Life

  1. I think this fact still amazes me. I always thought more of the things that the falcons need to know to survive was just instinct rather than all the teaching that has to be done. Like humans children are children. A toddler in the woods would have a bad time of it also like the young fledges. And the picture is priceless. Thanks for a rewarding Monday lesson after all the fireworks. Hazy warm morning.

  2. Whew! Talk about withdrawal…a post makes it a little better. Last I saw the Pitt family the three young ones were on the front ledge of Webster Hall…and that was all the way last Wednesday.

    I hope it isn’t the last I see them, but it was a treat. The one on the corner closest to Bellefield very patiently sat as a smaller bird (maybe a starling) flew back and forth in front of it and landed either on the remaining bell tower on that corner, or else righton the ledge down a bit from the peregrine! Silly starling… Silly peregrine! Hunting lessons must not have been too advanced yet.

    Or – a little while later, about 9 PM and getting dark at this point, I found why he may not have been as interested. Turns out the next one over had dinner up on the ledge at it’s feet. This one was a quarter of the way down the ledge towards St. Paul’s. The first one flew from his corner perch over to the ledge in front of the antennas where his sibling shooed him away back to the corner. He tried again – no luck. Finally, the first guy from the corner landed several steps away from the one with dinner. Slowly, step by step, it moved in towards the other’s dinner. There was wing flapping from both trying to look big and mean (“I’m telling you stay away!”) but eventually the intruder got a little to eat. The commotion was too much for the third to handle as he flew back towards Heinz, but I never did see it again.

    I hope this isn’t the last I see of these three, but if it is, it was a great scene from the small bird that tempted fate, to the flying, to the stealing of a few bites.

  3. wow, now that is a great picture! I need a bigger and better lens!

    I saw a falcon at the Tarentum Bridge last weekend. It was sitting where I saw it before on the metal pole that sticks out on the north side of the bridge. I wish that I had time to see more of them.

  4. I feel the same too, going through falcon withdrawal. But I know that they are doing fine and they have to continue to grow and mature into adult falcons.

    It was a nice picture of a baby catching his meal. They have to survive in this world now. No more waiting for mom and dad to feed you – you have to start learning to be independent.

    Come down here in Washington County – there are a LOT of pigeons hanging at the Courthouse – I MEAN A LOT!!!

  5. I’m with you Kate… SEVERE peregrine withdrawal (PW). A trip to Oakland yesterday provided no relief for my PW as no one was around. A pigeon – a PIGEON! – was sitting on the spire on the steeple at St Paul.. mocking me. 🙁
    I did see a falcon flying around the Gulf Tower on Thursday… I was stuck in traffic on 579, luckily hubby was driving, so I could grab the binoculars from the back seat.

    Thanks for today’s peregrine blog… it helps a bit, but unless I see someone on campus when I go to work tomorrow… I fear my PW will only get worse!

    Awesome picture of the food exchange too!

  6. Anne Marie, I saw that pigeon too. I was far away & got all excited thinking it would be a peregrine. No! Bummer!

  7. That is a fantastic and amazing pic of a food exchange! Thanks to Chad and Chris for sharing!

    A big thanks to Kate for the wealth of information! It is truly appreciated. There is always something new to learn about Peregrines.

    Watching the Peregrines has made me pay more attention to any bird family I see and really watch them closely. I recently saw a small group of American Crows. Some of the Crows were in pursuit of the others. I now realize that it is probably the youngsters chasing their parents for food, like the Peregrines do.

    I am also going through PW. I still check the GT cam, but don’t see anything anymore, except hotspots showing rare action. Those are getting fewer and farther between also. 🙁

  8. How is “Yellow” doing in rehab? How about the Gulf peregrine that was also in rehab?
    Have not read anything about them for a long time. Thanks.

  9. I asked late last week. No news on either bird. I’ll certainly post it here when I find out anything.

  10. What a fantastic photo, along with another great description of what juvenile peregrines go through on their way to independence. I’m also having PW, but looking forward to next year.

  11. I, too, have peregrine withdrawal. Still watching the birds of prey in my neighborhood. The groshawk has fledged; got some pics; but haven’t heard/seen lately because of the heat. Saw one of the parents today soaring over the Ohio River……will keep you posted.

  12. Yeah, I’m in PW all right. Last night I dreamed that Dorothy and the 3 kids landed in a tree right in front of me! And flew away before I could take their picture. I guess I have to settle for redtails — there are tons of them around! Plus, I spent a few minutes yesterday watching a BIG turkey vulture circling the woods behind Settler’s Cabin wave pool.

  13. I’ve seen the mid-air bird exchange outside Mellon Institute above Heinz Chapel 4 or 5 times in the past month. It’s been quite amazing.

    I still see one or two birds every day or two perch on the steeple of Heinz Chapel (I can see it from the window in the Mellon Institute).

    One story I forgot to share earlier in the month: Two of the younguns were perched next to each other on one of the dragon things that stick out from Heinz Chapel, while another was perched a few feet away. They all started squawking as one of the parents flew to the steeple next to them with a fresh pigeon. The parent immediately began defeathering the pigeon as a slow breeze blew through. The sky was bright blue and cloudless and a long stream of drifting feathers flew outward in a long line from the steeple as the youngsters made a racket. It made for one heck of an image and I cursed that I didn’t have my camera on me. I found it to be one of the most beautiful scenes from this whole falcon season, despite the gruesomeness within it.

    I walked around the chapel to get another view. All of a sudden one of the hungry falcons could wait no longer – he half-jumped, half-flew to the ledge where the meal was being prepared by the parent. But there wasn’t quite enough room on the ledge. He failed to get a good hold and flailed about trying to grab on like a cartoon character. He slid backwards down the steeple, decided to stop trying to grab hold, fell backwards and upside down, tucked in his wings, and did an amazingly acrobatic upside down flip into full flight as he zipped back up to his perch to wait some more.

    Talk about an amazing scene!

  14. Wow, Daniel, wish I’d been there!
    Today I saw all 3 juveniles plus 1 adult at/near campus. One juvie was on St.Paul’s steeple, two were on the Cathedral of Learning perched very high up. The adult was roosting face-forward in one of the nooks on the 32nd floor edge. He/she was certainly being watched with great interest by three pairs of eyes!

  15. I wish they’d venture over to Schenley Pool — but I guess the Pigeon Pickin’s are better in the more urban area between CoL & St. Paul’s. I looked around the CoL & Heinz Chapel this evening around 8 PM, but none of our Pitt Family were around. And I didn’t have my 10x50s so that didn’t help.

    Schenley Pool seems to be Redtail Country anyhow — Leah captured this lovely photo about a week ago — the tree is right outside the pool.


  16. PS — Dotty or Kate, which ones are the groshawks (goshawks?)? And where do they live? Twice in the past few weeks I’ve seen some *very* big birds soaring over the Ohio River — the first time between Avalon & Emsworth; and the second last week from Leetsdale. Way too big for peregrines, didn’t look like redtails (and huge, even for big redtails!), didn’t quite hold their wings in a “V” like a turkey vulture.

    I saw one cruising downriver near Avalon, and then it was joined by its mate. And when Leah & I were in Leetsdale, we spotted a pair — again, VERY BIG raptors — across the river. Now, across the Ohio from Leetsdale is Crescent Township. Home of Allegheny County’s own bald eagle nest! Could it have been them?

  17. I am not sure what species Dotty is referring to (I don’t know where she lives – which makes all the difference).

    Northern goshawks nest in remote wooded areas and are so rare in Pennsylvania that their nesting locations are kept secret. I do know that none of them nest near Pittsburgh.

    Some background on goshawk abundance: PA was divided into 4,937 geographic blocks for the PA Breeding Bird Atlas in 2004-2008. Northern goshawks were confirmed nesting in 33 blocks. For comparison, peregrines were confirmed nesting in 26 blocks, coopers hawks (same genus as goshawks and somewhat similar in appearance) were confirmed in 316, red-tailed hawks were confirmed in 1,086 which is more than 1/5 of the state. Statistically, red-tailed hawks are the most likely hawk to see.

    Very big soaring raptors: I can’t tell from your description but I’d guess turkey vultures because they do go quite high when the weather is hot and they often soar together.

  18. Side note: I was incredibly stoked to see a big red-tailed hawk circling above my apartment in Shadyside for five minutes yesterday. It was a beauty!

  19. Oops, it is goshawks (typing error). Honestly I still have trouble identifying the hawks up the street. There are three nests. The one I see is at the top of a huge pine tree near a house. The other two are further back deep into the woods, from what the neighbors said. I do have photos, and as soon as I transfer them to computer I can email them to you. I live in Beaver County, near railroad yards, 2 blocks from Ohio River. I do know there are redtail hawks around, also turkey vultures, which do soar in groups like you described. Peregrines are near Monaca.

    I did watch a flying lesson. Parent looks lighter in color; fledgling’s wings were brown. Parent flew to the other side of the hollow, while fledgling stayed on the nesting side. Parent does a high pitch whistle sound; while fledgling did a two-syllable sound “feed me” sound.

    I do remember over the years that Earl Schriver stated there was a huge redtail hawk that lived nearby.

    Thank you for your patience. I am learning, and greatly appreciate everyone’s help.

  20. My husband Tim Clark and I are volunteering at the US Women’s Golf Championship at Oakmont this week.

    In addition to the awesomeness of the experience, we’ve also seen a huge raptor overhead. It’s been so hot and cloudless that we can’t get any markings. It’s a single, so we ruled out turkey vultures. Any thoughts?

  21. Anne, it may be a turkey vulture after all. Oakmont is above Barking Slopes and I know the turkey vultures hang out in that area. They like to ride the thermals on the river slopes.
    Check the wing position on your bird. Does it hold its wings in a shallow V, hardly ever flap and sometimes teeter side to side? If so, it’s a turkey vulture.
    Here’s more on how to ID these distant soaring birds:

    p.s. If none of those traits apply, write back with a description of how it holds its wings, whether it flaps much and how big its head appears to be relative to the rest of the bird.

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