Mar 03 2011

Familiarities on the Cliff

Published by at 6:01 am under Bird Behavior,Peregrines

In March Pittsburgh’s peregrines engage in courtship rituals that cement their pair bond. 

Some are the courtship flights I described on Monday.  Others are “familiarities on the cliff” that peregrines do while their mate is nearby on the cliff or building.

These familiarities, also called ledge displays, can take place elsewhere but as egg-laying time approaches the pair usually performs them at the nest. 

You’ll see these activities on the Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning falconcams.  Here’s what to look for:

The male has a ritual that he does alone.  In it, he tries to entice his mate to join him at the nest by swaggering onto the ledge and walking to the scrape with a high stepping tip-toe gait.  He then stands in the scrape, high on his legs but with his head bowed, and calls to his mate.  He makes scraping motions with this feet, then pauses and looks at her as if to say, “Will you join me?” 

How long he continues this display depends on her reaction.  If you watch the Gulf Tower falconcam you’ll see that Louie is a master at this activity and he’s quite loud about it.  It’s a wonder that Dori hesitates at all when Louie’s so insistent.

When his mate joins him at the nest the pair engages in a mutual ledge display like the one Dorothy and E2 are doing above at the Cathedral of Learning. 

In this ceremony they bow low together over the scrape and say “ee-chup, ee-chup,” bowing repeatedly.  (The “scrape” is the bowl they make in the gravel where she’ll lay her eggs.)

In mid-winter when they first begin this ritual the bowing may last for only 10 seconds.  Then one of them leaves, usually the male.  In March when they’re only days away from egg-laying, the ceremony lasts longer and becomes more intimate.  The pair calls softly and twists their heads to opposite sides while they bow.  Sometimes they even touch beaks. 

That’s what Dorothy and E2 were doing last year at their nest when the webcam took this snapshot.  See how low she bows?  (She’s the larger bird on the left.)  See how her beak is open?  She’s “cheep”ing to E2.

Watch the National Aviary falconcams and you’ll see what I mean.

(photo of Dorothy and E2 from the National Aviary’s webcam at the Cathedral of Learning)

p.s.  Have questions about peregrines?  See my Peregrine FAQs.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Familiarities on the Cliff”

  1. Kathyon 03 Mar 2011 at 10:38 am

    I’m smiling!!!!!!! We just love this activity!!!!

  2. kellyon 04 Mar 2011 at 11:20 am

    The “high stepping tip-toe gait” sounds adorable. Since I can’t view cams I’ll just have to imagine what this looks like.

  3. Mary DeVon 04 Mar 2011 at 5:22 pm

    One of the Pitt Peregrines was doing nice swoops & circles around the top of the building yesterday around 4:30 PM. Maybe Dorothy, getting ready to join E2 for some “familiarities”? Sadly, the light turned green and I had to stop watching!

  4. mary rauktison 05 Mar 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I am on the 23rd Floor of the CL facing H. Chapel and my window is open most days. I could hear them calling in the late morning this week. I am Looking foward to hearing them yell at their new flyers late in the spring as they learn to fly around the CL and the Chapel. They sound like parents instructing their kids to drive!

  5. Mary DeVon 05 Mar 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Leah (my daughter) just commented that the Peregrines are “so much more interesting than Jersey Shore!” True, true….:-)

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