Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mr. and Mrs.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are a great example of a sexually dimorphic species -- the males and females look quite different.

Shown above is Mr. Grosbeak in his black, white and rose-colored finery.

Below is his mate, Mrs. Grosbeak, in subdued brown and white.  Her colors camouflage her at the nest but make her look like a large house finch.

You can tell she's a grosbeak by her big white eyebrow and the large ("gros") beak which matches her mate's in size and shape.

How nice that this pair cooperated by striking the same pose at Marcy's feeder.

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

Fairly Common, Often Unseen

That's the description Kenn Kaufman gives for the yellow-throated vireo.

Though this bird's summer range extends from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, it's a rare year that I actually see one. 

Yellow-throated vireos stay high in the trees and move slowly as they forage, so there's no quick movement to catch my eye. 

Usually I hear them singing a burry "three eight (pause) three eight," like a red-eyed vireo with a sore throat.

Prior to this spring it was a very long time between sightings for me, but last week I saw several and Cris Hamilton photographed this one at Harrison Hills.

You can even tell why he's hard to see.  Though his throat is yellow, he matches the leaves.

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

Time For Warblers!

Today begins the "Biggest Week in American Birding," a festival that celebrates warbler migration in northwestern Ohio, May 5-15.

There are plenty of birds to see!  As warblers migrate north to Canada they usually stop on the coast of Lake Erie to refuel before crossing the water.  The northwestern corner of Ohio becomes a huge birding hotspot.

This attracts birders from around the country and around the world.  Many of us will visit the Port Clinton area in the next 10 days, including many Pittsburghers from the Three Rivers Birding Club

We'll visit The Boardwalk every morning at Magee Marsh (formerly Crane Creek Park).  There in a copse of trees the warblers are so close you can practically touch them and the birders are so thick you meet old friends at every turn.

If you're even mildly interested, it's worth the trip. Click on the photo of the magnolia warbler to read more about the Biggest Week in American Birding. 

I'll see you at The Boardwalk this weekend.

(photo by Bobby Greene, taken at Magee Marsh in 2010)

Pile of Baby Birds with Full Stomachs

The weather finally cleared and at 5:30pm these hungry baby birds were fed at the Cathedral of Learning.  Dorothy started with one prey item; E2 arrived with a second halfway through the feeding. 

So now there are four very full and sleepy baby peregrines. 

p.s. You can see that Dorothy's housekeeping has gone downhill.  Quite a mess!   😉

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

No Crows…?

It's rare to notice an absence in nature.   Our brains are wired to see "This is here, this is new," but unless we're specifically watching for something, we don't notice when it's gone.

The crows are a case in point.

Last fall in the city of Pittsburgh everyone remarked that there were, "So many crows!"   "Too many crows!"  and even "The crows are awful!"

But look now.  Where are they?  Have you seen more than one or two lately?  Have you seen any?

They are virtually gone. 

We didn't have to do anything to "get rid" of them.  Some of them left town to nest in the suburbs and those who stayed to nest here are extremely secretive.

This is the crows' quiet period.  

If you don't like crows, savor this moment.  When their young fledge they'll be noisy again.  

This fall they'll be back in the thousands and everyone will say, "There are so many crows!"

(photo by Chuck Tague)

Quiz: Whose nest?

Here's a nest that was under construction in Marcy's cherry tree more than a week ago.  By now it has eggs.

Can you tell whose nest this is?  Here are some hints:

  • The female selects the site and builds the nest.
  • She uses grasses, weed stalks, and strips of cloth or string.
  • The materials are held together with wet, soft mud that she carries to the nest to cement it.  Mud is essential.
  • Working from the inside of the cup, the female molds the nest to the contours of her body.
  • As a finishing touch, she lines the inside with soft grasses.
  • She does not maintain the nest so it deteriorates with use and might even blow out of the tree.
  • It takes 5 to 7 days for her to construct the first nest of the season, a little less time for subsequent nests.
  • The female builds a new nest -- or builds on top of the old nest -- for subsequent broods. 

Whose nest is this?  Leave a comment with your answer.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Sad News: Only Four Nestlings at Pitt

Last Friday a webcam observer remarked on the Aviary's Facebook page, "The female just flew off the nest with a dead chick. Only two are left in the nest now."

The Aviary sent me the news right away but I was away from email on Friday and didn't find out until evening.  I checked both nests immediately.  Gulf obviously had five babies.  At Pitt I could only count four but it was hard to see because of the camera angle.  One thing was certain.  Both nests had more than two chicks. 

Saturday morning I still saw only four chicks at the Cathedral of Learning so over the weekend I asked a small group of avid webcam and fledge watchers, "Can you see five chicks at Pitt?"  

None of us could reliably see five but none of us were sure.  By this morning I was still seeing only four so I asked my friends to check the video archives. 

Thanks to Donna Memon and Jennie Barker we now have photos showing that one of the adults (looks like E2) removed a dead chick from the nest around 2:30pm on Friday April 29.  Here he examines it one last time.  Earlier snapshots indicate it died overnight April 28- April 29 because it was dead at the 6:16am feeding.

Alas, these things happen.  Sometimes we like it.  Sometimes we don't.

p.s. Thanks to Friday's sharp-eyed observer we knew that we ought to check the cameras.  To see video of this activity, watch the Cathedral of Learning Archive video called "E2 removes the dead chick."

(photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at the Cathedral of Learning)

Speaking of Babies

If you haven't seen this photo that Steve Gosser posted on his Facebook page, here's an "Awwwwww" moment. 

This is a pair of great-horned owl chicks that Steve, Cris Hamilton and Bobby Greene saw in Harrison Hills on Saturday.

Great horned owls nest earlier than any other bird in western Pennsylvania.  As a result, the young can walk away from the nest by the first of May.  They can't fly yet.  They're in the "branching" phase, similar to ledge-walking in young peregrines.

Cute as these two look, don't mess with them.  Their parents are nearby, watching, and will attack if you threaten their young.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

All Five Hatched at Gulf

It's hard to count heads at Pittsburgh's peregrines nests but we know for certain that all five eggs hatched at the Gulf Tower as of late Friday night. 

Here are two snapshots to prove it.   First, a photo taken from the video camera very early Saturday morning April 30 -- at 1:20am! -- thanks to Donna Memon.  Notice the eggshell.


And then this snapshot from Saturday evening April 30 at 7:07pm.  The yellow-shafted wing feathers indicate they ate a northern flicker for dinner.

(photos from the National Aviary webcam at Gulf Tower)