Monthly Archives: April 2013

Outside His Window

Cover of Backyard Birds, Looking Through the Glas by Glen Apseloff

I blog about birds Outside My Window.  Glen Apseloff went a step further and photographed the birds outside his window.

Several years ago Apseloff set himself the challenge of photographing birds in his backyard in Powell, Ohio with an added twist -- all the photos had to be taken through the window glass and none could use a flash.

He and his wife planted their garden for birds and set out the feeders with care.  The birds came to visit, some quite close.  The result is his book entitled Backyard Birds, Looking Through the Glass.

Accompanying more than 120 photos are descriptions of the birds' plumage, their behavior, the foods he's seen them prefer, and his experience watching them.  Occasionally he gives tips on photography.  For instance, "Around my house dark-eyed juncoes usually feed on dropped finch food rather than directly from feeders.  Males tend to be darker than females; females have more brown or a paler black in their plumage.  Males can be challenging to photograph in the snow and in bright sunlight because of the contrast between white and black."

Glen's book is like an outing to his backyard.  The birds are familiar and intriguing, often so close we can see their eyelashes.  As on all outings I like to pick a "Best Bird."  My favorite:  The pileated woodpecker on page 96.

There are beautiful birds outside Glen Apseloff's window.


(cover of Backyard Birds Looking Through the Glass by Glen Apseloff)

Tapping At My Chamber Door

Robin fighting his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)

On April 8 Charlie Hickey and his wife Carole heard a tapping at their front door but no one was there.

When the sound persisted they discovered a robin was attacking his own reflection in the door's kickplate.

Convinced he was facing a rival, the robin would not give up. Here he tries to stare down that other bird.
Robin staring down his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)


And here he threatens him with the puff display.  Look at the expression on his face!

Robin threatening his own reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)


Most birds don't understand mirrors but I can understand why this bird is fooled.  His reflection is so lifelike!

When Charlie posted these photos on his Flickr account he alluded to Edgar Allen Poe's Raven and wrote, "In spite of Carole opening the door and the trash pickup, [the robin] kept returning until Carole covered the kickplate with the door mat."

What a relief when the door mat went up!


(photos by Charlie Hickey)

It’s My Turn!

At the Pitt peregrine nest, E2 is sometimes so eager to incubate the eggs that he won't get up when Dorothy arrives to relieve him.

If E2 stays put and Dorothy's not in a hurry she'll wait as much as 15 minutes.  Last year she fell asleep while she was waiting!

To get him moving she "talks" and walks around him.  If he's really stubborn she pokes him with her beak.

@PittPeregrines created videos of this parental bargaining using the webcam snapshots:  Stubborn E2, above, and Nest Exchanges, below.  E2 doesn't dare to poke Dorothy but he's persistent about taking his turn.


In a week or so Dorothy will take command and hardly allow E2 any time on the eggs.  That's because she's in charge of hatching, expected around Earth Day.  Visit the Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page to vote on the day you think the eggs will hatch.


(videos by @PittPeregrines on YouTube)

Hairy Bittercress

Hairy bittercress (photo by Kate St. John)

Every spring I'm stumped by this small flower that blooms in lawns, fallow gardens and waste places.  With four petals and alternate "divided" leaves I could tell it's in the Mustard family.  When I keyed it out in Newcomb's Wildflower Guide I arrived at Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica*).

But that's not what it is.   It grows too well in poor soil to be a plant known for preferring wet habitats, swamps and stream banks.  I began to suspect it's an alien.

Based on that hunch I sent photos to friends.  Mark Bowers answered that this is hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), native to Europe and Asia.

Like Pennsylvania bittercress, its young leaves can be used in salads and are said to taste like radishes.


(photo by Kate St. John)

* Not a typo, the person who classified Cardamine pensylvanica omitted the second 'n' in our state's name.

Bird In A Window

A hole that looks like a bird (photo by Tim Vechter)

This broken window caught Tim Vechter's eye the other day.

Once you see the bird, it's hard to see the window.


(photo by Tim Vechter)

p.s. I just noticed that the paint is worn off the windowsill where the opening meets the sill.  Something is going in and out of that hole.  Hmmm... !

Turning The Eggs

Dorothy turns her eggs (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the Univesity of Pittsburgh)

During incubation there's not a whole lot of activity at a bird's nest except for this:  Mom (or Dad) periodically stands up, stares at the eggs and draws each one toward her with her beak.  She's not just rearranging the eggs, she's turning them.

Other than a few notable exceptions, all birds turn their eggs because it's required for the embryos' survival.  For instance:

  • The temperature in the middle of a clutch is warmer than the edge.  Birds move the outer eggs to the middle to keep them evenly heated.
  • In the early days of incubation, it's important that the embryo floats inside the egg while the membranes that support its life are growing and developing.  Turning optimizes membrane growth.
  • Eventually the chorion and allantoic membranes will be pressed to each other and to the shell.  If these membranes adhere too soon the chick will not be able to move into the hatching position later and get out of the egg.  Turning prevents premature adhesion.
  • The albumen (the egg white) is the embryo's fluid cushion and water supply.  Turning the egg optimizes the fluid dynamics of the albumen so the chick can absorb it properly.

Egg turning is so important that it's a wonder some species don't do it.  One notable exception are the megapodes who lay their eggs in compost heaps and let the heat of the decomposing vegetation incubate them.  No turning there!

I'd rather watch a peregrines' nest where things are happening, if only a bit of egg turning.


(photo of Dorothy turning her eggs from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh.  Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 460 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

Raccoons Getting Active

After a quiet winter this week's warm weather has brought out the raccoons.

On Monday I heard a strange noise above my head in Schenley Park.  Two raccoons were arguing high in a tree.

Then late at night I heard the scratchy sound of raccoons disagreeing in my back yard.  Safe indoors, my cat looked in the direction of the sound but was unimpressed.

Fortunately we don't have a cat door or we might have had a visitor like the one in this video... !


(video from YourDailyFunny on YouTube)

Baby Owl!

Eurasian Eagle Owl baby at the National Aviary (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

With orange eyes, fluffy down, and an enormous beak this baby made her media debut yesterday.

She's the only Eurasian eagle owl to be born in an AZA accredited zoo in the last five years.  Hatched on March 13, she lives at the National Aviary where her very versatile mom is an education bird, an exhibit bird and now a breeding bird.

Eurasian eagle owls are native to Europe and Asia and virtually the world’s largest owl.  They resemble great horned owls but they're 1.5 times larger.

Right now this baby is halfway grown up.  She's cute but gawky, proudly displaying her tawny down.  I love her eyelashes.  Look at those feet!



You can see her for yourself at the National Aviary starting today, April 10, through May 24.  Since she's just a baby she'll stay behind the scenes most of the time and come out just twice a day --  at 11:45am and 2:15pm.

Watch her grow and change in the next six weeks.  By May 24 she'll look like this.

(photos courtesy of the National Aviary)

Bad News For Gyrfalcons

Gyrfalcon in western Greenland (photo form Wikimedia Commons)

A new study on the future of climate change in arctic Alaska spells bad news for gyrfalcons in the U.S.

By 2050 the mean annual temperature in northernmost Alaska is expected to rise 3.10C (5.560F).  This will usher in a host of changes to ice, coastlines, tundra, plants and animals.  What will happen to the area's breeding birds?

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, assisted by experts on each species, assessed the future of 54 of arctic Alaska's breeding birds.  The goal was to prepare wildlife and land managers for climate change and ultimately develop plans to mitigate the effects if possible.

The study found that two species, gyrfalcons and common eiders, are highly vulnerable to the anticipated warming and likely to experience dangerous declines.  Seven others are moderately vulnerable: brant, Steller's eider, pomerine jaeger, yellow-billed loon, buff-breasted sandpiper, red phalarope and ruddy turnstone.

Gyrfalcons are specialists and climate change is going to be rough on their niche.

  • They nest on coastal cliffs in microclimates that are a rare commodity in northern Alaska.  South-facing cliffs may become too hot, limiting the number of suitable nest sites.
  • At the start of breeding gyrfalcons eat ptarmigan almost exclusively.  When ptarmigan populations are low gyrfalcons won't breed at all.  When climate change affects ptarmigans it will hurt gyrfalcons.
  • The gyrfalcon's hunting style relies on open tundra but as the arctic warms shrubs will grow in formerly open land.
  • Spring storms are expected to increase. Unfortunately this will cause nest failure for gyrfalcons who require dry weather to hatch their eggs.

With all these cards stacked against them gyrfalcon numbers are expected to drop considerably from today's 250 breeding pairs.

But the report has a silver lining.  There will be more seed eaters:  savannah sparrows, Lapland longspurs, white-crowned sparrows, American tree-sparrows and common redpolls.

Much as I like redpolls, I don't want to trade them for gyrfalcons.


Read more about the report, Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability of Breeding Birds in Arctic Alaska, in this article in Science Daily or download it from this page on the WCS website (see the righthand column).

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original.)

p.s. The report was careful to point out that the study only applies to arctic Alaska, not to all breeding ranges.  The photo above was taken in western Greenland.

Now What?

Peregrine, DotCa, on Mercury's heel, Rochester, NY (photo by Margaret Kurtz)

Peregrine fans love to follow the offspring of their favorite nest sites.  One of Pittsburgh's favorites is Dorothy's daughter Beauty who lives in Rochester, New York.  I'd say that Beauty "nests" in Rochester but this year is odd.

Last year after a Peyton Place of reversals Beauty mated with DotCa (pictured above on Mercury's heel) and raised one chick at the Times Square nest.  She was not his only mate, though, as he made frequent visits to Pigott, a young female three miles south at the Brighton site.

DotCa left town on migration last fall and for a brief time this spring Beauty was courted by an unbanded male, but DotCa returned in March and drove that male away.  Then he took up with both ladies as he had last year.

But as a mate DotCa treats Beauty badly.  When he first returned he tried to bump her off her perches and drive her away from the Times Square nest.  He doesn't present her with food.  Instead he takes food Beauty caught for herself and presents it to Pigott!  This is just not done by serious suitors!

DotCa shows his preferences in other ways.  He spends far more time courting and mating with Pigott than with Beauty, so much so that Beauty doesn't seem geared up enough to lay eggs.  And DotCa flew with Pigott to the Times Square nest and courted with her there last Thursday!

If he were a mime his meaning is clear.  He prefers Pigott.  Why doesn't he gang up with Pigott to oust Beauty?  My hunch is that there are two reasons:  DotCa has a precedent for polygamy and Beauty is powerful.

DotCa's father raised two families when DotCa was born.  As a juvenile he probably flew over to the other side of town where he learned about his father's other wife.  Birds learn from their parents.  Voilà.

Meanwhile Beauty is powerful enough that she retains the Time Square site despite DotCa's attempts to oust her.  And she is persuasive enough that he mates with her.

Perhaps we're fortunate that DotCa has a polygamist family history as this allows him to have two females live peacefully in close proximity.  Meanwhile Beauty and Pigott must work out the dynamics of sharing a mate.

But no eggs yet.

Now what?


Find out the latest at RFalconcam's FalconWatch blog.

(photo by Margaret Kurtz (MAK) from RFalconcam's FalconWatch blog)