Archive for May, 2013

May 24 2013

Special Gear For Young Fliers

Published by under Peregrines,Tenth Page

Juvenile peregrine falcon at University of Pittsburgh (photo by Colette Ross)When young peregrines fly for the first time they're specially equipped for their big adventure.

Like many raptors, peregrines' tail feathers are longer in juvenile plumage than in adults.  In peregrines it averages more than a centimeter.  In red-tailed hawks the difference is even greater but the effect is the same.  Longer tails give the birds more lift "by improving airflow over the wings, especially at slow speeds, and by reducing turbulence as air passes over the body." (1)

The added lift makes the juveniles' flight more buoyant than their parents' and is a great help as they learn to fly and hunt.

By the time they molt into adult plumage a year later, young peregrines have mastered the skills they need and are ready for speed.  In the meantime they have special gear to help them fly.

Think of their tails as "training wheels."


(photo by Collette Ross.  Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by and quoted from page 131 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill. (1))

Feather Atlas

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May 23 2013

Red Wing Versus Red Tail

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's wetland restoration at Schenley pond has gone so well that a red-winged blackbird has decided to nest there.

Though I haven't seen his mate there must be a nest because he defends the area from all potential threats.  Yesterday morning I was pleased to see a second vote for the wetland when he had to chase off the competition -- another male red-winged blackbird.

Shortly thereafter one of the resident red-tailed hawks flew in to perch on a dead snag.  Mr. Red-wing was on him right away!

Though I didn't record this video, it shows exactly what happened.  The blackbird perched above the hawk, shouting and flashing his red epaulettes.  He repeatedly dive-bombed the hawk and pecked its back.

At first I thought the red-tail would ignore the red-wing but he could not be ignored.   The hawk whined and flew to shelter under the roadbed of the Panther Hollow Bridge.

Persistence pays off.  In the match-up between Red Wing and Red Tail the blackbird wins.


(video on YouTube from Illinois' Lake County Forest Preserve District)

p.s. The red-tailed hawk in this video is a juvenile so he whines a lot more than the adult at Schenley Park yesterday.

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May 22 2013

Bridge Babies!

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Robert Stovers on Wikimedia Commons)

After three disappointing banding attempts at Pittsburgh area bridges, Dan Brauning struck peregrine gold yesterday at the I-79 Neville Island Bridge, pictured above.

Last week he and Art McMorris brought back disappointing news from Tarentum, Westinghouse and McKees Rocks:  solo abandoned eggs at Tarentum and McKees Rocks, and a single handicapped nestling with a poor prognosis at Westinghouse.

But yesterday was good.  Dan found three peregrine nestlings at the Glenfield span of the I-79 Neville Island Bridge.  The two males and one female chick are 22 days old.

Anne Marie Bosnyak and Laura Marshall monitor this site and were on the scene.  When they arrived at 9:00am they saw both adult peregrines on the bridge and hunting in the vicinity.  Around 10:00am Dan and PennDOT went under the bridge and walked the catwalk from Neville Island to Glenfield but found no peregrines.  If there were baby peregrines on the bridge why weren't their parents defending them?

On the way back to the Neville Island side Dan checked some additional nooks.  One of the parents arrived with prey and was so stunned that humans were approaching her nest that she perched silently for a moment.   Then all hell broke loose.  Kak and attack!   The noise signaled her mate to come quickly and he joined the fray.

Both adults are banded and now their chicks are, too.  Dan was able to read the bands on the mother peregrine:  black/red 62/H born in 2010 in Canton, Ohio.  Ohio peregrine fans, this is Magnum, photographed by Jeff McDonald on New Year's Day at Cork-Bocktown Rd.

The chicks are due to fledge on June 5 and they will need watchers!  The only reason we know of this site is because a fledgling fell in the river last year and was rescued by boaters.  Imagine if no one saw him!   Stay tuned next week for information on where to watch and when.  Earmark June 5-10!

Meanwhile in Beaver County...

After the I-79 Bridge banding, Dan met up with WCO Matt Kramer and confirmed that peregrines are not nesting at the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge as they have since 2007.  Instead they've moved 1.25 miles downstream to the huge railroad bridge across the Ohio at Monaca-Beaver.

Ohio River railroad bridge, Beaver, PA

I'm surprised they moved but not surprised they chose this bridge.  It's the tallest in the area, has a long westward view down the river, and is perfect for nesting if you can stand the roar and thump of trains.  Back in March 2008 several of us witnessed a territorial battle at this bridge.

Why didn't peregrines move here earlier?  Perhaps there wasn't the proper substrate for making a scrape until now.

In any case, they've chosen an inaccessible spot near the top so their babies won't be banded.  Sneaky!


(photo of Neville Island I-79 Bridge from Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Monaca-Beaver railroad bridge by Kate St. John)

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May 21 2013

Please Watch The Downtown Fledglings!

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine chick at entrance to the nest, Downtown Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)
Beginning this weekend -- yes, Memorial Day weekend -- the four young peregrines at the Downtown nest will prepare for their very first flight.  They're older than the Pitt nestling so they may fly as soon as May 29.

The Downtown nest area doesn't have space for a Fledge Watch party but you can still watch from the sidewalk.  It's only a third as high up as the Cathedral of Learning so you'll get great views.  This photo -- taken without a zoom lens -- shows the nest opening last year with a chick standing at the edge.  The red arrow points to him.  He's brown with white fluff on his head.

Where to watch:  Third Avenue between Wood and Smithfield on the sidewalk near the Carlyle parking lot.  Look up and see this view.  After they fledge they'll be on buildings in the vicinity of Point Park University. For more information, contact me by leaving a Comment below.

Normal behavior:  A fledgling perched on a building is safe -- and loud.  He begs for food, his parents feed him, and he waits to digest his food before he leaves.  He may wait overnight if he feels safe.  This is normal.

If you find a fledgling standing on the ground, it's in danger.  Protect it from being hit by a car(!) and call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523.  A Wildlife Conservation Officer will be dispatched to rescue it because...

In their first day of flight young peregrines don't have the wing strength to take off from the ground.  If they become grounded they must be delivered to a high place so they can start over.

IMPORTANT:  Before you do anything else, read this description --> Falcon or Hawk <-- so you know what a young peregrine looks like. They are tricky! and resemble red-tailed hawks who often stand on the ground to eat (and don't need to be rescued by the Game Commission).

Please monitor the Downtown peregrine chicks beginning May 25 until (probably) June 5.  See them on camera at the nest here at

Call this phone number if you find a peregrine in trouble:  724-238-9523


(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Parking is free Downtown on Sundays.  If you plan to spend some time watching bring a lawn chair, water, and binoculars to make your stay more enjoyable. Don't forget your camera!

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May 20 2013

Save The Date: Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)


Save the date!  Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch will be Thursday May 30 through Wednesday June 5.

We'll gather at the Schenley Plaza tent, above, to watch for the young peregrine's first flight from the Cathedral of Learning.

See him walk the ledges and flap his wings to prepare for his big adventure.  Watch Dorothy and E2 show him how to fly with some really cool flight demonstrations.  See Dorothy keep the area safe for fledglings.  Last year she attacked a bald eagle!

I'll be there with peregrine fans from Pittsburgh Falconuts and volunteer peregrine monitors from the bridges.  We'll all swap stories about peregrines.  I can hardly wait!

My challenge, as always, is to predict the best watching days.  With one male chick this year I expect the time span to be brief.  Male chicks normally fly early and improve their skills quickly.

So here's the schedule but check the blog for updates because this event is very weather dependent.  Peregrines don't like to fledge in the rain.  (UPDATED May 30.)

  • UPDATE:  Thur. May 30, 1:00pm to 2:00pm.  Baby started ledge walking on May 28.  On May 29 he perched in the keyhole while his parents put on an airshow.  Great peregrine watching! Come to the tent.
  • UPDATE:  Fri. May 31, 12:30pm to 2:00pm.  Slight chance of thunderstorms; hoping the weather cooperates during my extended lunch hour.
  • Sat. June 1, 4:00pm to 6:00pm, weather dependent.  Watch the weather.  Rain and thunderstorms predicted.  I won't be there if it's raining/storming.
  • Sun. June 2, Weather Dependent!  noon to 2:00pm, possibly extended hours (stay tuned).  Watch the weather -- more rain and thunderstorms predicted.  Though our chick will be anxious to fly I won't there if it's raining/storming.
  • Mon. June 3, noon to 2:00pm + after work 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  I bet he'll be flying by now but he won't go far.  This may be the best day.
  • Tues. June 4, noon to 2:00pm + after work 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  If Monday wasn't best, Tuesday will be.  Stay tuned for updates.
  • Wed. June 5, 12:30pm to 2:00pm.  Might be canceled if activity is on the wane.  If "Baby" has left the nest zone, this day will be a bust. Stay tuned.
  • June 6 and remainder of the week: Not scheduled.  Stay tuned.


Come on down to Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch!  Meet me at the tent!

(photo of the Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John)

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May 19 2013

Woodcock Family

Published by under Nesting & Courtship

Woodcock mother and chicks (photo by Charlie Hickey)

It's hard enough to find a woodcock let alone an entire family.

Early this month at Magee Marsh, Ohio I heard that a woodcock was nesting in a grassy sward of the parking lot.  I found the spot easily -- it was surrounded by police tape -- but I could not find the mother bird incubating her eggs.  I looked for quite a while but she was too cryptic for me to see.

Her eggs hatched the following week and Charlie Hickey was there to capture a family portrait.  I love how her chicks have cryptic down and tiny versions of her very long beak.

I wish I'd seen the chicks ... but I couldn't even find their mother.


(photo by Charlie Hickey. Click on the photo to see more pictures of this woodcock family)

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May 18 2013

Dolls’ Eyes in the Spring

Published by under Plants

White Baneberry blooming (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Last weekend at Slippery Rock Gorge I found spikes of white flowers surrounded by compound leaves.

At first I thought it was Black Snakeroot (Actaea racemosa) but my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide reminded me that snakeroot doesn't bloom until the summer.

On closer inspection I realized it was White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), also called Dolls' Eyes because of its unusual berries.

Here's what they look like in the fall.

Dolls' eyes fruit of White Baneberry (photo from Wikimedia Commons)


Don't be fooled into eating the berries.  The entire plant is poisonous to humans but amazingly has no effect on birds.  Birds eat the fruit, perhaps attracted by the beautiful red stems and white berries with purple dots.

I'll have to take the same hike this fall and look for berries.


(photos from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the images to see the originals)

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May 17 2013

It’s A Boy!

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine chick at the Cathedral of Learning, 17 May 2013 (photo by Rose Huber, University of Pittsburgh)

This morning at the Cathedral of Learning Dorothy and E2's chick was weighed, measured, given a health check, and banded.  He's in great health and, yes, he's a boy.

Above, he shows off his enormous feet, normal size for a 22-day-old peregrine.  Notice the fleshy nobs on the insides of his toes.  In a couple of months he'll be using them to capture and hold his prey.

Peregrine experts Dan Brauning and Art McMorris of the Pennsylvania Game Commission braved Dorothy's wrath and collected the chick and the unhatched eggs.  None of the eggs had pips; they may have been infertile.  As is typically done at banding sites, the eggs will be analyzed for contaminants.

Back indoors Art showed us the chick and explained interesting facts about peregrine biology.  I was amazed to learn that their tail feathers grow 2 mm per day beginning at 13 days after hatching.  This chick's pin feathers confirmed he's 22 days old  -- but we knew that from the camera.

Art has so much experience with peregrines that he knew this one was male even before he weighed him!  Here Art lifts the nestling to show his emerging feathers.

Art McMorris holds peregrine chick on Banding Day at the Cathedral of Learning, 17 May 2013 (photo by B. Rose Huber/University of Pittsburgh)


The chick was silent most of the time though he complained about the health check.  Soon he had his new "bling" and was ready to go back to Mom and Dad after one more photo opportunity.

I was honored that Art asked me to stand between him and Dan for this photo with Dorothy and E2's newly banded chick.  Dan (on the left) is the one who told me to look for Dorthy and Erie's nest in 2001.  That simple request started me on my odyssey with this charismatic bird.

Dan Brauning (holding neslting), Kate St. John and Art McMorris at peregrine banding at the Cathedral of Learning, 17 May 2013 (photo by B. Rose Huber/University of Pittsburgh)


For more photos, click here for the Banding Day album on the University of Pittsburgh's Facebook page.  Thanks to Rose Huber for sharing the photos!

(photos by B. Rose Huber/University of Pittsburgh)

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May 17 2013

Banding Today At Pitt

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy and her chick, 16 May 2013 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

This peregrine family at the Cathedral of Learning is in for some excitement.  Dorothy and E2's chick will be banded this morning.

Yesterday the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Dan Brauning and Art McMorris visited peregrine nests at two bridges.  Today they'll venture out on the Cathedral of Learning ledge.

So don't be shocked when you hear Dorothy and E2 "kakking" and their chick disappears just after 9:00am.  The chick will receive a health check and some new jewelry.

And we'll learn for certain whether Baby is a "she" or a "he."


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

p.s.  I don't announce the banding in advance because the event is not open to the public.  The room is too small to allow for uninvited guests.

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May 17 2013

Disappointment at Two Bridges

Published by under Peregrines

PGC's Art McMorris looks for the peregrine nest (photo by Sean Dicer)

Yesterday Dan Brauning and Art McMorris of the Pennsylvania Game Commission ventured out in PennDOT bucket trucks to band peregrine nestlings at two Pittsburgh area bridges:  Tarentum and Westinghouse.

Observers Rob Protz at Tarentum and John English at Westinghouse had pinpointed the locations on the bridges where the peregrines were nesting so Art arranged the site visits with PennDOT.

PennDOT was very helpful and the bucket trucks were impressive.  Unfortunately the news was not good.

At Tarentum, pictured above, Art McMorris leaned back to look into the nest hole but there were no nestlings, just one abandoned egg.

At Westinghouse there was one nestling too young to band and handicapped by convulsions and a deformed beak.  Not good.

This was not what anyone expected. Such a disappointment!

The adult peregrines will continue at their respective bridges, as shown below at Tarentum, but there won't be a fledge watch at either site.

Peregrine at Tarentum (photo by Sean Dicer)




(photos by Sean Dicer)


p.s. Click here for this news from the Tribune Review.

UPDATE, Friday afternoon, May 17:  Dan and Art visited the McKees Rocks Bridge peregrine nest where they found one unhatched, abandoned egg.  Make that "Disappointment at Three Bridges."

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