This is a bird who didn't feel well. Yesterday Dorothy looked ragged, tired and uncomfortable.
On March 20, she laid her first egg of the season and was due to lay her second on March 22, but nothing happened. During the week that followed she often stood over the scrape, looking as if she wanted to lay another egg. Nothing. We all wondered what was going on. Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary wondered if she was egg bound.
A bird becomes egg bound when she's unable to pass an egg that has formed inside her. It's a serious, sometimes fatal medical condition and is more common in older birds than young ones. At age 15 Dorothy is definitely an older bird, two years older than the average life expectancy of adult peregrines.
Saturday night (March 29-30) Dorothy roosted on the nest box roof. At some point she expelled a red splotch on the roof, a yellow splotch on the right edge of the box, and a deflated eggshell on the gravel. When E2 came to visit at dawn all three signs were visible. He was active. She was not moving very fast.
I saw the yellow splotch at dawn and wondered if it was a yolk. When Bob saw the signs below he knew that Dorothy had been egg bound and it was over.
Since egg binding is life threatening, it's good news that Dorothy expelled the egg. This morning at dawn she was more alert and even picked up and ate the expelled eggshell. (Female peregrines often eat the eggshells of their hatched chicks.)
However this episode is one more confirmation that Dorothy is in poor breeding condition and unlikely to have a successful nest.
I don't know what will happen next but I can predict with confidence that some day a new female peregrine will arrive at the Cathedral of Learning and we'll see eggs and baby peregrines again at Pitt.
There he is, the first eaglet of 2014 at the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest. He's hard to see because he matches the nest, hence the arrow. The two remaining eggs and his discarded eggshell (closest to Dad's beak) stand out.
This tiny gray ball of fluff emerged on a warm and windy afternoon, March 28, under his mother's gaze. As soon as he was dry she brooded him until Dad returned with food.
Click on the snapshot above to watch "Hays Parents Celebrate Hatch." Dad has brought a fish to share. While Mom eats, Dad studies the eaglet. "Is he hungry?" Not yet, so Dad rearranges the nest. Mom leaves on a well-deserved break and Dad settles down to brood the chick.
Bald eagles brood their nestlings during cold and inclement weather until they're about four weeks old. In the first week the brooding is almost constant because the nestlings can't regulate their own body temperature. This also serves the dual purpose of incubating the unhatched eggs while keeping the eaglet(s) warm.
The first eaglet of the season hatched today in the Pittsburgh's Hays Bald Eagle nest at approximately 2:30pm. In this YouTube video captured by PixController you can see the baby bird next to two eggs and his own eggshell. Then mom comes over to help.
Festivities tomorrow! March 29, 9:00am to noon, watch the nest at Hays -- in person!
National Aviary Ornithologist Bob Mulvihill will be at the Hays Bald Eagle nest site tomorrow morning from 9 a.m. until noon with the spotting scope donated by Wild Birds Unlimited! Feel free to stop by for a really good look at the nest, maybe even catch a glimpse at what's going on IN the nest!
Parking is available courtesy of Keystone Iron and Metal Co. in their employee parking lot at the end of Baldwin Road (see map), or use the address 4901 East Carson Street into your GPS!
The viewing site is a short distance from there: carefully cross the railroad tracks and turn left onto the trail. Bob will be about 200 feet down the trail with the spotting scope!
Click here for a map of how to get there.
Wood frogs are often the first frogs to appear in the spring in eastern North America, quickly followed by spring peepers. As the video indicates temperatures have to be in the 40s for the wood frogs to "wake up," but western Pennsylvania hasn't had a lot of warm weather yet.
The cold winter has made a difference. Two years ago we had an exceptionally warm spring and the frogs came out in early March. This year we've had a few blips of warm weather surrounded by temperatures in the teens, a discouraging combination for cold-blooded frogs.
Today we're headed for a spate for warm weather that may signal the end of winter's grip. We'll know it's really spring when we hear frogs calling.
Back in 2010 I wrote about what happens when female peregrines age (click here). Dorothy is now 15, two years older than the average adult life expectancy of 13. So we're learning something.
Yesterday Mary DeVaughn coined the term "hen-o-pause" on the Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page. I don't know if birds experience anything like menopause but it explains Dorothy's solo egg and her lack of desire to incubate.
She's certainly the right age for "hen-o-pause."
(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)
Red-breasted mergansers already look a little crazy because of their wild head feathers. Here you see they've really gone nuts.
In this photo by Pat Gaines three male red-breasted mergansers are courting one female. The guys zip around and churn the water like jet skis, abruptly halt and point their bills skyward, dip their necks and crowd around her.
The lady doesn't look like she wants this much attention. Pat wrote that she flew away pursued by all three males and concluded, "So this is what it must be like for a beautiful woman at a singles bar."
Click on the photo for a closeup and here for a video of their courtship behavior.
(photo by Pat Gaines on Flickr, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)
p.s. Notice how the feathers around the female's eye form a dark circle. It looks like she hasn't slept in weeks. 😉
It's very cold this morning: 14 degrees at the airport, 21 degrees in my city backyard. Assuming the Cathedral of Learning is just as warm as my backyard (1.5 miles away), the temperature at the nest has been below freezing since 8:00pm last night.
For whatever reason, Dorothy stopped sheltering her egg around 9:30pm.
Peregrine falcons don't begin incubation until they've laid their next to last egg in the clutch. However, they do shelter the eggs to keep them from freezing. In her younger years Dorothy would have been on top of the egg in weather like this, not merely standing over it, and it would look like she's incubating. But she's not.
The egg is certainly frozen and will never hatch. CORRECTION! I have since learned that it might hatch. (It was not incubated and abandoned to the cold weather so it might be viable.)
This spring Dorothy is 15 years old, retirement age for wild peregrines. She has a reason for acting this way. I don't know what it is.