Archive for the 'Bird Behavior' Category

Jul 11 2016

A Bird With A Bad Pick-up Line

This 3-note song mystified me in my own backyard.  I can usually identify birds by ear but this one stumped me for at least six weeks.

Finally, I recorded it outside my window and sent it to my friend Dr. Tony Bledsoe.  Tony suggested a tufted titmouse. (Turn up your speakers to hear the song in the video above. Ignore the picture, the bird’s not in it.)

A few days later I saw the bird.  No wonder we didn’t recognize the song!  He’s a gray catbird that sounds nothing like his cohorts.  (Turn your speakers back down for the audio below.)


Most birds are silent in early July but the odd-sounding gray catbird is still singing in my neighborhood and I can guess why.

None of the lady catbirds like his song so he’s still calling for a mate.

He’s a bird with a bad pick-up line.


(video by Kate St. John)

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Jul 05 2016

Hope’s in Charge For Now

Hope and Terzo band colors showing, 4 July 2016(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope and Terzo with band colors showing, 4 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

A lot has happened at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest in the past two weeks.

  • On June 21 a new female peregrine, Magnum, appeared on the falconcam. She came to the nest several times through June 23 and bowed with Terzo, the resident male. Her presence meant that the previous female, Hope, was gone.
  • At midday June 24 Hope returned to the nest and has been bowing with Terzo ever since.
  • On June 27 this year’s fledgling, C1, visited the nest and made loud begging sounds.
  • On July 2, Chad Steele photographed Magnum at her own nest site, the Neville Island I-79 Bridge.

During these changes I was off the grid and couldn’t answer your questions.  Here are some long awaited answers.
Did anyone see Hope and Magnum fighting?

No. We never saw anything, stuck on the ground with our poor field of view.  My guess is that Hope and Magnum chased each other without making physical contact.

I see two peregrines at the nest. Please tell me if it’s Hope and Magnum and if they are fighting.

Magnum is gone for now.  However, you can tell the difference between courtship and fighting by observing the birds’ postures and actions:

Courtship: Two peregrines standing apart from each other, chirping and bowing low = male+female strengthening pair bond.  This is good.

Fight: Two peregrines with talons locked (feet are connected), trying to peck at each others’ throats, wings open, leaning backwards to avoid each others’ beaks = 2 birds of the same sex fighting.  Here’s a slideshow of a fight in 2007 between two males at the Cathedral of Learning.

Why are the females competing now outside the nesting season? Are they competing for Terzo?

They’re not competing for Terzo at all.  They’re competing for the Cathedral of Learning, a prime nest site worth winning at any time of year. It’s better than a bridge.

Does Terzo’s preference determine which female wins?  Since Hope was there first, will Terzo leave if he prefers Magnum?

No. Unlike humans who bond with their mates and then find a place to live, peregrines bond to the nest site and then mate with whoever is there.  If another female wins the site — no matter who it is — Terzo will mate with that female. He will not leave the site unless a new male ousts him.

Will Hope keep the Cathedral of Learning site?

We don’t know.  We can tell that Hope is a weak owner because other females have made it to the nest three times in April & June.  A strong owner would never let other females get into the nest.  It never happened during Dorothy’s reign.

Has anyone seen Magnum recently?

Yes. On July 2 Chad Steele, peregrine monitor from Canton, Ohio, photographed Magnum at her home nest site, the Neville Island I-79 Bridge.  His photos confirm her identity.

Magnum at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

Magnum at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

How is this year’s fledgling, C1?

C1 is so mobile that it’s hard to keep track of her.  Anne Marie Bosnyak saw her this morning, July 5, on St. Paul’s steeple.  We also know she visited the nest on June 27, whining loudly. Is she as loud as her mother? Perhaps.

C1 visits the nest, 27 June 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

C1 visits the nest, 27 June 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


p.s. As you watch the falconcam, here are band colors and numbers to look for:
Hope: black/green 69/Z + Green on right leg
Terzo: black/red N/29 + Silver on right leg
Magnum: black/red 62/H + Purple on right leg
C1 (juvenile, brown and cream-colored plumage): black/green 06/BR + Silver on right leg

(nest photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Univ. of Pittsburgh. photo of Magnum in flight by Chad Steele)

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Jun 28 2016

There’s A Lot Less Singing

Yellow warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Yellow warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

It happens every year. By late June, birds are singing a lot less than they did a month ago. By mid July most birds are silent.

Find out why they stop singing in this article: Becoming Silent.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Jun 21 2016

The Bird Who Sings All Night

Northern mockingbird, singing with wing flash (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Northern mockingbird, singing and wing flashing (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This month someone in my neighborhood complained he was kept awake at night by birds singing loudly in the dark.  Every song was different so he thought it was a variety of birds.  Who was making that racket?  It was only one northern mockingbird.

Mockingbirds are well known for nocturnal singing.  The majority of those who do it are lonely bachelors trying to attract a female.  They belt out their songs as loudly as possible in all directions and they prefer to do it at the most aggravating time for humans — midnight to 4:00am.  Studies have shown they sing more on moonlit nights and in well-lit areas.  Woe to city and suburban dwellers near street lights!

The video below, recorded at 2:00am, is understandably dark. The bird is exceptionally loud.

Over at my house there’s a mockingbird who’s definitely lonely!  Will he ever stop?

Birds of North America Online says:  “Typically, adults sing for approximately three fourths of the year (Feb through Aug, and late Sep to early Nov); occasionally sing during winter. … No nocturnal song occurs during the fall.”

So we wear earplugs to bed and pray that the mockingbird finds a mate.  Or we’ll have to wait until August.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original. Mockingbird audio by SevereTStormFan on YouTube)

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Jun 16 2016

Life Skills for Young Peregrines

Prey exchange between an adult peregrine and his fledgling (photo by Kim Steininger)

Prey exchange between an adult peregrine and his fledgling (photo by Kim Steininger)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

Just three days after fledging, young peregrines fly so well that we lose track of them as we watch from the ground.  They’re already learning the aerial skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives.

Read more about their education in this Throw Back Thursday article: Life Skills.


(photo by Kim Steininger)

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Jun 05 2016

Unusual Bird In The Mirror

Protonotary warbler "stuck in a car mirror" (screenshot from video by waterwarbler on Flickr)

Prothonotary warbler “stuck in a mirror” (screenshot from video by waterwarbler on Flickr)

I’ve seen robins, cardinals and mockingbirds attack car mirrors but never this!

Last Thursday waterwarbler captured video and photos of a prothonotary warbler fighting with his own reflection in DuPage County, Illinois.  Click on the screenshot above to see the video.  (Note: When another vehicle drives by the warbler is fine. He moves to the hood of the car.)

And check out this photo of warbler reflections: “Suddenly lots of PROWs“.   No wonder the bird is confused.


(screenshot from a video by waterwarbler on Flickr)

p.s. “PROW” is the four-letter code for prothonotary warbler.

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May 20 2016

The Blue Jay’s Courtship Sounds

Blue jays are making interesting sounds and gestures lately but what do they mean?

In the spring I often hear blue jays say “tweedle” and, on rare occasions, I see one bounce and gurgle.

Tweedle? Gurgle?  Lesley the Bird Nerd explains it all in this 4-minute video.


(video by Lesley the Bird Nerd on YouTube)



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May 18 2016

More Robins, Fewer White-throated Sparrows

American robin, white-throated sparrow (photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

American robin, white-throated sparrow (photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

We humans are starting to respond to climate change. The birds already have.

In a study on two continents — North America and Europe — data from 1980 to 2010 shows that populations of our common birds have been affected by climate change and the gap is growing.  Bird species expected to do well due to climate change have substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over the 30 year period.  It’s the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world.(*)

Here are two examples from North America:

American robins are an adaptable species whose range has expanded as the climate warms.  Robins don’t have to go as far south in the winter and now they breed in Alaska!

White-throated sparrows are a common winter species in the Lower 48 but when it comes time to breed they’ll be in trouble.  As they move north the forest they require for breeding gives way to treeless landscapes.  It takes decades to grow a forest and climate is changing faster than the plants can catch up.  White-throated sparrows are losing ground.  Click here to see their changing map.

More robins, fewer white-throated sparrows.  The populations of common birds are affected by climate change.

Read more about the study here in Science Daily(*).  See Audubon’s climate website for details on North American birds.


(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

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May 17 2016

Peregrine Sounds: What Do They Mean?

Peregrine falcon vocalizing at St. Ignatious (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Peregrine falcon vocalizing at St. Ignatious (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

When you hear peregrine sounds on the nestcam, what do they mean?

Click here for a new Peregrine FAQ that explains peregrine vocalizations.


(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

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May 05 2016

Stuck In The Mirror

Published by under Bird Behavior

Robin fighting his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Robin fighting his reflection (photo by Charlie Hickey)

On Throw Back Thursday:

This is the time of year when birds go mad and fight with car mirrors and windows. They don’t realize that the angry bird who won’t back down is a reflection of themselves.

Though some birds become obsessed with particular locations it’s a temporary problem while they’re establishing their territory.  Unfortunately the obsession could last for weeks!

If you’ve got a problem bird, cover the reflection for a few days so the bird can’t see itself.  Your car will look funny with plastic grocery bags on the side mirrors but the bird will give up.  Massachusetts Audubon has some helpful tips.

In 2013, this robin wasted a lot of time fighting his “challenger” on Charlie Hickey’s front door in: Tapping At My Chamber Door.


(photos by Charlie Hickey)

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