Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Why Is She Shouting? and Other News

Hope shouts at Terzo, 2:20pm 15 Mar 2017 (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope shouts at Terzo, 2:20pm 15 Mar 2017 (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Ever since the female peregrine at Pitt laid her first egg on March 15 lots of people have been watching her on camera. The first question on everyone's mind has been, "Why is she shouting?!?"

Indeed, Hope spent a lot of time shouting at the top of her lungs on Wednesday.  Here's just a tiny dose of her voice.

She's always been a vocal bird but this is over the top.  People can hear her inside the Cathedral of Learning and as far away as O'Hara Street behind Soldiers and Sailors Hall.  Peter Bell @PittPeregrines said, "She’s so loud you can hear her over all the traffic!"

So why is she shouting?

I don't know but I can tell you what was happening off camera.

Before Hope began shouting, she and her mate Terzo were communicating softly over the egg and bowing in courtship.  (Note!  This behavior is a happy thing. It is not fighting.)

After he bowed, Terzo flew up to a perch above the camera about six feet away from the egg.  Hope looked right at him and began shouting.  When he flew away she shut up and sat down on the egg.  When he came back she resumed shouting.

Peregrine shouting, also called wailing, means "I want [____] to change."  None of us speak 'peregrine' so we don't know what's in that blank.

 

In Other News:

Hope was silent on Thursday March 16 because she was busy chasing off an unbanded female intruder.  The intruder visited the nest twice and even bowed with Terzo at 12:24pm.

In the video below you can hear Terzo and the visitor chirping for 30 seconds before Terzo jumps into the nest.  Look carefully at the female and you'll see she resembles a bird who visited three times last year: April 8, August 2 and November 14.

 

Will this be a quiet nesting season at the Cathedral of Learning?  No.

Watch the nest on the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh ... and be ready to press the mute button.

 

p.s. Here's information on what happens when intruders show up: Peregrine Fidelity to Their Mates, Fighting.

p.p.s  Three eggs at the Pitt nest as of Monday morning, March 20.

(screenshot and videos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh streamed by Wildearth.tv)

Nesting in a Snow Storm

Peregrine incubating in a snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the DEP Falcon Cam)
Peregrine incubating eggs during snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the DEP Falcon Cam)

One of Pennsylvania's peregrine falcon families has a big challenge today.  They're incubating three eggs in Harrisburg where the "Nor'easter" will bring 9 to 13 inches of snow and blustery winds until 10pm tonight.

Their nest is on a ledge of the Rachel Carson Building where four cameras provide live streams of their activity. Two snapshots taken before dawn show there was already a lot of snow at 6am.   Below, a view from the closeup camera.

Peregrine incubating in a snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the DEP Falcon Cam)
Peregrine incubating in a snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the PA Falcon Cam)

The situation looks awful to us but it's all in a day's work for peregrine falcons.  Here's why:

  • Snow is a normal challenge during the nesting season.  Peregrines lay eggs in late winter so that their young will hatch when food is plentiful during spring migration. There are many stories of successful peregrine nests after blizzards in the Snow Belt. Ask folks from Cleveland, Ohio and Rochester, New York about their peregrines!
  • Feathers provide excellent insulation.  These birds are wearing down "coats" underneath their smooth body feathers.  Notice the unmelted snow on the female's back.  This is good!
  • The brood patch (bare skin on their bellies) keeps the eggs quite warm.

During a brief respite in the snowfall, the female peregrine stood up at 6:25am.  You can see that her body has kept the nest free of snow.  Don't worry, she was back on those eggs within 30 seconds!

The peregrines' nest has been kept warm, 14 Mar 2017, 6:25am (photo from the DEP Falcon Cam in Harriburg, PA)
The peregrines' nest has been kept warm, 14 Mar 2017, 6:25am (photo from the PA Falcon Cam in Harriburg, PA)

Click any one of the photos above to go directly to the Live PA Falcon Cam or click here for the complete website.

Meanwhile, here in Pittsburgh we have no snow at all.

 

(snapshots from the PA Falcon Cam in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

p.s. Why are the time stamps different on the Harrisburg cameras? The wide-angle PA Falcon Cam is on Eastern Standard Time (EST); the closeup camera is on Daylight Saving Time (EDT).

Vaudeville Gulls

It's Vaudeville time with duets of gulls singing and dancing.

Above, two yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) sing in Europe.

Below, European herring gulls (Larus argentatus) dance in Penzance, UK.

Their acts are serious business.  Gulls sing when they're courting and dance for their dinner.

You'll hear lots of gulls singing in the months ahead as they enter the breeding season.

But you'll be lucky if you find a dancing gull.  In Europe gulls stamp on the ground to bring worms to the surface.  I've never seen them do it in North America.  Have you?

 

p.s. I guessed at the identity of the dancing gulls. If you know they're not herring gulls, please tell me what they are.

(videos from YouTube)

Graceful

Swallow-tailed kite in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Swallow-tailed kite in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

We use words like powerful, strong or fierce to describe raptors but this one is different.  The swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus) is truly graceful.

Named for their beautiful black tails, their flight is so buoyant that they barely flap as they swoop and turn to grab food from the air or the treetops.  They seem to be moving in slow motion and it's true.  They can fly slowly because their wings and tails are so long.

Swallow-tailed kites live year round in South America but only visit the southern U.S. and Central America to breed. They eat mostly insects which they capture with their feet but supplement their diet with frogs, lizards and nestling birds during the nesting season.

I've seen solo kites returning to Florida in late February but my best experience was last month on the Road Scholar birding trip to Costa Rica.  We saw flocks of swallow-tailed kites and they were spectacular!

At a pond near the road to Agua Buena, three kites skimmed the water, drinking and bathing, as graceful as swallows.  They flew so low that we could see the bluish sheen on their backs.  Jon Goodwill photographed them in the flight.

Swallow-tailed kite, bathing (photo by Jon Goodwill)
Swallow-tailed kite, bathing or drinking in flight (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Swallow-tailed kite bathing (photo by Jon Goodwill)
Swallow-tailed kite bathing (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Swallow-tailed kite lifting off from its bath (photo by Jon Goodwill)
Swallow-tailed kite lifting off from its bath (photo by Jon Goodwill)

Later we took a detour ... and we were lucky.  Our guide Roger Melendez saw a pair of kites building a nest.  Bert Dudley zoomed his camera for this video of the female arranging the sticks. (You can hear us talking in the background.)

.

 

I would love to show you the beautiful flight of these graceful birds. This video of three man-made kites flown by Ray Bethell is the closest approximation.

Swallow-tailed kites are so graceful.

 

(top photo from Wikimedia Commons, bathing and drinking photos by Jon Goodwill, video by Bert Dudley. Click on the images to see the originals)

Golden Sky Dance

 

Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are the most widely distributed eagle on earth, found in North America, Eurasia and even northern Africa.

During the nesting season they perform a climb-and-plunge "sky dance" to warn other eagles away from their territory. This video from Cornell Lab shows a spectacular sky dance filmed in the western U.S.

Golden eagles prefer to nest in wide open habitats without humans.  They don't breed in the eastern U.S., probably because it's too densely populated.  So when you see the "sky dance" in Pittsburgh you're watching a male red-tailed hawk claim his territory.

Red-tailed hawks are closely related to golden eagles but neither one of them is related to bald eagles.  Click here to find out why.

 

(video on YouTube from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology channel)

Birds Wearing Black-n-Gold

Black and yellow birds who flock together in Western Panama (photo composite)
Black and yellow birds who flock together in Western Panama (photo composite)

On Throw Back Thursday:

These birds are wearing black-n-gold!

Just before the Steelers AFC Championship game in 2011 I explained why these black and yellow species tend to flock together.

This Sunday the Steelers are again in the AFC Championship.  What better time to revisit birds wearing black-n-gold.  Read on!

Wearing Black 'N' Gold

 

(composite photo credits, top left to right, then bottom left to right:
1. Slate-throated Whitestart: Corey Finger on 10000birds.com
2. Sooty-capped Bush Tanager: Wikipedia
3. Yellow-thighed Finch: Wikimedia Commons
4. Collared Whitestart: Jan Axel on janbirdingblog.blogspot.com
5. Silver-throated Tanager: Kent Fiala’s Website
6. Yellow-throated Brush Finch: Atrevido1 at Solo Aves on Flickr
)

Thousands Of Crows In Oakland

Crows burst off a building as they prepare to roost in Oakland, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)
Crows burst off a building as they prepare to roost in Oakland, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Ever since the winter crows came back to Oakland I've wanted to watch them arrive at the roost so last Friday evening, November 4, I stopped by Schenley Farms and Pitt's campus.  What a spectacle!

Half an hour before sunset a steady stream of silent crows flew in from the southwest to the hill above Bigelow Boulevard near Centre Avenue.  I assumed they would spend the night up there, but no!

Crows are afraid of great horned owls -- for good reason -- so they want a good view from the roost. They prefer the tops of tall well lit trees or rooftops five to ten stories high. And they want no owls nearby.  Perhaps that's why they like cities.

The sky was clear on Friday evening and the light lingered long after sunset at 6:13pm so my camera could "see" them against the sky.  Before it was dark nearly 40 crows chose this bare tree. The tree isn't full yet.

Crows assemble in the treetops (photo by Kate St.John)
Crows assemble in the treetops, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

As darkness fell they left the hilltop for the area bounded by Fifth, Bayard, Bellefield and Tennyson.  And now they were loud!  Hundreds flew above me on Bayard Street.

Hundreds of crows above Bayard (photo by Kate St. John)
Hundreds of crows above Bayard (photo by Kate St. John)

 

They assembled at the roof edges of tall apartment buildings and then burst off to choose another site (photo at top).  They landed on Alumni Hall and packed in tightly on the Wyndham Hotel roof.

As night falls some crows choose Alumni Hall rooftop for their roost (photo by Kate St. John)
As night falls, some crows choose Alumni Hall's roof (photo by Kate St. John)

... and they settled in the treetops on campus, 100 to 200 per tree.

Crows settle on the treetops on Pitt's campus, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Others settle in the treetops on Pitt's campus at Fifth Ave, 4 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

I calculated 4,000 crows in that four block area, but they were still arriving after it was too dark to see.  I have no idea how many spent the night there.

Until today most people didn't notice the crows because rush hour was over by 6:00pm.  But today we've changed the clocks back and rush hour will be at sunset, 5:09pm.

People will be surprised by the spectacle -- and some will be repulsed -- that there are thousands of crows in Oakland.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)