Cawing about … what? (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
In case you haven’t noticed yet, the winter crow flock is back in town. They’ve been in the East End of Pittsburgh since at least October 15 but our daily rounds have been out of synch with their activities until now.
Today, with sunrise and sunset an hour earlier, we’ll see the crows commuting during rush hour and we’ll certainly hear them. Why are they so loud in the morning? What the heck are they saying?
E2 at the nest perch, 24 Oct 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Yesterday Barbara Hancey asked if Dorothy and E2 are still at home at the Cathedral of Learning.
Yes, they are.
On campus my friend Karen Lang and I have seen at least one peregrine, sometimes both, several times a week. The birds are much less active than they are in the spring and they have very little interest in visiting the nest.
Like all birds peregrine falcons are sensitive to seasonal light changes. As the days get shorter their reproductive hormones cease and their interest in breeding — and in the nest — ceases, too.
The snapshots above (E2) and below (Dorothy) show they currently visit about once a week. This frequency will drop even further and won’t ramp up again until February.
Dorothy makes a quick visit to the nest,19 Oct 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at the University of Pittsburgh)
p.s. This is not an egg. It’s a reddish hole-punch that blew into the nest on the windy day, Oct 29.
Reddish hole-punch that blew into the Pitt peregrine nest on Oct 29, 2015
Juvenile bald eagle hunting for fish (photo by Chuck Tague)
For juvenile bald eagles the first year of life is the hardest. Fresh from the nest where their parents fed them, they’re off on their own hunting for food with almost no practical experience. Every day is a new challenge.
The first order of business is Learn To Fish, but that’s easier said than done. Fortunately they have other options. They can munch down on carrion, grab food from others, or even eat junk food.
“Down in the dumps” at the landfill (photo by Chuck Tague)
For starters, 10% of the landfills were really popular and garnered 75% of the bald eagles’ use. The landfills closest to eagle roosts were the favorites. I imagine eagles like the convenience of a breakfast or bedtime snack.
Landfill use was much more common among the young. Compared to adults, hatch year bald eagles visited 6 times as often, second year birds 4 times as often, and third/fourth year birds 3 times as often as adults. Even so, there were individuals in various age groups who were obviously hooked.
It appears that bald eagles give up the landfill habit as they get better at fishing.
Debbie Kalbfleisch hand feeds a black-capped chickadee (photo by Donna Foyle)
Early this month Debbie Kalbfleisch told us of a magical place loaded with migrating warblers where the chickadees eat out of your hand. The only rules were: Bring black sunflower seed, Never feed the chickadees near the road, Leave no seed behind (or they will learn to eat from the ground, not your hand).
Our birding email group, fittingly called “The Chickadees,” could not resist these enticements so Debbie led us there last Saturday. Above, she demonstrates that it really works.
Naturally the rest of us had to try. Below, Barb Griffith, Ramona Sahni and I hold out our hands while Donna Foyle takes our picture.
Hand feeding wild chickadees, Barb Griffith, Ramona Sahni and Kate St. John (photo by Donna Foyle)
As the chickadees became accustomed to our large group of 12 they came to our hands more often, taking turns and flying off to cache the seeds.
Then the warblers showed up. (I’d forgotten that migrating warblers forage near chickadees.) We put the seed in our pockets and raised our binoculars but the chickadees followed, still expecting to eat. Fortunately one of us always had a hand out.
I missed a few warblers because I love the chickadees so much.
He’s on my hand! (photo by Donna Foyle)
You can train your own backyard chickadees to eat from your hand. All it takes is cold weather and a lot of patience. Here’s how –> Seeing Eye To Eye With Birds
Black-capped chickadee takes a peanut from my hand (photo by Donna Foyle)
More than a year ago Mason Colby decided to film bald eagles in Craig, Alaska by setting up his Go Pro camera next to some salmon heads.
Things were going well until an immature bald eagle stole the camera! Mason wrote on YouTube:
Set up my go pro next to some salmon heads from the days catch to film the eagles eating and next thing I know, one of them swoops down and snags the camera right off the ground. It carried it up to a mile away and I lost sight of it. For four hours we searched in the rain until I finally found it and the camera was still intact. So glad I got the footage!
Here’s a bird I see in Maine that we’ll never see in Pittsburgh.
Northern gannets (Sula bassana) nest in cliff colonies on both sides of the North Atlantic. In the fall the Canadian population visits the Gulf of Maine on their way south for the winter. The adults will spend October to April off the U.S. Atlantic coast while the juveniles may winter as far south as the Gulf coast.
Gannets are large seabirds (6.5 foot wingspan) that catch fish by plunge-diving from 30 to 130 feet above the sea. When the fishing is good a huge flock gathers overhead, diving over and over again. The video shows their amazing fishing technique, both in the air and underwater.
And, yes, these birds are moving fast. They hit the water’s surface at 60 to 75 miles an hour! Gannets can do this safely because they have no external nostrils and their faces and chests have air sacs that cushion their brains and bodies like bubble wrap.
Every year my husband and I spend a relaxing two weeks at Acadia National Park where we enjoy spectacular scenery, wildlife, and hiking trails. Now that we’re heading home I’ll share some of the highlights. The best is a sound that I will certainly miss in Pittsburgh — the haunting call of the loon (Gavia immer).
In September common loons migrate through Canada and Maine from interior lakes to the sea. Each one migrates alone, independent of its mate and offspring.
One particular loon, distinctive because he was molting into winter plumage, often spent his evenings at the harbor. Every morning I heard him make the tremolo call at dawn (click here to hear) but last Wednesday, when the fog came up just after rain, he made a haunting wail call that echoed among the mountains.
Watch the video above to learn what the wail means.