Archive for the 'Bird Behavior' Category

Nov 06 2015

What Happens At A Clearcut?

Tree removal project at Central Catholic, 30 Oct 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Before I retired from WQED in September 2014, this was the view outside my window … except there were trees.

Last month contractors removed all the trees on the hillside between CMU’s new Tepper Quad and Central Catholic’s football field.  By the time I saw it a week ago it looked like this.

Hillside denuded by tree removal project at Central Catholic, 30 Oct 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

To give you an idea of what it used to look like, here’s a view of the remaining trees behind WQED.

Trees remaining on hillside behind WQED, 30 Oct 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

In the grand scheme of things this was a small woodlot surrounded by parking lots and an astroturf field, host to many invasive species.

Does it matter that humans removed this small landscape?

It does to the animals who lived there.

In the remaining woodlot behind WQED two squirrels fought a territorial battle. The loud one said, “This is mine! You have to leave!” The other cowered but stayed nearby. Probably a refugee.

Winter or a predator will determine who survives.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Does anyone know whose project this is (CMU or Central Catholic?) and why it was done?

UPDATE:  I haven’t been back to the site for a week but friends confirm that this is a CMU project and that all the trees are gone now.  Every single one.

7 responses so far

Nov 05 2015

Land-pipers

Starlings in monochrome (photo by Mr. T in DC, via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Starlings in monochrome (photo by Mr. T in DC, via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

In Pittsburgh we don’t have sandpipers but in the winter we have something similar.  Can we call them “land-pipers?”

Click here for a Throw Back Thursday article from 2008 about our substitute for shorebirds: Land-pipers.

 

UPDATE:  Richard Nugent suggests they be called “lawn-pipers.”   Excellent name!

(photo by “Mr. T in DC”, via Flickr, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original.)

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Nov 02 2015

What The Heck Are They Saying?

Cawing about ... what? (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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?

Last month I participated in a live Cornell Lab of Ornithology webinar on Understanding Bird Behavior by crow expert, Kevin McGowan.  He gave tips on observing birds with examples of what the behaviors mean. McGowan was especially insightful on the subject of crows.

Most of the time cawing pretty much means “Hey! Hey! HEY!” but in the morning crows take a neighborhood census.  McGowan suggested their conversation goes something like this:

Hey, Bob, did you die last night?

I’m alive! So don’t bother coming over and trying to take things.  And leave my mate alone.

 

In the quick YouTube video below McGowan describes crow and raven vocalizations.  We don’t know exactly what they’re saying but we can often guess.

 

Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a wide selection of educational webinars that you can watch any time for a small fee.  Click here to see what’s on offer.

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Oct 29 2015

Yes, They’re At Home

E2: hoping Dorothy will take the hint, 24 Oct 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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)

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

Reddish hole-punch that blew into the Pitt peregrine nest on Oct 29, 2015

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Oct 16 2015

Young Eagles Eat Junk Food

Juvenile bald eagle hunting in Florida (photo by Chuck Tague)

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.

Junk food?

In the September issue of The Journal of Raptor Research the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) analyzed the daily movements of 64 satellite-tagged bald eagles in the Chesapeake Bay region with an eye on their use of landfills.  With five years of data and 72 landfills the study found some interesting stuff.

A flock "Down in the dumps" at a Florida landfill (photo by Chuck Tague)

“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.

Junk food is for the young. 😉

Read more about the eagle study here at the Center for Conservation Biology.

 

(photos by Chuck Tague)

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Sep 29 2015

A Bird On The Hand

Debbie Kalbfleisch hand feeds a black-capped chickadee (photo by Donna Foyle)

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)

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)

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

Balck-capped chickadee takes a peanut from my hand (photo by Donna Foyle)

Black-capped chickadee takes a peanut from my hand (photo by Donna Foyle)

 

A bird on the hand is worth two in the bush.

 

(photos by Donna Foyle)

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Sep 25 2015

Bald Eagle Takes Selfie on Stolen Camera

Bald eagle screenshot from Mason Colby's video on YouTube

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!

Click on the screenshot to see what happened.

 

(screenshot from Mason Colby on YouTube. This video was featured by JunkinVideo on 3 Sept 2015)

p.s. Bald eagles are more plentiful and gregarious in Alaska than in Pennsylvania except for this once-a-year exception: They congregate at Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna in November, just south of PA in Maryland.

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Sep 18 2015

Like Plunging Arrows

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.

Watch them plunge like arrows into the sea.

 

(video from the Smithsonian Channel on YouTube)

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Sep 17 2015

TBT: Flightless

Common eiders in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Common eiders in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s something I’ve never seen:  Common eiders in flight.

I see common eiders every year when I visit in Maine in September but I’ve never seen them fly.

The reason why is in this Throw Back Thursday article from September 2012 –>  Flightless

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Sep 11 2015

The Haunting Call Of The Loon

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.

I wish I’d heard a call in response.

 

(video on YouTube from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

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