Yesterday morning the first egg hatched at the Harmar bald eagle nest high above the Allegheny River.
In the midst of April snow his parents were very attentive as he made his way out of the egg. Fortunately the snow was gone by afternoon. (video from Audubon Society of Western PA (ASWP))
Meanwhile over by the Monongahela River, the Hays eaglet is now eleven days old and will be an "only child" this season. The last egg is not viable though it's still in the nest. ASWP posted this snapshot yesterday on their Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page.
Though the mother eagle laid three eggs in February, she's expecting only two to hatch. Here's this year's history:
Egg #1 laid on February 13
Egg #2 laid on February 15
Egg #3 laid on February 19
One of the three eggs cracked. It was not viable and was removed by the parents.
Hatch #1: March 23
Hatch #2: ... UPDATE on MARCH 31: the egg is not viable and will not hatch
When will the second egg hatch? If the timing of first hatch works for the second one, the last egg will hatch between March 25 (if the remaining egg is Egg #2) and March 29 (if it's Egg #3). But my math could be wrong.
In the skies over Central and South America you may see The King soaring overhead.
As large as a bald eagle, the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) can weigh up to 10 pounds with a wingspan seven feet long.
From below he's unmistakable -- all white with black flight feathers, a black tail and a dot for his head. His head looks small because he's bald.
If he came in for a landing you'd see that his bare skin is colorful -- yellow, red and orange.
Though the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is related to condors and our familiar turkey and black vultures, he's the only surviving member of his genus. His last name, papa, is Latin for pope and was chosen because his white and black feathers resemble a pope's vestments.
No matter his title, king or pope, the King is in charge at the dinner table. His powerful beak tears open carcasses. When he arrives on the scene other vultures move away.
Like royalty, the King eats first. When he's finished everyone else can dine.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
Day 3: Pipeline Road on the border of the Soberania National Park
As of Saturday night we have bald eagle eggs in both of Pittsburgh's on-camera nests.
Near the Allegheny River, the Harmar female laid her first egg for 2018 on Saturday evening 24 February around 5 pm.
On Sunday Steve Gosser went to the Harmar viewing area and was seen on the eaglecam as a speck in the parking lot far below (photo at top). He calls it his first Eaglecam selfie. If you visit the gravel parking lot on Freeport Road near the Hulton Bridge, you might get an eaglecam selfie too. 😉
At the Hays bald eagle nest near the Monongahela River there have been three eggs since February 19, but we haven't been able to watch them "live." Pittsburgh's overcast skies have kept the Hays solar panels too low to broadcast. No selfies over there!
This winter has been great for seeing snowy owls in the northeastern U.S. as lots of them have come down from the Arctic for a visit. Lauri Shaffer photographed these two at Plum Island, Massachusetts near Boston early this month.
When an owl chooses Boston's Logan Airport, Norman Smith (director at Blue Hills Trailside Museum) is called in to capture and relocate the owl for the safety of the bird and the planes. In this video from Massachusetts Audubon, he releases Snowy Owl #26 at Duxbury Beach on January 29. See the story of this owl at Massachusetts Audubon's blog post, Releasing Snowy Owl #26.
Norman is one of the founders of Project SNOWSTORM, a project that fits snowy owls with transmitters to track their movements. It's been such a productive winter that the project is now tracking 24 owls! Watch their movements online at the Project SNOWSTORM website.
Even though our weather may be crazy hot and cold, it's been a "snowy" winter.
"Ferruginous Hawks are mean and wild, and have no qualms whatsoever about defending themselves. When the Humans are taking care of an injured Ferruginous Hawk here at the RMRP, only very experienced catchers take on this bird.
The reason for this intense attitude could stem from where these birds live: on the plains. While nests will be built in trees if they're available, Ferruginous Hawks usually nest in open areas such as rock outcrops, or simply on the ground. The plains environment just doesn't provide many protected nesting opportunities. Since nesting sites are so exposed, the birds have to be able to defend themselves not only from aerial predators like most Raptors have to, but also from terrestrial predators like Coyotes. And if the chicks are on the ground for the first month of their lives, you can expect the chicks to be as fierce as the parents."
Knowing this we can appreciate the commitment, bond, and patience it takes to fly a ferruginous hawk.
p.s. I saw my Life Bird ferruginous hawk at Lassen Road in Tehama County, California. It flew across the road in front of me, a beautiful adult with a white belly, rufous back, and light rufous tail (white underneath). Woo hoo!
Have you ever seen a distant white raptor and hoped it was a snowy owl or gyrfalcon? I have, but I'm usually wrong. Both species are rare and neither is here in spring or summer.
Snowy owls and gyrfalcons only visit Pennsylvania in late fall or winter. In most years snowies don't come to the Pittsburgh area at all (this year is an exception) and gyrfalcons are never here. In over 100 years only 41 gyrfalcons were reported statewide (see *1 below).
And yet we still see an occasional rare white raptor, even in the summer. What hawk is this? In nearly every case it's a leucistic red-tailed hawk.
"Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes." (quoted from Wikipedia). The condition is rare but red-tails are our most common hawk so it's not surprising to find it in a numerous population.
The whiteness varies from hawk to hawk and even from year to year. Sometimes leucistic red-tails are spotted brown, sometimes they're entirely white. Pat Gaines photographed a speckled one in Berthoud, Colorado this winter (above) and an all-white bird in North Denver in 2010 (below). Neither bird is albino because its eyes are the normal color, not pink.
Even the all-white birds have at least one normally-colored feather. It's a tail feather on this hawk, as shown in Pat's photo below.
(*1) How rare are gyrfalcons in PA? In 1982 and 1984, DVOC's Cassinia analyzed all the reports of gyrfalcons in Pennsylvania. From the mid 1870's to 1984 only 41 were confirmed: Gyrfalcon Records in Pennsylvania, Part One, 1982 and Gyrfalcon Records in Pennsylvania, Part Two, 1984. Most reports were in Schuykill, Carbon, Berks, Lehigh and Lancaster counties with only 2 reports at Presque Isle, Erie County (there have been more since then). As of 1984, the most recent sighting of a gyrfalcon in Pittsburgh's 11-county metro area was 1 bird in Westmoreland County in January 1913.
p.s. Yellow-billed magpies are hard to find near Chico, California ever since West Nile Virus came through. I was afraid I'd never see one but J. Maughn (his photo is at top) suggested looking at eBird for recent sightings. Ta dah! I went to a place near Big Chico Creek where magpies had been seen this month and found a pair building a nest. Life Bird!
Five years ago at the San Diego Bird Festival I had three target Life Birds: white-tailed kite, mountain bluebird, and ferruginous hawk.
I saw white-tailed kites on the Festival field trips. I missed mountain bluebirds that year but saw them in Montana in 2016. But the ferruginous hawk, pictured above, is still on my target list.
On the spur of the moment I used up my Southwest Airlines points to fly+drive to Chico, California for the Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway. Right now I'm where those hawks spend the winter -- in the "ferruginous zone."