Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Apr 29 2015

For These Eagles, A Much Better Year

Eaglet at the NBG eagles' nest, 18 April 2015 (photo courtesy of Mike Inman,

Eaglet at the NBG eagles’ nest, 18 April 2015 (photo courtesy Mike Inman,

Nothing’s been simple for the bald eagle pair at the Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG), right down to the fact that they don’t nest at the Garden any more.

As one of the first bald eagle pairs to have their own webcam the NBG eagles were well watched and now loved by people around the world.  Their nesting seasons have had many ups and spectacular downs, particularly in 2008 when they had a Peyton Place event, two nest failures, and their third try ended with an eaglet who caught avian pox.  Buddy‘s beak was deformed so badly that he could never fly free.

Life was good again until their nest site became a problem in 2011.  Norfolk Botanical Garden is on the edge of Lake Whitehurst and surrounded on two sides by Norfolk International Airport. Bald eagles and airplanes occasionally share space.  This was fatal for the female eagle in late April when she landed on the runway and was killed by an airplane.  Concern that the male could not feed the chicks without her help prompted their removal from the nest to a rehab location where they were raised until they fledged.  It was a very bad year for the eagles.

Things got worse.  The female’s death underlined the dangers of the birds’ proximity to air operations so in 2012 U.S Fish and Wildlife told the City of Norfolk that the eagles’ nest had to go.  The male had found a new mate, but every time they built a nest USDA removed it.  Eagle lovers formed Eagle On Alliance and filed a lawsuit to protect the eagles from harassment. Ultimately USDA removed nine nests.

This year the NBG eagles took the hint and moved out of harms way to the other end of Lake Whitehurst.  Their new nest is on private property, far enough to satisfy the FAA.  They don’t have a webcam but Eagle On Alliance obtained permission from the landowner to photograph and film the eagles.

The pair has hatched one or more chicks and is currently raising a family.  Peek between the branches in Mike Inman’s photo above and you’ll see a hungry eaglet.  This has been a much better year!

For more news, see the NBG eagles at Eagle On Alliance.


(photo courtesy of Mike Inman,

p.s.  Eagle On Alliance dropped their lawsuit last January.

p.p.s  Here’s how close the Garden is to the airport

Proximity: Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk International Airport (screenshot from Google Maps. Click on this image to see the map)

Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk International Airport (click on the screenshot to see the Google map)

One response so far

Mar 28 2015

Hays Eagle Nest Failed

Female bald eagle lifts eggshell at Hays (screenshot from the Hays bald Eaglecam)

Female bald eagle lifts eggshell at Hays nest, 27 Mar 2015, 5:23am (screenshot from the Hays bald Eaglecam)

If you haven’t heard…

Before dawn on Friday morning March 27 it looked as if the egg in the Hays bald eagle nest was about to hatch.  The pair had had two eggs but one was non-viable and the birds removed it on March 13.

All eyes were on this last egg but by evening it was apparent that it too was not viable. The parents abandoned the nest.

What an abrupt and sad end to the Hay nesting season!

Read more coverage at:


(screenshot from the Hays Bald Eaglecam, installed by PixController)

2 responses so far

Mar 13 2015

On The Radio: Bird Files

Turkey Vulture at Shavers Creek (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

If you’ve been following the Allegheny Front on WESA radio, you’ve heard their Bird Files series twice a month.

This week I joined as a contributor with a piece about Nature’s clean-up crew — turkey vultures!

Tune in to the Allegheny Front on WESA 90.5 FM tomorrow morning, Saturday March 14, at 7:30am.

Or read and listen here –>  Turkey Vulture Has Cast Iron Stomach


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

4 responses so far

Mar 12 2015

TBT: Conspicuous

Red-tailed hawk soaring (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

Red-tailed hawks are conspicuous now as they soar to claim territory and court their mates.

Click here for a timely article from 2009 that describes what they’re doing.

Watch for the male’s Sky Dance.


(photo of a soaring red-tailed hawk by Cris Hamilton)

3 responses so far

Feb 23 2015

Across The Sahara

Eleanora falcon with satellite tracking backpack (photo by Pacual López/ SINC via Science Daily)

When you know a bird’s winter and summer homes, can you guess the route it takes on migration?  Not necessarily.

Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) spends the summer on islands in the Mediterranean and winters at Madagascar.  How does it travel from Europe to that big island east of Africa?  For decades ornithologists assumed it followed the coast — the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The assumption makes sense because in Europe Eleonora’s falcons eat small birds that they capture in the air over the sea.  Of course this falcon would take a water route … until a 2009 tracking study proved it wrong.

From 2007 to 2009, researchers from the Universities of Valencia and Alicante satellite tagged and tracked 16 Eleanora falcons on the Balearic and Columbretes Islands off the coast of Spain.  The data showed the falcons indeed spent the winter on Madagascar but they didn’t take the long, dog-leg coastal route to get there.

If you draw a straight line from the western Mediterranean to Madagascar it crosses 6,000 miles (more than 9,500 km) of the African continent.  That’s what the falcons did.  Flying both day and night they even crossed the Sahara.

Perhaps they were eating insects as they flew.  That’s what they do in Madagascar.

Read more here at EurekAlert.


(photo of satellite tagged Eleonor’as falcon by Pacual López/ SINC via EurekAlert)


No responses yet

Feb 22 2015

It’s a Hard Life

Hays bald eagle on nest in snowstorm, 18 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays eaglecam)

“It’s a hard life” certainly describes the first few nesting days of the Hays bald eagle pair.

Above, on February 18 Mother Eagle waits out a snowstorm while incubating the egg she laid the day before.

Below, it’s -4 degrees at the nest on Friday morning, February 20.  The sun is shining so it has already “warmed up” from a low of -7.  (*temperatures are from the Allegheny County airport less than 3 miles away)

A very cold morning at the Hays bald eagle nest, 20 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

Later that day, at 4:40pm, she laid her second egg.  It was 11oF at the time.  Click here or on the picture for video of her second egg.

Pittsburgh Hays female bald eagle, 2nd egg on 2/20 at 4:40pm (screenshot from PixController)

Then yesterday, Saturday February 21, it snowed several inches and …

Hays bale eagle in snow on nest, 21 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

… then turned into rain .. and then freezing drizzle.  Below she sleeps in the icy nest before dawn this morning (February 22).

Bald eagle in icy nest, 22 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays bald eaglecam)


Our warm indoor lives are soft compared to this!

Click here to watch the real-time eaglecam.


(screenshots from the Hays bald eaglecam presented by Pix Controller and Audubon of Western PA)

3 responses so far

Feb 18 2015

First Hays Eagle Egg of 2015

If you haven’t been watching the Hays Bald Eaglecam, now’s the time to start.  Last night Mother Eagle laid her first egg of 2015, revealed on camera at 7:37 pm.

Bald eagles are one of the earliest birds to lay eggs in Pennsylvania because their young take so long to grow up and fledge.  The pair at Hays in the City of Pittsburgh has been courting, mating, and tidying their nest since January.  Then on Sunday the female eagle started spending her nights on the nest — just in case.

We saw the first egg on Tuesday, February 17 at 7:37pm when she stood up and looked at it.  (After laying an egg the female bird usually stands over it until the shell dries.)

Dedicated eagle watchers are already calling this egg “H5” in anticipation of its hatching.  (“H” is for Hatch Hays, 5 means the fifth hatchling (see the comment below from Joyce))  Its hatching event is a pretty good bet.  The first egg a bald eagle lays is always the first to hatch — if it’s fertile — and fertility is not in doubt with the amount of mating this pair has been up to.

Egg #2 is due on Thursday or early Friday when the temperature dips to -8 oF.  Mother Eagle will certainly be clamped down to keep the egg(s) warm!  We’ll have to keep an “eagle eye” on her to see her reveal Egg#2.

Click here to watch the eaglecam and chat with fellow eagle watchers on the PixController website.


p.s. Thank you to Bill Powers of PixController for installing the eaglecam.

(YouTube video from PixController)

5 responses so far

Feb 12 2015

Owls Coming to PBS, February 18

Screenshot from PBS NATURE's Owl Power program

Who can see in the dark, fly silently, and hear their prey beneath deep snow?  Owls!

Owls live on every continent except Antarctica, some in extreme heat, others in extreme cold.  How do they thrive in the nighttime world?  PBS NATURE explores their special talents on Owl Power, premiering next Wednesday, February 18.

The show explains some amazing facts about owls.  Did you know that … Their eyes take up 70% of their skull.  Their ear tufts aren’t for hearing, they’re for expressing moods(!).  Owls can hear the sound-frequency of a mouse 10 times better than we can.  And, to an owl the night is 2.5 times brighter than it is for us.

And there are cool video segments including…

  • A thermal-sensing camera shows what’s really happening at night!
  • The barn owl’s slow flight style is compared to a peregrine and a greylag goose.
  • Great gray owl babies fall branch to branch when they “fledge” from the nest.
  • Super-sensitive microphones record the sounds of a pigeon, a peregrine and a barn owl in flight. Only the barn owl is completely silent. (Of course, peregrines don’t need to be silent … just very fast!)

Click on the screenshot above for a preview, then watch Owl Power on PBS next Wednesday February 18, 8pm EST/7pm CST.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(screenshot from PBS NATURE’s Owl Power)

No responses yet

Feb 10 2015

Aging Red Tails

Published by under Birds of Prey


Immature red-tailed hawk at Oakmont's Riverside Park (photo by Rachel Baer)

Did you know that red-tailed hawks don’t have red tails until they’re more than two years old?

In January Rachel Baer photographed this immature hawk dining at Oakmont’s Riverside Park.  You can see that his tail is brown with horizontal stripes.  Here’s how you know he’s less than two years old:

Adult red-tailed hawks have rusty red tails (click here to see) but, as Cornell  Lab of Ornithology explains, immature birds usually molt into adult plumage — including the red tail — at the beginning of their second year.

During their first winter (age 6 months) and second winter (age 1.5 years) they look like the hawk Rachel photographed.

Here’s the top side of his tail, brown and striped.

Immature red-tailed hawk (photo by Rachel Baer)

And the underside — white (not even faintly rusty) with faint brown stripes.

Immature red-tailed hawk (photo by Rachel Baer)

In the spring of their second year (age 2.0 years) red-tailed hawks begin to replace their brown tail feathers with red ones.  That summer their tails show both colors. Click here to see a red-tail with a half-red tail.

By their third winter (age 2.5 years) their red tails advertize their maturity.  They’re now full adults and ready to court in the spring.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Cornell’s Birds of North America Online says that 5-10% of immature red-tails can molt into adult basic plumage at age 1.

The “aging” rule works only 90-95% of the time.  😉


(photos by Rachel Baer)

(*) NOTE: Red-tailed hawks are widespread across North America and the subspecies look different.  This blog post describes the eastern subspecies of the red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis borealis.  (The click-through image of a red-tail with a partially red-tail is a dark western bird.)

One response so far

Jan 14 2015

Eagles Fight in Russian Winter

Published by under Birds of Prey

Gloden eagle grabs Stellers sea eagle by the leg in a fight over food (screenshot from National Geographic online)

In North America we think of our bald and golden eagles as large birds but they’re no match in size for the Steller’s sea eagle.

Steller’s sea eagles live on the coast of northeast Asia so they rarely encounter North America’s bald eagle but they do run into goldens who are lightweights by comparison.  The largest Steller’s can outweigh a golden eagle by a factor of two.

At Lake Kuril on the Kamchatka Peninsula Steller’s sea eagles and golden eagles compete for food.

Click here or on the screenshot above to watch them fight in the Russian winter.  



(screenshot from National Geographic’s Wild Russia series)

No responses yet

« Prev - Next »