Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Mar 31 2016

A Tale of Two Owls

Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 27 March 2016 (photo by John English)

Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 27 March 2016 (photo by John English)

For months we thought the old red-tailed hawks’ nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge was abandoned, but last Sunday John English discovered it is very much occupied — by a great horned owl.  John posted the photo above in the Duck Hollow Facebook group with this diagram of its location.

Location of nest under Homestead Grays Bridge (photo by John English)

Location of nest under Homestead Grays Bridge (formerly called the Homestead High Level Bridge) as seen from Red Robin at The Waterfront. Duck Hollow is on right, across the river (photo by John English)

Dana Nesiti (EaglesofHaysPA) stopped by yesterday and got this beautiful shot of the mother owl. In this species, only the females incubate and brood.  Father owl perches nearby during the day.

Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dana watched for 45 minutes and was rewarded with a glimpse of the tiny owlet — the round white head at center-right of the nest.  I’m no expert but my guess is this owlet hatched 1-2 weeks ago.

Great horned owlet in nest under Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Great horned owlet in nest under Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

 

Meanwhile, not far away….

At midday on Monday Cathy Bubash posted a comment on my blog that there was an injured owl on the road at Schenley Park’s Anderson Playground.  We traded email addresses and Cathy sent photos. Oh my!  It’s not an injured adult. It’s a fledgling great horned owl!

Great horned owl fledgling, Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2016 (photo by Cathy Bubash)

Great horned owl fledgling, Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2016 (photo by Cathy Bubash)

He’s old enough to fly, though he isn’t very good at it. He appears to be about 8 weeks old.

Great horned owl fledgling in flight, Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2016 (photo by Cathy Bubash)

Great horned owl fledgling in flight, Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2016 (photo by Cathy Bubash)

I visited the area at 4:30pm and found the owl safely perched on a hillside tree below the playground. His parents could find and feed him overnight … but where were they?

In all my visits to Schenley Park I’ve never encountered a great horned owl and never seen a nest.  I rechecked two abandoned red-tailed nests on nearby bridges. Nothing.

On Tuesday morning the owl was back on the asphalt at Anderson Playground so Public Works employees wisely called the PA Game Commission who collected the owl and delivered it to ARL Wildlife Center for evaluation.

Great horned owl fledgling rescued at Schenley Park by PGC, 29 March 2016 (photo by Kevin Wilford)

Great horned owl fledgling rescued at Schenley Park by PGC, 29 March 2016 (photo by Kevin Wilford)

It’s a good thing this owl was rescued.  He’s not injured but he is emaciated.  Did he have parents in Schenley Park?

Based on his age — two months older than our local owlets — I had a theory that he hatched in the South, perhaps the Carolinas, and was brought to Pittsburgh by someone who dumped him at the secluded end of the playground when he got too big.

But my theory was wrong! After publishing this blog I learned that a Public Works employee saw a great horned owl this morning at 6:45am near the Anderson Bridge.

In any case, while this owl fattens up he will have a good foster mom at ARL.  Martha the great horned owl will teach him everything he needs to know.

 

(photos by John English, Dana Nesiti, Cathy Bubash and Kevin Wilford)

Event:  This Sunday, April 3, 4:00-6:00pm, you can meet owls from the ARL Wildlife Center at their fundraiser at the Galleria of Mount Lebanon.  Click here to register.

p.s. Ravens are rare in the City of Pittsburgh but I saw a pair poke at the Homestead Grays Bridge nest on February 18.  They were agitated. Now I know why.  The owl was probably in the nest and just beginning incubation. Ravens hate great horned owls.

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Mar 23 2016

Second Egg Hatched at Hays Eagle Nest


Second egg hatches at Hays bald eagle nest, 22 March 2016, 9:40pm

 

Peregrine news has been so intense lately that I missed telling you about Pittsburgh’s first eaglet of 2016 … and now there are two nestlings at the Hays bald eagle nest.

Here’s a roundup of Hays nest news from first hatch on Monday to last night’s second hatch.  There’s one egg still in the nest.

1. First egg hatched on Monday March 21 at 12:37 am (just after midnight).  See video below

News reports of 1st egg:

2. Second egg hatched 45 hours later on Tuesday March 22 at 9:40pm. See video at top.

News reports of 2nd egg:

 

The last egg in the nest, Egg #3, is expected to hatch on Friday.

Watch the nestlings and chat about them at eagles.aswp.org.

Visit Audubon of Western PA’s eagle Facebook page for more information.

 

(YouTube videos captured by PixController from the Hays eaglecam. Watch Pittsburgh’s eaglecam sat eagles.aswp.org)

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Mar 13 2016

Falcons and Eagles: A Nestcam Round-up

Louie explores the nest area while Dori perches above at the Gulf Tower (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Louie explores the nest area on 10 March 2016 while Dori perches above (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower)

Raptor nesting season is already upon us.  Bald eagles have eggs.  Peregrine falcons will lay them soon.  Here are some opportunities to watch their nests from the comfort of your home.

  • Peregrine Falcon Cams:
    • Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh: My all-time favorite webcam shows Hope and E2 as they prepare to nest together for the first time.  Watch for eggs this month.
    • Gulf Tower, Downtown Pittsburgh: Dori and Louie, shown above, are spending time at the Gulf Tower this spring after nesting at non-camera sites for a few years.  Will they nest at Gulf this year? The real litmus test will be when Dori lays eggs, mid-March to early April. (*)
    • Times Square Building, Rochester New York: The female at Rochester’s Times Square has a Pittsburgh connection.  Beauty was born at the Cathedral of Learning in 2007. She’s Dorothy and Erie’s daughter.
    • Wilmington, Delaware: Red Girl at Wilmington is one of the first peregrines to lay eggs in the Mid-Atlantic. She already has four, laid March 5 through 10.
    • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Falconcam: Another early nester, the female in Harrisburg began laying eggs on March 7.
  • Bald Eagle Cams:
    • Pittsburgh’s Hays and Harmar bald eagles:  Two nests on one convenient web page at eagles.aswp.org.  The Hays female laid her eggs on February 13, 16 and 20 so her first hatch will be (approx) March 19.  Harmar’s first egg was March 9 so watch for hatching on (approx) April 13.
    • Decorah, Iowa:  Decorah is one of the longest running eagles cams in the U.S.
    • Check the Eagleholic Eagle Cam list for a list of webcams complete with egg dates.  Pittsburgh’s two nests are listed as “Pittsburgh Hays” and “Harmar”.
  • Watch great horned owls, barred owls, red-tailed hawks and others at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Cam page.

This list is just a sampling.  If you have a favorite nestcam post it in Comments below.

 

(*) Keep in mind that the cameras show only a small piece of these birds’ lives.  You must visit their territories and observe them in person to see what’s really going on.  Case in point: Click here for two comments (read the question and answer) about yesterday’s lack of activity at the Gulf Tower.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower)

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Feb 21 2016

Three Eggs at the Hays Eagle Nest


Third bald eagle egg at Hays

Since yesterday afternoon at about 2pm there are now three eggs at the Hays bald eagle nest in the City of Pittsburgh.

In backwards order, the egg above is the 3rd one (February 20). The video below is the second one, laid on February 16. Click here for the first one on February 13.


Second bald eagle egg at Hays

There are still no eggs at Pittsburgh’s other webcam eagle nest at Harmar, but by the time you read this it may have changed.

As always, watch the Hays and Harmar eaglecams on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website at eagles.aswp.org.   Read more on their Facebook page.

(videos of the Hays bald eagle near in Pittsburgh, PA from PixController’s Facebook page)

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Feb 19 2016

Celebrity Vultures In Peru

 

What does a city do when it’s overwhelmed by illegal garbage dumps?

In Lima, Peru much of the trash generated by its 10 million people is dumped illegally but it’s hard to clean up because the dumps are hidden and people don’t care.  In December 2015 the Peru Ministry of Environment enlisted the help of birds.

Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are excellent at finding garbage — after all, their lives depend on it — so the program equipped 10 black vultures with GPS trackers and GoPro cameras and Ta dah!  The vultures find the dumps. The humans place the dumps on the map and clean them up.  And the vultures have become celebrities.

See the maps at Gallinazo Avisa.  Meet the vultures — they have names — in their second video here.  (Don’t miss the punchline at the end of the video!)

Read more about Peru’s “Vultures Warn” program at fastcoexist.com.

 

(video from Gallinazo Avisa at YouTube)

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Feb 14 2016

First Eagle Egg At Hays, Feb. 13

Perhaps you’ve already heard the happy news …

(Pittsburgh, PA – February 13, 2016) It’s not yet Valentine’s Day, but love is in the air at the Hays Bald Eagle nest. This morning, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania confirmed that the Hays eagles have one egg in the nest. The egg was laid overnight, when the Bald Eagle web camera was turned off. The egg was noticed at 7:30 am when the cam came back up, clearly showing one of the eagles sitting on an egg.

Watch two Pittsburgh-area bald eagle nests — both Hays and Harmar — on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website at eagles.aswp.org.   Read more on their Facebook page.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

p.s. This egg was laid four days earlier than her first egg in 2015.

(video from the Hays Eaglecam via PixController’s Facebook page)

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Feb 02 2016

Drinking Blood?

Yellow-headed caracara on a cow in Venezuela (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Yellow-headed caracara on a cow in Venezuela (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When I wrote that yellow-headed caracaras pick ticks off of mammals Dr. Tony Bledsoe pointed out that, based on the similar behavior of an African bird, it’s possible the caracaras are also drinking the animals’ blood.

Ewww!  What gives?

In Africa, there are birds called oxpeckers (two species in genus Buphagus: yellow-billed and red-billed) that also perch on mammals and eat ticks, lice, fleas, and biting flies found on the animals’ skin.  Studies have shown that individual oxpeckers eat up to 100 engorged ticks or 13,000 nymphs per day.  Quite a benefit to the animal!

Yellow-billed oxpecker on a large bovine mammal in Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Yellow-billed oxpecker on a large bovine mammal in Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Engorged ticks contain tiny blood meals so it’s not a big leap that the oxpeckers sometimes to go directly to the blood source, pecking and plucking at an animal’s wounds.  Despite this parasitic and perhaps painful behavior, many mammals tolerate the oxpeckers although elephants and some antelopes shoo them off when they land.

Yellow-headed caracaras are unrelated to oxpeckers but their tick-eating behavior extends to blood meals as well. The Handbook of the Birds of the World includes this remark about the caracara’s eating habits:

“Perches on cattle and Capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) to pick off ticks; picks flesh from open wounds on backs of cattle, which often seem oddly indifferent to the process.”

It sounds gruesome but the benefits of having your own portable tick-remover apparently outweigh the occasional blood meal.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the original)

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Jan 31 2016

Near Open Water

Published by under Birds of Prey

Eastern screech-owl near Loyalhanna Dam, 28 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Eastern screech-owl near Loyalhanna Dam, 28 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Often the best birds are near open water, even if they don’t eat fish.

Anthony Bruno found these two at Loyalhanna Dam on January 27 and 28 — an eastern screech-owl (who doesn’t eat fish) and an immature bald eagle (who does).

Immature bald eagle, Loyalhanna Dam, 27 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Immature bald eagle, Loyalhanna Dam, 27 Jan 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

As we head into February, birds are harder to find in western Pennsylvania.  It’s the low ebb of our birding year.

Check out the places with open water and you’ll have better luck.

Look closely.  They may be camouflaged.

 

(photos by Anthony Bruno)

p.s. I went to Loyalhanna Dam today and saw 5 bald eagles but I missed the eastern screech-owl.

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Jan 29 2016

How To Raid A Wasps’ Nest

There’s a bird of prey in South America that likes to raid wasp nests to eat the larvae.  The problem is that red-throated caracaras (Ibycter americanus) have bare skin on their faces and throats, an easy target for stinging wasps.

How do the birds get the larvae without a lot of pain?  Do they chemically repel the wasps?

In 2013, Canadian Sean McCann and colleagues studied red-throated caracaras in French Guiana on the north coast of South America.  They learned that, no, the birds don’t repel the wasps.  The caracaras are attacked but they compensate in other ways.

Watch the video to see how the birds nab their tasty meal.  They know something about wasp behavior that we had been ignoring.

Click here to read more in their PLOS ONE paper, Strike Fast, Strike Hard, or here at ibycter.com.

(video from YouTube)

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Jan 27 2016

Eagle Season Starts With A Bang!

Harmar Bald Eagle carrying nesting material, March 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Harmar bald eagle carrying nesting material in March 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

For one of Pittsburgh’s three bald eagle pairs, this year started off with a bang.

Since late 2013 the Harmar pair that nests along the Allegheny River have been hard to observe because PennDOT blocked off the nearest viewing area while building a replacement for the 107-year-old Hulton Bridge.  Steve Gosser took the photo above from that viewing location in March 2013. It’s been hard to get good photos for years.

Last October the new bridge was completed and dedicated but the eagle viewing area was still closed while PennDOT began to deconstruct the old bridge.  However …

Yesterday morning, in a flash of light and sound, the old Hulton Bridge was imploded into the river.  Here’s a video from Dave DiCello, posted at The Hulton Bridge Blog on Facebook. (Dave also filmed the Greenfield Bridge implosion last month.)

 

Staff from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania were on hand to monitor the eagles just in case.  As ASWP reports below, the eagles weren’t affected at all. They were 3.4 miles away as the crow flies.  (The eagles would have flown along the river, which is even longer.)

The Harmar eagles were down river near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club at the time. Our staff member monitoring the eagles said that the birds “didn’t even flinch” at the sound of the implosion.

The eagle viewing zone at Harmar will be closed a while longer but you can watch this pair easily now on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania website.  ASWP has both the Hays and Harmar eagles’ nests streaming live at eagles.aswp.org. Click here to watch.

And for more images of the Hulton Bridge coming down, check out The Hulton Bridge Blog on Facebook and this story with videos at KDKA.

 

(photo of Harmar female eagle in March 2013 by Steve Gosser. Video by Dave DiCello)

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