Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Jun 16 2015

Nest Watching In The Sagebrush Sea

Watching raptor nests on the Internet may give you the impression that any nest can be monitored this way, but many species are too skittish or too remote for a webcam.

When Cornell Lab of Ornithology filmed The Sagebrush Sea they included footage of ferruginous hawks nesting in a remote sagebrush prairie.  No electricity.  No Internet.  No road.  How did they get that footage?

The video above shows Gerrit Vyn’s long hours of hiding alone in a very small space.  Thanks to his efforts we get a special view of ferruginous hawk family life that’s rarely seen on camera.

If you missed last month’s broadcast of The Sagebrush Sea, watch the complete program online here at PBS.

Nest watching can be a lot harder than sitting at a desk!


p.s.  The activity at this nest has a lot in common with other raptor nests.  I love the interactions among the chicks!

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

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Jun 05 2015

How To Find A Raptor

Red-tailed hawk mobbed by crows (photo by Dori via Wikimedia Commons)

Red-tailed hawk chased by crows (photo by Dori via Wikimedia Commons)

Are you looking for a hawk, an owl, or a fledgling raptor?  Have you seen a juvenile peregrine fly around the corner but now that you’ve made that walk (or run!) you can’t find him?

Stop, listen, and watch for other birds.  They’ll tell you where he is.

Small birds sound the alarm when a bird of prey is near.  In the breeding season they surround and mob the raptor if they think they can get away with it.  They’re trying to drive the raptor away from their nests.

Robins are my favorite hawk-alarms because they’re so loud and persistent.  Other species join them and they all get louder and louder.  When the crows show up it becomes a chase.

So if you need to find a raptor (at a Fledge Watch, for instance) listen for the smaller birds, look where they’re looking and you may find the raptor — though perhaps not the one you’re looking for.


(photo by Dori via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. American robins’s eyes look sideways, not straight on like ours, so you’ll have to pick one side of the head and follow the sight-line from there.  Confusing!

p.p.s.  Mark your calendars for Downtown Pittsburgh Fledge Watch, June 13-20, daylight hours.  Announcements and instructions will roll out in the next several days.  Stay tuned at Outside My Window. Check the Events page for updates.

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May 20 2015

Descended From The Terror Birds?

(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Peregrine falcon (Stellar) in Youngstown, Ohio (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Last month brought news of the best-preserved skeleton ever found of a South American Terror Bird.  When Audubon’s Science News compared the fossil to modern birds I made the connection to peregrine falcons.  Can you guess why?

Terror Birds were a genus of large, flightless, predatory birds that thrived in South America from 60 million to 2.5 million years ago.  Found at a coastal cliff in Argentina, the skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai shows he was four feet tall, had a face like a hatchet (literally!) and a low voice like an ostrich. Though he couldn’t fly he could run 60 miles an hour and capture anything he wanted to eat.

Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai on display at the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia, Mar del Plata.Credit: M. Taglioretti and F. Scaglia

Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai on display at the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia, Mar del Plata. Credit: M. Taglioretti and F. Scaglia
Image Linked from Science Daily

He hatcheted his prey with his enormous beak! Click here for an artist’s rendition of what he looked like.

The Terror Birds’ nearest living relative is the seriema, also native to South America.

Seriema at Whipsnade Zoo (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Seriema with snake (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

At three feet tall, seriemas can fly but they prefer to walk and can run at 40 miles an hour when they need to.  They forage on the ground for plants, lizards, frogs, rats and smaller birds and kill large prey by slamming it against the ground and ripping it with their sharp claws.  That snake (above) doesn’t stand a chance.

Seriemas are related to Terror Birds and recent DNA tests have shown that peregrine falcons are closely related to seriemas.  (Click here for their family tree. They’re at the top.)

So I wonder … are peregrine falcons descended from the Terror Birds?

If not in body, certainly in spirit!


(photo credits:
Peregrine falcon photo by Chad+Chris Saladin
Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai linked from the Science Daily; click on the image to read the article
Seriema photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)


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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)

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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)

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