Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Jul 25 2016

The Harriers of Piney Tract

Male northern harrier nesting at Piney Tract, summer 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Male northern harrier at Piney Tract, summer 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

This summer Steve Gosser spent a lot of time at Piney Tract in Clarion County photographing a family of northern harriers.  The harriers nested there because it's one of their preferred habitats and one of the few grasslands in western Pennsylvania.

Though they're birds of prey, northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) nest on the ground.  The male harrier usually does all the hunting, then transfers the food to his mate in an aerial prey exchange.  The female takes the prey to the nest and feeds the young but she's sneaky about it so she doesn't give away the nest location.

Throughout their nesting season Steve was able to photograph them from his car window without disturbing them.  He captured their prey exchanges and aerial maneuvers though he never saw the nest.  Later he learned that they fledged three chicks.

Read about the harriers and see Steve's beautiful photos at his blog post: A Summer Watching the Harriers at Piney Tract.

See all of Steve's work at his new website,


A note to my European readers: The northern harrier is the same species as the hen harrier in Europe.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Jul 17 2016

Practice Makes Perfect

Eastern screech-owl, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio,11 May 2016 (photo snapped by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John's cellphone)

Eastern screech-owl, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio,11 May 2016 (photo snapped by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John's cellphone)

Back in May I saw an eastern screech-owl snoozing in a nestbox at Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio. His photo, above, is on my cellphone but I can't take credit for its beauty.

I have all the tools to create this photo -- a bird scope and a cellphone -- but I don't have the skill yet.  I watched bird guide Carlos Bethancourt set my cellphone on the scope (without a scope adapter), manipulate the screen, and take three beautiful pictures.

Carlos made it look easy but I can't get my cellphone to behave. My two best attempts at photographing a robins' nest look like this.

Closeup of baby robins in a nest, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of baby robins in a nest, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

One baby robin, partially obscured by leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

Baby robin in a nest partially obscured by leaves (photo by Kate St. John)


I need a lot more practice to make it perfect.


(owl photo by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John's cellphone, robins' photos by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

Jul 15 2016

Watch the Young Hays Eagles Fly

Published by under Birds of Prey

The Hays bald eagle cam has been boring since the juveniles fledged but visitors to the nearby bike trail can sometimes catch a glimpse of the family.

Last weekend Mat Williams captured this video of the juveniles testing out their flying skills.  Enjoy!


(YouTube video by Mat Williams @boelsa)

7 responses so far

Jul 04 2016

On July 4: Advocate for Eagles

Published by under Birds of Prey

Bald eagle (photo by Chuck Tague)

Bald eagle (photo by Chuck Tague)

I was "off the grid" in Montana when the American Bird Conservancy sent an important message about a proposed eagle management plan that would weaken protection for eagles. (!)  Now there's only one day left -- July 4 -- to make your voice heard.

Here's the message and the link for you to comment.


From the American Bird Conservancy,

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is taking public comment until July 5 on an eagle-management plan that could weaken protections for eagles, including the issuing of 30-year permits to wind energy and other companies that allow the “take” (or harm) of thousands of eagles. Please help us strengthen the rule by submitting a comment today.

Under the proposed plan—also called the Eagle Take Rule—industry would not be required to have mortality data collected by independent, third-party experts; share mortality data with the public; or take critical factors like proper siting of wind turbines into consideration. We have sent our own, extensive comment letter to FWS and urge you to raise your voice as well. (Please see our press release for additional information.)

To endorse the following letter, which will be submitted as an official comment to elected officials, please fill out the form at this link. Thank you!

American Bird Conservancy | P.O. Box 249 | The Plains, VA 20198 | 888-247-3624

Note: When I submitted my comment I got an automated reply from my Congressman saying my message has to include my home address. Oops! I didn't type my address inside the message. Make sure you do that.


(photo of bald eagle by Chuck Tague)

5 responses so far

May 04 2016

Kestrel Cam at The Peregrine Fund

Things got exciting on the Kestrel Nestcam in Boise, Idaho last Wednesday, April 27.  By the end of the day four of the five kestrel eggs had hatched. The fifth one hatched the next day.

Watch the first feeding in the video above.

American kestrels nest in holes and will readily use a nest box so The Peregrine Fund erected one on their campus and set up two streaming cameras -- one inside the box and one outside.  Click here to watch the KestrelCam in Boise, sponsored by Bosch.

Here are some cool things you'll notice about the kestrels:

  • The chicks are all the same size because they hatched within about 24 hours. Kestrels' synchronous hatching strategy is similar to peregrines.(*)
  • American kestrels have malar stripes (mustaches) just like peregrines.
  • Their markings make it look as if they have eyes on the backs of their heads.
  • Kestrels are more colorful than peregrines but the mother's plumage is muted compared to the male's.  She's striped and brown.  He has a cinnamon back and blue-gray wings.
  • When the chicks lose their down and develop juvenile plumage, they'll resemble their mother.

Idaho is two time zones away so you'll see these birds in the sun for two hours after night has begun in Pittsburgh.

Thank you to "Norca" for alerting me to this Kestrel Cam.


Ooops! This morning the inside-the-box camera is down for maintenance.  Please be patient ... and watch the videos listed below the cam window.


(*)  NOTE:  Hatching at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest is delayed this spring because Hope started incubation about a week before she laid the 4th egg.  Her mate E2 died March 15. Terzo arrived on or before March 23.  There was a 15 day gap between the 3rd and 4th egg.

(video from the American kestrel nestcam, The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho)


4 responses so far

Apr 25 2016

Small Falcons Found Downtown

Male American kestrel (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Male American kestrel (photo by Cris Hamilton)

We're still searching for the peregrines who nest in Downtown Pittsburgh.  They left the Gulf Tower in March and we know they're nesting ... but where?  Two weeks ago I posted this blog asking folks to... Look for Perching Peregrines.

Last Wednesday Diane P. left a comment saying she'd found a pair of falcons nesting in the facade of a building on Fifth Avenue across from Chatham Center.  Within a few hours I was Downtown checking the area for peregrines.

From Duquesne University's campus I saw a small bird of prey perched high on Chatham Center but the light was so poor that I couldn't identify it.  On Fifth Avenue I found this hole in the 1904 building.

The perfect hole for kestrels, 1904 building (photo by Kate St. John)

Kestrel hole, 1904 building (photo by Kate St. John)

The next morning I stopped by Chatham Center plaza and saw the bird in better light on the same perch.  It's a small falcon, an American kestrel (Falco sparverius).

By luck Diane was out on the plaza, too, so we chatted about her discovery.  Suddenly we heard a kestrel calling and both adults swooped into the nest.  Then we heard the sounds of baby birds being fed.  It's a family!

Diane was so good at finding these small falcons that I hope she finds the big ones, too.  (And I do hope the peregrines leave the kestrels alone!)

Remember to keep looking for perching peregrines when you're Downtown.


(photo by Cris Hamilton)

9 responses so far

Apr 24 2016

Report Nesting Ospreys

Two Osprey chicks call for food (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Two Osprey chicks call for food (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Did you know that ospreys suffered through the DDT pesticide crash and recovery just like bald eagles and peregrine falcons?

Ospreys are doing much better now than they did in 1986 when there was only one nest in Pennsylvania -- but how much better are they doing?  That's where you come in.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission monitors this State Threatened species and they need to know where ospreys nest, especially in the western part of the state.

This PGC map shows the known nesting sites in 2015.  Look at the gaps!   For instance, is it possible that no ospreys nest in Armstrong County, home to the Allegheny River and Crooked Creek Lake?  I'll bet they nest in the county but PGC doesn't know about them.


Help the PA Game Commission fill in the map by reporting nesting ospreys.  Download the  Osprey Nest Survey Form (PDF) along with the Nest Observation Protocol (PDF). Submit your completed survey forms to

And please don't assume someone else will report a local nest.  It's up to you!

For more information, read this eBird blog post by Doug Gross.


(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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Apr 20 2016

Red-Tail Eggs Hatching Soon!

Ezra the red-tailed hawk incubates three eggs at Cornell (screenshot from nestcam at Cornell Lab)

Ezra the red-tailed hawk incubates three eggs in Ithaca, NY (screenshot from nestcam via Cornell Lab)

In Ithaca, NY it's been 38 days since Big Red, the red-tailed hawk, laid her first egg on March 13.  Today one of her three eggs has a pip.  Watch it hatch online!

Big Red and her mate Ezra nest on a light pole about 80 feet above an athletic field at Cornell University.  They've attracted an online crowd ever since Cornell Lab began hosting their nestcam in 2012 at Cornell Lab Birdcams.

Click here or on the screenshot above to watch Big Red, Ezra and their growing family.  Check out the Twitter feed on the right of their webpage for recent close-ups and videos from @CornellHawks.

Red-tailed hawk eggs hatch every other day so if you miss this first one there are two more eggs to watch.

Downy nestlings coming soon!


(screenshot from red-tailed hawk nestcam in Ithaca, NY via Cornell Lab)


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Apr 17 2016

Go See The Owls Soon

Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

If you haven't been to The Waterfront to see the great horned owl nest on the Homestead Grays Bridge, go soon!  The owlet is growing fast -- as shown in these photos by Dana Nesiti on Friday, April 15.

Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)


Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)


Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Great horned owl and owlet, Homestead Grays Bridge, 15 April 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

The best viewing area is at the Three Rivers Heritage bike Trail to the right of the Red Robin restaurant at The Waterfront (175 E Waterfront Dr, Homestead, PA 15120).

Don't miss your chance to see the owlet before he leaves the nest.


Thanks to Dana for sharing his photos.  See Dana's great photos of the Hays bald eagles at his Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page.

(photos by Dana Nesiti)

7 responses so far

Apr 07 2016

Red-tails Close to Us

Published by under Birds of Prey

Red-tailed hawk takes off (photo by Bill Barron)

Red-tailed hawk takes off from Bill's chimney (photo by Bill Barron)

Red-tailed hawks who live in the city are habituated to people.  They go about their business hunting squirrels and eating pigeons -- even on the ground -- while we walk by or stand and gawk.

This spring a pair of red-tailed hawks is building a nest on Pitt's campus.  They experimented with a tree on the Cathedral of Learning lawn but by Tuesday it was clear they'd chosen the top of a large London plane tree next to the Student Union.

It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

Will the hawks ultimately use this nest?  Will Pitt's peregrines forbid them from gaining altitude so close to the Cathedral of Learning?  (I've already seen Terzo hammer one of the hawks.)  Will people notice the nest at all?

If the nest was close to the ground, the red-tails would become nervous about us walking below it and might threaten us to chase us away.  This rarely happens but it's memorable, as in this incident at Fenway Park eight years ago --> Red-tails Close to Home.

The red-tail nest on Pitt's campus is way too high up for that. The hawks and the peregrines will have to work out their boundaries but we ground-based humans are of little interest to them.

And that's as it should be.


(photo by Bill Barron)

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