Great horned owls are the first native bird(*) to lay eggs every year. During the Second Breeding Bird Atlas their nests were found with eggs as early as January 22. This is earlier than any other raptor including bald eagles.
Look around your neighborhood. Listen for hooting at night. (audio below of hooting great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), Xeno-canto #XC344952 by Ted Floyd)
There are more great horned owls than we ever suspect.
On Throw Back Thursday, read more about the owl who is First to Nest.
p.s. (*) Who is actually the first to lay eggs in Pennsylvania every year? Feral rock pigeons!
"Winter breeding is possible because adults feed crop milk or seeds, and are independent of other animal populations for high-protein, high-fat diets for squabs. ... Bright, sunny weather following a Canadian cold front is characteristic stimulus for courting, copulating, and egg laying in midwinter, independent of temperature."
Sidney and Bette are "expecting." Today may be the day.
Sidney and Bette are African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), members of a critically endangered species that lives in a colony at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. The birds nest in burrows or under bushes so the Aviary has provided a special cubbyhole for the pair that's equipped with a nestcam so we all can watch.
Here's the action up to now, described by the National Aviary:
Penguin parents, Sidney and Bette, laid two eggs on November 7th and 11th. The first egg is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18, and the second egg is expected to hatch between December 18 and 22. If all goes well, the chicks will eventually join the National Aviary's current colony of 20 African Penguins. This is the fourth set of chicks for Sidney and Bette who have had 6 chicks together at the National Aviary (not including these two)!
It's quite a privilege to watch African penguins nesting. There used to be 4 million of them in 1800 but now there are less than 25,000 pairs in the wild. When these eggs hatch they'll be a significant addition to the population.
Click here or on the screenshot above to watch the African Penguin Nestcam at the National Aviary.
Will today be the day? Only Sidney and Bette know for sure.
UPDATE on Dec 17: First egg hatched on Sat December 16. One more egg to go.
UPDATE on Dec 20: Second egg hatched today. Two cute penguin chicks!
Male ducks are easy to identify because of their bright plumage but females are difficult because they're camouflaged for nesting. Female gadwalls are really hard to figure out; they look like female mallards. If only they'd hang out with their mates the problem would be solved.
And by November it is. Unlike most ducks, gadwalls pair up in autumn. By November 97% of the females are swimming close to a male.
The males are much easier to figure out. From a distance they look boring brown with black butts but a closer look reveals their beauty. The male's back has gray and russet tones, his chest is marbled, and his sides sport a tiny zigzag pattern.
Female gadwalls and mallards look alike except for this: The gadwalls have thinner darker bills, a square head shape, and a white speculum on each wing. (Click here to see the iridescent blue speculum on a female mallard.)
If you see a confusing female duck alone it might be a mallard, but not for long. 90% of female mallards have a mate by November.
Both species are paired up already.
(photo credits: gadwalls by Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons. mallard pair by M. O. Stevens via Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
This year, for the first time since 1984, my husband and I aren't at Acadia National Park this month but I think of it every day. If I was there I'd be stopping by the base of this mountain to scan for peregrines. It's one of the few wild places where I know they nest.
On Throw Back Thursday here's a description of the peregrines' wild nest sites at Acadia with news from 2010:
On Tuesday I heard a sound in Schenley Park that I didn't recognize: a melodious call from a baby bird.
I found the bird flutter-climbing from a low perch to a high spot in a tree, moving fast and begging the entire time. He had downy tufts on his head, a striped chest, big feet, short wings and an almost non-existent tail. He looked a lot like the bird pictured above.
I couldn't identify the fledgling so I waited for his mother to bring food and she solved the mystery. A bird just like her is pictured below (from Wikimedia Commons).
If you don't recognize her, here's another clue. The father bird looks like this. (I didn't see him that day.)
Obviously scarlet tanagers change a lot as they grow into breeding adults. Read more about them in this vintage article from July 2008:
A bird that hasn't nested in Pennsylvania since the early 1950's returned this year to Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
The piping plover (Charadrius melodus), a very rare bird, has been endangered in the Great Lakes region since 1986. This spring for the first time in over 60 years they nested at Gull Point.
Their decline was due to habitat loss. Their return is an environmental success story. As Dan Brauning, PGC's Wildlife Diversity Program Chief, said, "This is a testament to dedication and teamwork, not only in Pennsylvania but throughout the species' range. Their return wasn't by chance, or an accident."
Piping plovers nest on wide, sparsely vegetated sand or cobble beaches but 20 years ago Presque Isle State Park had nothing like that. As the population of Great Lakes piping plovers grew, a plover would sometimes stop at Gull Point during migration but it never stayed. PGC, DCNR, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy worked to clear invasive vegetation and protect Gull Point during the nesting season. Then Audubon monitors, including my friend Mary Birdsong, watched for piping plovers each spring. For a couple of years Mary observed a male piping plover stay at the point, calling for a female, but he was a lonely bachelor. This year, success. Two pairs!
Read here about their nesting success and how eggs were rescued from the waves. Click here to see a close up of a piping plover.
Now that Peregrine Season is over I finally have time to visit other nests. Yesterday I stopped by the Hays Eagle Viewing Area on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and was happy to find Eaglestreamer (Wendy) on site. She filled me in on all the latest news.
The bald eagle chick, H7, walked off the nest on June 2 and has been branching ever since. In this June 4 video you can see both adults standing by while H7 does some wing exercises. Like all bald eagle chicks H7 is dark brown and hard to see with wings closed.
Meanwhile the adults are very attentive but have changed their behavior in small ways that are similar to peregrine fledge-time. For instance, they sometimes take more time to deliver food by flying past the juvenile with prey in their talons.
Very soon -- any day now -- H7 will fly for the first time. Eagle fans are on the trail every day, awaiting that exciting moment. Stop by and join them. Click here for directions.
If you can't make it to the trail, here are some ways to enjoy eagle watching from afar.
News from the two on-camera peregrine nests in Pittsburgh:
Cathedral of Learning:
The Pitt peregrine youngsters began flapping this morning before dawn. Soon they'll walk off camera and up to the take-off zone where they'll spend a couple of days building their wing muscles. They won't be visible on camera but you can see them from Fledge Watch-- June 2 to 6.
Visit the Events page for the Fledge Watch schedule, cancellation updates (when needed) and information on parking, food & maps at Schenley Plaza.
This morning at dawn I saw one peregrine youngster perched at the nest. She flew shortly after this snapshot.
Last night I was in a long meeting and didn't see a comment posted to my blog until nearly 11p (4 hours after it happened). In the comment John wrote, "Right now there is a Peregrine on Grant street by the Federal building. Animal control is there. It is banded. This is as of 6:30pm 6/1."
The young peregrine was probably standing on the sidewalk and needed human assistance to get up to a high perch and start over. The bird was already in good hands when John posted the comment so I'm not worried. I will hear more eventually and post the update here.
UPDATE, 8:15am: This morning Lori Maggio looked for the fledglings and says she may have seen all three, though she's not sure.
At this stage of development, the Gulf Tower peregrines are learning to fly and the Pitt peregrines are walking off the nest. Are they in trouble when you can't see them? No, they're fine. Here's where they go.
Yesterday, May 31, Lori Maggio stopped by the Fledge Watch site and found all five peregrines at home on the Gulf Tower.
In the photo at top, the two parents are circled on the left, three youngsters circled at various levels on the right.
The closeup points out the three juveniles. The one at the top fledged to the observation deck level on Tuesday and is flapping in preparation for her next flight. She flew toward the USX Tower where Lori lost sight of her.
Last evening two chicks came back to the nest to spend the night but left today at dawn and might never return. This morning Lori reports that all three had fledged by 7:30am. Woo hoo!
Why don't peregrines come back to the nest forever? The nest is the babies' crib. When youngsters graduate to a bigger life, they don't want to come back to the crib. Human children are like that, too.
Cathedral of Learning:
One week younger than the Gulf Tower chicks, the youngsters at the Cathedral of Learning are just starting to ledge walk and disappear from camera view. Are they safe? Yes.
Yesterday afternoon one of them explored below the nest while the others watched (shown above). There's a lot of floor space below the nest with walls all around so there's no way a young bird can fall. As happens every year, the youngster gets bored and walks/jumps back up to the nest surface. Of course she does. That's where the food is!
In the days ahead the youngsters will also walk up to the nest rail and jump over to the keyhole. Here's a description of where they go, complete with ledge walking photos.