Archive for the 'Nesting & Courtship' Category

Mar 25 2016

Exciting Peregrine Courtship At Pitt

Hope perches at the front of the nest, pre-dawn, Fri 25 March 2016 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ.of Pittsburgh)

Hope perches at the nest, pre-dawn, Fri 25 March 2016 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ.of Pittsburgh)

What an exciting day we had yesterday, the first full day of a new male peregrine at Pitt!

Many of you watched the falconcam but all the action was in the air.  Of course!  Peregrines are famous for top speed flight so naturally they show off their talents in courtship.

Six (and more) of us watched from vantage points in Oakland throughout the day and kept each other up to date on the latest activity.  The male’s flight displays were breath taking.

A male peregrine’s first priority is to claim and secure the territory. The new guy made all the right moves: kiting above the Cathedral of Learning, racing across and around the “cliff” face, ostentatiously stooping on prey, and attacking other predators.  The local red-tailed hawks took the brunt of his ire. They may have to reconsider their nest location in a tree next to the Cathedral!

Hope and her new mate were conspicuous when they perched.  They even mated on the lightning rod, something I hadn’t seen since the days when Dorothy was a younger bird and E2 was new to the site.  It’s the ultimate signal that “This cliff is ours!”

The male rarely perched but when he landed above the nest, Hope bowed and ee-chupped.  Here’s where he is when she does that:

New male perched above the nest at the Cathedral of Learning, 25 March 2016 (photo by John English)

New male perched above the nest at the Cathedral of Learning, 25 March 2016 (photo by John English)

And … when you hear Hope shouting before dawn (above) she’s making a sound like the begging call.  Peregrine males must provide food for their mates during egg-laying, incubation and brooding. The first food delivery is usually at dawn.  By calling like this Hope is reminding him of his obligations.  She is one loud bird!

Read more here about the details of peregrine courtship in this article:  All The Right Moves.


Your Questions:  I love to answer your questions but I cannot respond to redundant ones.  Questions about Hope’s eggs are answered at this blog post and in the comments which follow it.  Please click the link and read the entries before posting a redundant question.

Hope’s loose feather:  The feather is not a problem. It will fall out eventually.  In the meantime we’ve found it useful for telling the difference between Hope and the male in flight.  (Hays bald eagle observers can tell you they use a similar feather trait to identify the eagles at Hays.)


(top photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh. photo of male by John English)

UPDATE: The male came to the nest this morning, March 25, and we captured photos of his bands: Black/Red N/29.  Art McMorris, PA Game Commission Peregrine Coordinator, is researching the bird’s origin.  He says it will take some time (maybe days) because the band is not in the databases. Art is making phone calls.  Please be patient!  (Remember, this is Easter weekend so the person who knows the answer may be on vacation.)

39 responses so far

Mar 24 2016

High Hopes!

Last night after sunset, viewers of the Cathedral of Learning falconcam heard a peregrine calling off camera and Hope began to “ee-chup” and bow at the nest.  This is courtship behavior! Hope has found a potential mate.

In the video excerpt above you’ll hear a peregrine wailing off camera as Hope bows and calls, asking him to join her at the nest.

The episode began at 7:53pm and lasted at least 6 minutes.

We don’t know if her potential mate spent the night on the Cathedral of Learning. If he isn’t yet comfortable with the building he may have roosted elsewhere. (Remember, the place is all new to him. He will be cautious at first.)

This morning Hope called very loudly from 6:47 to 6:51am, “Hey! Where are you?”  Then she left the nest.

Don’t worry if Hope is not at the nest much in the coming days.  Peregrine courtship requires many spectacular aerial displays.  That’s how the two birds get to know each other.

Watch and listen to the falconcam for more peregrine “conversations.”  We’ll know their courtship has reached a deeper level when we see both peregrines bowing at the nest.

We have high hopes that she’s found a mate.  🙂


p.s. Click here and scroll down to the Courtship section to learn more about peregrine courtship displays.

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh captured from archives)

p.s. Since I posted this article Hope and the new male have been seen mating three times! Woo hoo!

IF YOU ARE AT PITT, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GET CLOSE TO THESE BIRDS. Peregrines view humans as their enemies & will leave the area if they think we are too close. Hope & her mate are so new to Pitt that they may be frightened away by seeing you staring at a window.

54 responses so far

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

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

4 responses so far

Mar 21 2016

Questions About Eggs And Food

Hope at the nest, 20 March 2016 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope at the nest, 20 March 2016 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

(You may have seen a bit of this on Facebook. Here’s more information.)

Since E2’s death many of you worry that Hope’s eggs at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest will not survive.

Some of you have even asked that we intervene to rescue and incubate the eggs ourselves, or that we leave food for Hope so she doesn’t have to leave the eggs.

Here’s why intervention is unnecessary, why “feeding” her will not work, and why either one of those attempts will wreck your viewing of Hope’s activities.

Why intervention is unnecessary:

Peregrine falcons delay incubation of their eggs until the female has laid the next-to-last or last egg. If the eggs are not incubated, but are protected from freezing and overheating (in other words, covered by the adult when temperatures are low or high), the eggs can wait several weeks for delayed incubation to begin and can hatch successfully.  I do not know the longest amount of time they can delay, but it is long.

We’ve seen this happen in Pittsburgh.  In 2010 Tasha laid two eggs at the Gulf Tower in mid March but Dori displaced her and became Louie’s new mate.  Tasha’s eggs waited three weeks while Dori bonded with Louie and laid her own clutch of three.  In the end, all five eggs hatched in May.

If Hope is delaying incubation, these eggs can wait a very long time.

And if she is not delaying:  Within the breeding season, peregrines lay a replacement clutch when they find a new mate or if the first clutch fails early in the season.

The bottom line is, you don’t need to worry about eggs.


Why leaving food for Hope will not work:

At the end of the last century when peregrines were endangered throughout the U.S. and Canada, they were so rare that wildlife officials tried to offer supplemental food to widowed females. It doesn’t work. Peregrines are not scavengers (bald eagles are) and we humans are the peregrines’ #1 enemy. It doesn’t matter where you leave the food.  Wild peregrines refuse food left by humans.


Why intervention of any kind will wreck your viewing of Hope’s activities:

Hope is at a first class “cliff,” a very valuable territory, so a new mate will find her.  If we intervened in any way, Hope and her new mate would decide the area is unsafe (from humans!) and would leave the Cathedral of Learning forever.  Then there would be no peregrines on camera at all.  Intervention would wreck everything.


Wild peregrines’ lives are often very different than we assume. It is a privilege to watch and learn from them.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. It is against Federal law to take birds’ eggs.  In Pennsylvania, peregrine falcons are managed and protected by the PA Game Commission. They make the decisions on peregrines and their welfare based on peregrine falcon biology.


For more information about peregrine falcon biology and family life see my Peregrine FAQs.

Stay up to date on peregrine news by checking this link.

50 responses so far

Mar 14 2016

Mallards Make Ducklings

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are common ducks in the northern hemisphere so their courtship behavior is easy to observe.  Here are tips on what you’ll see in March as they prepare for nesting next month.

Did you know that mallards are already paired up by now?  They start forming pair bonds in September and most have a mate by the end of the year.  This leaves some unattached bachelors however because their sex ratio is usually skewed — 1.33 males for every female.

Now that they’re paired up they get down to the serious business of making baby mallards.  The video above shows several characteristic moves and sounds of a paired couple:

  • Head bobbing: a pre-copulatory action that gets them in tune with each other.
  • Inciting:  The female (all brown) incites the male by dipping her bill in the water over her shoulder.
  • Leading: He turns back his head, then swims away from her to lead her away from the crowd; she follows.
  • Vocalizations: He whistles. She quacks loudly (only the females make the loud quacking sound).

The excitement went out of the pair shown above, but the video below shows head bobbing and copulation. Notice that the male always grabs the female by the back of the neck as he mounts her.  After mating the pair bridles (rears up) and steams (swims with head low).  Sometimes the male turns back his head and leads again.

Mallards are monogamous but Cornell Lab’s Birds of North America says that “paired males actively pursue forced extra pair copulations” — a polite name for what looks like gang rape.  Knowing this, the paired males stay close to their females to protect them during the egg laying period.

After egg laying their match falls apart.  Male mallards desert their mates during incubation and won’t pair up again until autumn.  They can afford to do this because the females incubate alone and the ducklings are precocious.

So it’s only once a year that wild mallards make ducklings.


(videos from YouTube. Click on the YouTube links to see the originals)

One response so far

Mar 13 2016

First Egg at Pitt for 2016

Peregrine, nicknamed Hope, with her first egg of 2016 (snasphot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine, nicknamed Hope, with her first egg of 2016 (snasphot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope laid her first egg of the season at 9:32am today, 13 March 2016.

Congratulations, Hope and E2!

Watch the falconcam by clicking here or on the photo.


(screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning)

p.s. Here’s why she isn’t sitting on the eggs yet:

27 responses so far

Mar 09 2016

All The Right Moves

SW and Boomer in courtship flight, Cleveland, Ohio (photo by Chad + Chris Saladin)

SW and Boomer fly upside down in courtship flight, Cleveland, Ohio (photo by Chad + Chris Saladin)

Peregrine falcon courtship is underway in Pittsburgh but you’re missing a lot if you only see it on camera.

Peregrines have many courtship rituals that get them in tune for the breeding season.   Here’s what you’ll see at any one of Pittsburgh’s seven peregrine territories.  Click on the links below for additional descriptions and photos.

  1. Prominent perching:  Peregrines perch in prominent locations to show they own the place.  Established pairs perch near each other.
  2. Cooperative hunting: The pair goes out hunting together.  He kicks up a flock while she stoops on likely prey.
  3. Ledge Displays:  Peregrines display on the nest ledge over the scrape, at first alone then as a pair.  These are the only displays you’ll see on the falconcams.
  4. Courtship Flights:  Peregrines court in the air with speed and precision.  They even fly upside down (shown above).
  5. Food Transfers:  The male provides food for his mate.
  6. Copulation: Here’s how it’s done.


In our area the females lay eggs between mid March and early April, one egg every other day. Watch for the first egg at the Cathedral of Learning and Gulf Tower on the falconcams.

How will you know an egg is due soon?  The female will start to spend the night at the scrape a few days before her first egg.

In the meantime, our peregrines are making all the right moves.  Eggs coming soon.


(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

19 responses so far

Mar 04 2016

Getting In Tune

If you’ve been watching the Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning falconcams this month, you’ve seen the peregrines bowing and “chirping” to each other in courtship display.  Their rituals cement their pair bond and get them in tune with each other for the breeding season.

Some birds have fancier courtship displays.  Pairs of waved albatrosses (Phoebastria irrorata) get reacquainted after six months at sea by doing a courtship dance.

The video above shows their elaborate ritualized moves: bill clacking, rapid bill circling, bowing, touching the ground and their sides with their beaks, raising their bills, and making a whoo sound.  You have to visit the Galápagos to see them as it’s the only place where they breed.

The pairs do their dance in time for the female to lay her single egg in April to June.  Nestlings reach adult size in December and leave the colony by January to forage at sea until they reach maturity at 5-6 years old.

During El Niño there is too little food to raise a family so many birds don’t breed at all.  This year is a hard one for the waved albatross.

Sadly, this species is critically endangered.  The waved albatross’ range is confined to the Galápagos and the Humboldt current off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador.  Though long-lived, these birds are slow to reproduce and their population is declining, especially at the hands of longline fishing.

It’s quite a privilege to see them dance.


(video from Peregrine Travel Centre Adelaide on YouTube)

2 responses so far

Mar 02 2016

Setting Up Housekeeping at the Gulf Tower

Dori arrives to join Louie in courtship at the Gulf Tower nest (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori arrives to join Louie in courtship at the Gulf Tower nest (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower). Click on the photo for a bigger view.

Pittsburgh Peregrine Fans are pleased as punch that Dori and Louie have taken a new and intensive interest in the Gulf Tower nest.

For the past four years they’ve flipped from site to site instead of choosing the Gulf Tower that peregrines had used continuously since 1991.  In 2012 and 2013 they left Gulf for a nook at 322 Fourth Avenue. In 2014 they returned, but last year (2015) they left for Macy’s Annex.

In December the PA Game Commission’s peregrine coordinator, Art McMorris, refurbished the Gulf Tower nest in hopes it would entice the peregrines back to stay.  Since February 24 the signs have been very good:

  • Louie and Dori both visit the nest area:  The photo above shows them about to court on February 27.  Click on the image for a bigger view.
  • Louie calls for Dori to arrive:  Amazingly, he even calls to her at night. Click here to watch him calling her at 2:00am on February 29.
  • The pair courts at the scrape by bowing and “chirping” to each other.  Click here to see their courtship at archives.
  • Dori frequently perches near the nest or at the scrape. (The scrape is the actual nest site, a shallow depression where she’ll lay her eggs.)
  • Dori has dug two scrapes and continues to enlarge them.  See photos below.
Dori digs the scrape on the left (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori digs the scrape on the left (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori walks over to the other side ... (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori walks over to the other side … (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori digs the scrape on the right (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori digs the scrape on the right (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori is setting up housekeeping at the Gulf Tower so we’re hoping she’ll lay her eggs here this year.  The real confirmation will be her first egg, due to arrive in mid to late March.

You can watch what she’s up to on the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower.


(snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

7 responses so far

Feb 26 2016

Life’s A Stage


Here’s a light-hearted look at the serious business of courtship among the birds-of-paradise.

Happy Friday!


(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube)

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