Midday on Friday January 12, when it was unseasonably warm, Dave Brooke went down to the Tarentum Bridge and found a lot of ice flowing by on the Allegheny River. He also found a pair of peregrines standing on it.
Soon, one of them took off and flew near him on its way up the river.
At the bird's closest approach it revealed its bands -- black/green 48/BR. They indicate he/she hatched at the Westinghouse Bridge in 2014, offspring of Hecla (Ironton-Russelton Bridge, 2009) and an unidentified male. Click here for Banding Day photos. 48/BR is the one in the back.
Congratulations to Dave Brooke for capturing beautiful photos of these peregrines and for identifying one of them at the Tarentum Bridge!
UPDATE ON 15 JANUARY 2018! News from Art McMorris indicates that band 48/BR is typically a female band but the sex of the bird was hard to determine at the time so Art used a female band just in case. 48/BR might be male. We'll just have to wait and see.
p.s. In case you're wondering if Hope, the female peregrine at Pitt, will visit her old haunts in Tarentum, she's probably too busy. While Dave was photographing the new pair at the bridge, Hope and Terzo were courting at the Cathedral of Learning.
Before peregrine nesting begins a few of us visit the Pitt and Gulf Tower nests to conduct routine maintenance. Sometimes we have a lot to do -- add gravel, clean the nestbox, fix the cameras -- but this year the only thing needed was a cleanup of the weatherproof covers on the National Aviary's falconcams.
Last week when Bob Mulvihill and I visited the Gulf Tower camera we didn't see any peregrines. Yesterday at Pitt we saw two!
It was 16 degrees when we ventured out on the ledge. Phil Hieber took photos, Bob cleaned the cameras, and I brought my hiking stick to hold high as a substitute target for peregrine attacks (instead of attacking our heads).
We were surprised to see that Hope, the female peregrine, was waiting for us. How did she know we were coming?
As Bob got closer, Hope flew off, then silently strafed back and forth as you can see on the video.
Soon Terzo joined her. He was silent, too.
In less than 3 minutes Bob was finished and we went back indoors.
Hope and Terzo are staying close to home this month. They're getting ready for nesting season, too.
p.s. This morning it's 2 degrees F and windy so the wind chill makes it feel like -16. Good thing we were out there yesterday.
(photos & video shot by Phil Hieber on Bob Mulvihill's mobile)
Yesterday afternoon Jason Bratkovich took time out of his day to help an injured raptor on Pitt's campus.
Around 3pm he found this bird, gravely injured but still breathing, near the Bellefield Avenue sidewalk at Heinz Chapel.
What kind of bird is it? Everyone knows that peregrine falcons live on campus and this certainly resembles a falcon so Jason asked for help for a downed falcon on the PittPeregrines Facebook page (Peter Bell) and he called Pitt Police. Good job!
Pitt Police know what to do for downed peregrines. They guarded the bird and called Animal Control to come pick it up for medical attention.
Word spread across campus that a peregrine was down. Phil Hieber of Facilities Management (long time peregrine partner) called to let me know. I wasn't nearby so I called others on campus to check it out. Meanwhile, John Butchko was on the scene and texted a photo to Pittsburgh Falconuts admin Kim Getz. Kim texted me with the photo and the bird's identity.
The photo is excellent! The raptor is an immature red-tailed hawk. My guess is that it flew low over Bellefield Avenue and was hit by a car. Animal Control picked it up shortly after John texted the photo.
Whew! Sad as this bird's situation is, we were all relieved to find out it's not a peregrine.
Thanks to Jason Bratkovich, Pitt Police, Phil Hieber, John Butchko, Kim Getz, Peter Bell, and everyone at the University of Pittsburgh who keeps an eye out for the peregrines.
What to do if you find a downed raptor on Pitt's campus:
#1. Take a picture. A photo of the downed bird is the quickest way to assess the situation and identify the raptor before help arrives.
#2. Call Pitt Police: 412-624-2121
#3. Post the photo of the bird and describe the situation at PittPeregrines Facebook page and /or
Post a comment anywhere on my blog with the situation + your cell number. I will call you back so that you can text me the photo. (NOTE: I will not "approve" the comment so your phone number will be seen only by me.)
Do you need tips on telling the difference between a hawk and a falcon? Click on the photo below for a helpful article: Falcon or Hawk?
(photo of downed red-tailed hawk by Jason Bratkovich)
This is the last thing a pigeon wants to see ... and sometimes it is.
On Monday I went down the Ohio River to find birds at Rochester Riverfront Park. It was a disappointing trip for the most part with only the usual suspects -- Canada geese, mallards and ring-billed gulls -- until I looked at the big black railroad bridge that spans the Ohio River from Monaca to Beaver. (Click on the photo below for a larger view of the bridge.)
There was a peregrine falcon at the top of the central tower ... here.
As I watched, the peregrine flew off the tower flapping hard downriver. She'd seen a second peregrine in the distance chasing a pigeon toward the bridge, and the pigeon was escaping. She flew off to help her mate.
The peregrines corralled the pigeon in the air so it dove straight down to the water but one of them dove faster and hit it hard. Dead or stunned, the prey fell in the water and started to float away.
I thought they'd lost their meal. The peregines circled above the floating prey ... and then the female flew low over river, skimmed the water with her talons, and picked it up.
Ta dah! She flew back to the bridge to pluck and eat. Here's a very poor photo of her back while she was eating.
I'd never seen a peregrine grab prey out of the water. It made my day.
And no, I didn't take that in-flight photo at the top of this article. That's Chad+Chris Saladin's photo of "Keystone" hunting pigeons near a bridge at Heritage Park in Cleveland, Ohio.
p.s. The peregrine pair nests at this bridge but their young are never banded because the site is inaccessible. Where might they be nesting? Look at the holes in the tower below the perch. My guess is they nest in there. Both towers have holes with whitewash below them.
My wife [Becky Shott] is an Allegheny County Police officer at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Yesterday [Oct 9, 2017], she saw an adult Peregrine Falcon on the public arrivals area sitting on a wall between the Landside Terminal and the parking garage. Using her cell phone, she got a video and several still pictures of the bird. She was not able to get close enough to see if there were any leg bands. She also said she has seen possibly the same bird for the past six months. It has made repeated passes around the area possibly trying to grab one of the numerous pigeons that roost in the steel beams. However, she has not seen any evidence of a nest. -- Ed Shott
When Becky sent her photos and video she wrote:
I was pretty close to this bird & could not see any bands. I have been seeing a peregrine (maybe more than one) around here for at least 6 months. Sometimes I see it chasing pigeons around the Landside terminal. Always a beautiful sight.
Indeed this is a gorgeous bird. Here are more views of it on October 9, 2017. And no, I don't see any bands either, even when I zoomed in.
Wow! This bird doesn't seem to care that people are nearby as long as they don't disturb it.
Many times at the airport I've thought about the large number of pigeons and starlings at the parking lots and garage, especially the huge flocks in winter. But it never occurred to me that a peregrine would show up to eat them.
Thanks to the Shotts for alerting me to this peregrine.
If you're waiting to be picked up at the airport, watch across the driveway for a peregrine falcon. You never know what you'll see.
Now's a good time to brush up on identifying peregrine falcons since they pass by hawk watches in October, especially on the coast. When you identify a peregrine you can also tell how old it is because the plumage is different in each age group: adult, juvenile, and sub-adult.
Plumage provides an exact age for two groups in October: Juveniles are first year birds, 6 months old, that hatched last spring. Sub-adults are second year birds, 18 months old, with nearly complete adult plumage.
Adults -- two or more years old -- all have the same plumage. Unfortunately you can't know an adult's exact age unless the bird is banded and you find out its provenance.
Here's what they look like:
Adult peregrines (2+ years old in October) have fresh plumage in charcoal gray and white. The photo at top shows an adult male in flight. The photo below is an adult female. Adults have:
Solid dark charcoal helmet (head)
Dark charcoal malar stripes (on face)
Clean white or slightly rosy chest and throat
Horizontal charcoal+white stripes on belly and flanks
Gray back: Male's is pale blue-gray. Female's is "muddy" gray.
Juvenile peregrines (6 months old in October) are the same size as adults but their colors are brown+cream. Juveniles have:
Variable brown helmet with some cream-colored traces (head)
Brown malar stripes (on face)
Cream colored chest that's striped all the way up to the throat
Vertical brown+cream stripes on belly and flanks
(Bonus!) Juveniles have cream-colored tips on their tails, visible as the sun shines through them in flight.
Above, a juvenile in flight. Below a juvenile shows off the vertical stripes on his chest and belly. His variable brown helmet with "eyes on the back of his head" and horizontal cream-colored line at his crown.
Sub-adults are 18 months old with nearly complete adult plumage except for a few juvenile feathers. They began to molt into adult plumage last spring at 10-12 months old. By October their few juvenile feathers are hard to see without a photograph. They are ready to breed next spring.
Below, an 18-month-old peregrine named Spirit is in rehab at Medina Raptor Center in the autumn of 2014. You can see her back is mostly gray with just a few brown feathers. Her head shows faint traces of the juvenile cream colors.
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: