After Pittsburgh's Downtown peregrines visited the Gulf Tower a week ago, Lori Maggio says they've been hanging out at the Third Avenue nest site.
Lori walks to work across the Smithfield Street Bridge and can see into the nest from a distance. Her zoom camera shows what it looks like. There's a peregrine in there!
On Saturday afternoon, February 10, I stopped by for a look and found both peregrines at home. One was at the nest ledge (closeup above is from Lori in 2016). The other was on a Lawrence Hall gargoyle. I took two lousy cellphone photos and marked them up.
If my camera was better, here's what the gargoyle peregrine would have looked like (closeup from Lori in 2016).
The peregrines' recent interest in the Third Avenue site might not mean they'll nest there. Last year they hung out at Third Avenue right up to the day before Dori's first egg but she laid it at the Gulf Tower. We won't know which nest site she's chosen until mid to late March.
There's something in the Gulf Tower's favor: The building below the Third Avenue nest site is under renovation, as shown in my nest-ledge photo. Dori won't want to use the Third Avenue site if workmen are visibly active there.
(photos by Lori Maggio and Kate St. John; see photo credits in the captions)
Peregrine fans were happy to see the Downtown pair at the Gulf Tower last weekend.
On Saturday Louie watched from the pillar at dusk. On Sunday they bowed together in the afternoon and Dori stopped by at sunset.
Here are two slideshows showing their activity, one from each day.
Louie visits on Saturday, 3 February 2018, 5:20 to 5:35pm:
... and they both visit on Sunday, 4 February 2018, 1:44 to 1:54pm:
Louie waits for Dori to arrive
Louie bows (Dori is hidden behind the pillar)
Dori preens at the nest
... and she tries out the left-hand scrape
Dori watches from the pillar
This weekend Dori and Louie provided a convenient way to tell who's who when they perch on the pillar. Here's a comparison photo with tips below. The obelisk on the horizon above their heads is the Cathedral of Learning. It's a very useful landmark.
Who's who on the Gulf Tower pillar:
When Louie's on the pillar, he's small enough that you can see some of Oakland between the base of the Cathedral of Learning and the top of his head.
When Dori's on the pillar, she wears the Cathedral of Learning like a hat. There's very little space between her head and the base of the building.
If you read my article about the Tarentum Peregrines On Ice last Sunday, you learned that Dave Brooke's photos from Friday January 12 identified one of them as black/green 48/BR, banded at the Westinghouse Bridge in 2014. That band size would typically mean it's a female peregrine but we learned this week that the bird is male. It was a group effort.
On Monday Art McMorris, PGC's Peregrine Coordinator, emailed us with news that, though the band is size 7A (for females), 48/BR was banded as "sex uncertain."
"The bird's weight was 660 g. and the measurements on its rectrices indicated an age of 23 days. That would indicate male, but the tarsus (leg) was snug in the size 6 (male) leg gauge, so that would indicate female. ... To be safe, size 7A bands were used."
Dave Brooke sent a few more photos including this super-zoomed version showing both of 48/BR's bands.
I looked at this photo and thought, "Hmmm." This bird has a white forehead above its beak which, in my limited experience, is a male trait. And it's choosing to nest a very short distance from where it hatched. Definitely a male trait. So I looked harder at all the other photos.
Males are 1/3 smaller than females. With both birds on the ice I could see that the bird on the left is smaller. Smaller = male.
Which bird flew?
I compared the icy surroundings of the larger right-hand bird in photo#1 to the surroundings of the stationary bird in photo#2. This two-picture slideshow shows her surroundings don't change. The larger bird (female) stayed on the ice
After he flew the bird remaining on ice looked like this. She's large and bulky, a female trait.
Did the flying bird come past Dave and show 48/BR on its leg? Dave said yes. So 48/BR is the smaller bird = male. But size is tricky. This still wasn't enough evidence for me.
Yesterday Rob Protz emailed us with some history from the Tarentum Bridge: A banded juvenile-plumage male showed up in spring of 2015.
"The banded juvenile plumage male which showed up in Tarentum was first photographed by Steve Gosser on May 9, 2015, so the timing fits as a 2014 fledgling would still be in juvie plumage in spring of it's second year. No juv plumage falcons have been seen (positively) since late summer of 2015."
And then I looked at the fourth photo that Dave sent: a peregrine with lots of dots on its breast, perched on the bridge.
This bird is clearly not 48/BR because he has a clear breast. This is his mate.
Last spring Steve Gosser photographed a pair mating at the Tarentum Bridge (below, cropped close). Notice that the male (in flight) is banded. The female is unbanded with a dotted breast!
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 is male. See January 17's article: Tarentum Peregrine 48/BR is Male
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.