Archive for the 'Peregrines' Category

Jan 16 2017

A Year of Drama: Pitt Peregrine Highlights 2016

Published by under Peregrines

Terzo looks; 2nd chick is gone (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo looks; 2nd chick is gone (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

When the female peregrine Hope moved from Tarentum to the Cathedral of Learning, I thought 2016 would be calm and joyful.  Instead it was filled with drama.

Here’s a recap of last year’s Pitt peregrine activity, complete with a slideshow of 2016 highlights.

To see a slideshow of highlights from 2016, the year of drama, click here or on the photo above.

 

(snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning)

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Jan 10 2017

How Museums Saved The Peregrine Falcon

Two specimens, Peregrine Falcon egg clutches, anatum subspecies, Carnegie Museum (photo by Steve Rogers)

Two specimens of peregrine falcon egg clutches at Carnegie Museum, collected at Baja California in 1921 (photo by Steve Rogers)

What good is a museum collection of bird eggs?  In the case of peregrine falcons, egg collections helped save the species.

After World War II new organochlorine insecticides were introduced on the open market and widely used in agriculture. Some of them, such as seed dressings of dieldrin, aldrin and heptachlor, instantly killed birds as they fed in the fields.  DDT was more insidious.

By the mid 1960s, seed dressings were already banned in Britain but the peregrine population was still crashing and Derek Ratcliffe wondered if something else was going on.  Since 1951 he and other peregrine monitors had seen many broken eggs in eyries and frequent nest failure.  Ratcliffe wondered if peregrine eggs were collapsing because the eggshells were thin.  He decided to find out.

Egg collections are empty shells (notice the tiny drill hole in each specimen above).  You must not break them to measure the shell’s thickness.  However the weight of the shell correlates to thickness if you account for the size of the egg.  Ratcliffe weighed each egg and measured its length and width.  Then he used this formula to determine its thickness index.

Shell thickness index = Weight of eggshell (mg) / [Length (mm) * Breadth (mm)]

For his preliminary study, Ratcliffe measured egg specimens in the British Museum of Natural History and 30 eggs collected in more recent peregrine surveys.  Indeed the shells had thinned since World War II, prompting further research.

Ratcliffe’s final study, published in 1967, showed that the turning point in Britain was in 1947.  Prior to that shell thickness averaged a steady 1.82 for over 125 years.  After 1947 the thickness dropped to 1.53, an average loss of 16%.  (Later studies showed trace amounts of DDE in the shells.)

Meanwhile, Hickey and Anderson at the University of Wisconsin wondered if eggshells were thinning in North America, too.  Their 1968 study measured eggshells of 13 raptors and 9 fish-eating birds and found that, yes, peregrine falcons were affected by DDT in the U.S.

Peregrine populations were crashing on two continents because of overwhelming nest failure in the face of DDT.  Political and legislative wheels turned slowly.  DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972. Then the peregrine falcon recovery began.  By 1999 peregrines were doing so well in the western U.S. that they were taken off the U.S. Endangered Species List.

Museum egg collections played a key role in this happy result.  It’s not a stretch to say that museums helped save the peregrine falcon.

 

(photo by Steve Rogers from the Section of Birds at Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

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Jan 07 2017

7 Peregrines, 7 Merlins

Peregrine on porch railing at Lawrence Hall, 30 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine on porch railing at Lawrence Hall, 30 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Seven was the magic number for two iconic falcons during Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count last weekend.

During Count Week, which includes the three days before and after Count Day (31 Dec 2016), observers saw seven peregrine falcons and seven merlins within the circle.

Two of the seven peregrines were elusive on Count Day but visible during Count Week.

  • 2 at the Cathedral of Learning on 30 December, (We saw one on Count Day.)
  • 1 Downtown at Lawrence Hall on 2 January 2017, perched as shown in Lori Maggio’s photo above,
  • 1 in Kilbuck Township on Count Day December 31,
  • 1 in Oakmont area on Count Day,
  • 2 in Shaler Township on Count Day.
Merlin (photo by Chuck Tague)

Merlin (photo by Chuck Tague)

All seven merlins were seen on Count Day, December 31:

  • 1 in the Oakmont area
  • 3 in Penn Hills
  • 3 in the City of Pittsburgh: 2 at Schenley Park and 1 along the Ohio River within the city limits.

So if you’re looking for falcons this winter, visit Pittsburgh’s 7-mile-radius count circle shown below.

Map of Pittsburgh's Christmas Bird Count circle, PAPI (screenshot from Audubon Society Christmas Count map)

Map of Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count circle, PAPI (screenshot from Audubon Society Christmas Count map)

Seven is the magic number.

 

(photo of Downtown peregrine by Lori Maggio, photo of merlin by Chuck Tague. Screenshot of Pittsburgh Count Circle map from Audubon CBC website; click on the image to see the original)

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Dec 08 2016

Improved Digs at the Pitt Nestbox

Published by under Peregrines

Bob Mulvihill secures the turf on the upper perch (photo courtesy Bob Mulvihill, National Aviary)

Bob Mulvihill secures the turf on the upper perch (photo courtesy Bob Mulvihill, National Aviary)

Yesterday morning I joined Bob Mulvihill (National Aviary), Jason Martin (M&P Security Solutions) and Phil Hieber (University of Pittsburgh Facilities Management) at the Pitt peregrine nest box for annual maintenance of the nest and cams.  We planned to cover the slippery plastic-pipe front perch, assess the gravel’s condition, and clean the webcams.

The top perch turf was loose so Bob reattached it with zip ties, above.  Then he began to wrap the lower perch with thick sisal rope that’s used at the Aviary for birds of prey.

Bob wraps rope around the front perch for a good talon-feel (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Bob wraps rope around the front perch (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Meanwhile I took measurements.

Kate measures the box while Bob unwraps the rope on the front perch (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Kate measures the box while Bob unwraps the rope on the front perch (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Unfortunately the pipe circumference is 5.5 inches and the rope was too short.  (We wish we’d had those measurements ahead of time!)  Bob zip-tied the old plastic turf back in place and drilled new holes under the gravel to improve drainage.

Bob reattaches the lower perch turf (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Bob reattaches the lower perch turf (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

The resident female peregrine, Hope, zoomed by several times so Jason held up the broom to protect our heads. Thankfully she never came close.

Jason holds the broom for head-protection (photo courtesy Bob Mulvihill, National Aviary)

Jason holds the broom for head-protection (photo courtesy Bob Mulvihill, National Aviary)

 

Then Jason examined the cameras and cleaned the domes …

Jason cleans the webcam's protective dome (photo courtesy Bob Mulvihill, National Aviary)

Jason cleans the webcam’s protective dome (photo courtesy Bob Mulvihill, National Aviary)

… and added more pea gravel to the nest surface.  (Thank you, Phil.)

Jaons adds pea gravel to the Pitt peregrine nestbox (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Jaons adds pea gravel to the Pitt peregrine nestbox (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

We were all done by 11:10am.

Two and a half hours later Hope stopped by to check out the new digs.

Hope visits the refurbished nest box at the Cathedral of Learning (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope visits the refurbished nest box at the Cathedral of Learning (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

Thank you, Bob, Jason, and Phil, for all your help.

It’s looking good!

 

(photos by Bob Mulvihill and the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh)

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Nov 28 2016

Fifteen Mile Commute

Published by under Peregrines

Hope at Tarentum Bridge, Tuesday morning, 11/22/16 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Hope at Tarentum Bridge, 11/22/2016 around 10am, (photo by Steve Gosser)

On Tuesday morning, November 22, a beautiful female peregrine perched close to Tony Bruno and Steve Gosser at the Tarentum Bridge. Her close approach reminded Steve of the peregrine Hope who used to live at the bridge before moving to the Cathedral of Learning.

Steve was able to photograph her bands, black/green, 69/Z, and yes indeed she was Hope.

Hope's color band, morning of 11/22/16 at Tarentum Bridge (photo by Steve Gosser)

Hope’s color band at Tarentum Bridge, around 10:30am, 11/22/16 (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Did she stay at the bridge?  No.

Steve saw her at Tarentum until he left at 11:00am.  Then at 12:12pm the falconcam caught Hope courting with Terzo at the Cathedral of Learning.

Hope and Terzo bow at the Pitt nest, 11/22/2016, 12:12pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope and Terzo bow at the Pitt nest, 11/22/2016, 12:12pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

She’s recognizable on the falconcam by her distinctive “muddy” gray face and her green right-leg band.  (It’s even greener-looking in subsequent photos.)

Hope at the Pitt nest, 11/22/2016, 12:15pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope at the Pitt nest, 11/22/2016, 12:15pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Below, her left leg band shows black/green as she leaves the nest.

Hope leaves the nest area showing her black/green color band, 11/22/2016, 12:15pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope leaves the nest area showing her black/green color band, 11/22/2016, 12:15pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

So … Hope is using both her old and new territories this fall.

It’s only a 15 mile commute … as the peregrine flies.

 

p.s. If you search the WildEarth archives for this footage, you’ll find it on 11/22/2016 at 13:12.  WildEarth’s archive clock remains on Eastern Daylight Time so it doesn’t have to be reset for the nesting season.

(photos at Tarentum Bridge by Steve Gosser. photos at Cathedral of Learning nest from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

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Nov 14 2016

Shuffle At The Pitt Nest

Published by under Peregrines

Unidentified female peregrine courting with Terzo at Cathedral of Learning, 11 Nov 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Unidentified female peregrine with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Last weekend there was a shuffle at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest.  A new female came to visit.

On Friday afternoon Carol D. noticed something unusual and sent me this comment:

[11/11/2016]  I was watching the Pitt falcon cam this afternoon and Terzo was at the nest. At about 1:00 you could see the shadow of another falcon land on the ledge out of sight of the camera. After a short time, it came into the nest and didn’t act like Hope. I couldn’t see the legs very well, but it didn’t look like it was banded. I took a screenshot of it and compared it to one (of the many) that I have of Hope and it wasn’t her. She has a white chest area with few brown dots and comparing this screenshot with hers, the one that was there with Terzo had more of a cream colored chest with a lot of brown spots. I was just wondering if you or anyone else noticed this.

No one else reported it but thanks to Carol’s tip we knew where to look. I pulled the motion detection snapshots while Pittsburgh Falconuts friends made a video bookmark here: Terzo and friend at scrape.

Who was this female visitor?  Here’s what we know.

Her face has a faint peachy color.  (Notice the area between her nape and malar stripe in the next two photos.)

Unidentified female peregrine with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Unidentified female peregrine with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016

Unidentified female peregrine with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Unidentified female peregrine has peachy-colored face. With Terzo, 11 Nov 2016

She appears to be unbanded.  You can see one bare leg while she’s perched below, and both bare legs in the next snapshot.

Unbanded female peregrine with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Female peregrine with spotted breast and unbanded leg(s). With Terzo in background, 11 Nov 2016

Unbanded female peregrine with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Female’s legs appear to be unbanded.  With Terzo, 11 Nov 2016

And just as Carol said, her chest plumage is peachy-colored with many dots.

Unidentified female with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Unidentified female with Terzo, 11 Nov 2016

Even though she’s unbanded her appearance is so unique we’ll be able to recognize her if she returns.

And, yes, she is gone.  The shuffle was temporary.  24 hours later Hope was back at the nest.

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

 

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Nov 13 2016

Mystery At Tarentum

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine falcon 4-/BR at Tarentum Bridge, 6 Nov 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Peregrine falcon 4-/BR at Tarentum Bridge, 6 Nov 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Last Sunday, 6 November 2016, Tony Bruno photographed a peregrine falcon that’s been hanging out at the Tarentum Bridge.  His photo is beautiful and tantalizing. You can almost read her bands.

Even at high resolution all we can see is black/green, 4??/BR.  There’s a digit after the 4 but the bird’s feathers cover most of the number.

The black/green 40-series/BR means she’s a female from Pennsylvania but without the last digit we don’t know who she is.  Art McMorris, the PA Game Commission’s Peregrine Coordinator, examined the photo closely and wrote:

I agree that the bottom combination is BR, which means that it’s one of my bands. And the first digit on top is clearly a 4. However, I’m not so sure about the second digit. I see what you mean about it maybe being a 4, but I think that 2 is also possible, and even more likely, but I can’t be sure. I’m comparing your photo with bands that I have, and looking at the shapes of the digits.

What I can say is that the bird is a female, from Pennsylvania, banded in either 2014 or 2015. As Kate mentioned, 44/BR is from the Glenfield [Neville Island] I-79 Ohio River Bridge in 2015.  42/BR is from the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, also in 2015.

So now we wait for more sightings of this peregrine and another great photograph to learn her identity.

What we do know is this:  She’s not Hope, 69/Z, who sometimes returns to Tarentum for a visit.  Hope “owned” the Tarentum Bridge for six years before she moved to the Cathedral of Learning 12 months ago.

 

(photo by Anthony Bruno)

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Oct 14 2016

Why Do Peregrines Like Bridges?

Hope (69/Z) at the Tarentum Bridge, July 2012 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Hope (69/Z) at the Tarentum Bridge, July 2012 (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Out in the wilderness, peregrine falcons nest on sheer cliffs.  Pittsburgh doesn’t have those cliffs but we do have nesting peregrines at two sites on buildings and five on bridges.

It’s easy to see that a tall building resembles a cliff …

Cathedral of Learning (photo by Kate St. John)

… but bridges are open structures without sheer walls.
Tarentum Bridge nestbox project, The Bucket Truck, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Why do peregrines like bridges?

I found the answer in a blog post from The Center for Conservation Biology.  CCB monitors peregrines in Virginia where many falcons prefer bridges at the coast.

As you read the article linked below, watch for a photo of the Benjamin Harrison Lift Bridge where Hope (black/green, 69/Z) pictured above, was banded. She has nested at both kinds of sites in Pittsburgh:  six years at the Tarentum Bridge and now at a building, the Cathedral of Learning.

 

Peregrines and Bridges

 

p.s. The article explains that peregrine nestlings from the Lift Bridge are hacked in the Shenandoah Mountains. Hope was one of those birds.

(photo credits:
Hope at Tarentum by
Steve Gosser
Cathedral of Learning and Tarentum Bridge by Kate St. John
peregrine on nest by Bryan Watts linked from CCB blog
)

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Oct 04 2016

The Downtown Peregrines’ Favorite Places

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine at 3rd Ave nest site, 30 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine at 3rd Ave nest site, 30 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Where do Downtown Pittsburgh’s peregrines spend their time?  Lori Maggio found out.

Lori walks to work on Smithfield Street and has a good view of Downtown Pittsburgh along her way.  From July 14 through September 30, usually at 7:15am, she recorded the peregrines’ locations whenever she found them.   This came to 27 days of observations since Lori didn’t walk every day and the peregrines weren’t always visible.

55% of the time Lori found a peregrine perched on the Lawrence Hall gargoyle at the Boulevard of the Allies facing Smithfield Street, below.  This is a very reliable place to find a peregrine falcon if you’re early Downtown.

Peregrine perched at Lawrence Hall gargoyle, Blvd of the Allies facing Smithfield St, 27 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine perched at Lawrence Hall gargoyle, Blvd of the Allies facing Smithfield St, 27 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Most of her other sightings were in the six-block area bounded by Forbes Avenue, Grant Street, the Boulevard of the Allies, and Wood Street.  Lori saw a peregrine at the Third Avenue nest site four times and heard the pair e-chupping once.   By the way, the Third Avenue nest site is inside that six-block zone.

Here are photos from some of Lori’s recent sightings, September 26-30, 2016.

The roof edge of the Huntington Bank Building:

Downtown peregrine at Huntington Bldg, 28 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Downtown peregrine at Huntington Bldg, 28 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

A window ledge at Huntington Bank:

Downtown peregrine at Huntington Bldg windowsill, 26 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Downtown peregrine at Huntington Bldg windowsill, 26 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

A porch railing at Lawrence Hall:

Peregrine on porch railing at Lawrence Hall, 30 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine on porch railing at Lawrence Hall, 30 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

And on September 28 when Lori saw a peregrine on the Gulf Tower falconcam, she walked over to take its picture:

Peregrine at the Gulf Tower nest zone, 28 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine at the Gulf Tower nest zone, 28 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine at the Gulf Tower nest zone, 28 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine at the Gulf Tower nest zone, 28 Sep 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Great work, Lori!  Now we know where to look for these elusive birds.

 

(photos by Lori Maggio)

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Aug 29 2016

Peripatetic

Hope (69/Z) preens at the Tarentum Bridge, 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Hope (69/Z) preens at the Tarentum Bridge, 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Peripatetic: adjective [1] traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods. (definition from Google search)

Hope (69/Z, black/green) is a peripatetic peregrine falcon.  For five years she called the Tarentum Bridge her home until last spring when she nested at the Cathedral of Learning.

In my experience, peregrines stay put when they’ve claimed a prime territory but Hope does not.  On Friday she flew 15 miles back to Tarentum and set up shop for several days.

She’s so comfortable at Tarentum that, unlike her habits at Pitt, she perches in easy view.

Last weekend Tony Bruno and Steve Gosser stopped by for some great photographs. Above, Tony got a photo of Hope’s bands while she was preening.  Look how close she is!

Below, Steve caught the action when a curious mourning dove came close while Hope was eating. The dove escaped.

Peregrine falcon, Hope, confronts a mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcon, Hope, confronts a mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcon Hope stirs up a watchful mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcon Hope stirs up a watchful mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

...and the mourning dove escapes at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

…and the mourning dove escapes at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Apparently three days were long enough at Tarentum because Hope flew back to the Cathedral of Learning yesterday afternoon.  She appeared on the falconcam at 3:30pm, dug a little at the scrape and then perched and preened.

You can see her band colors below.  Her greenish right-leg band and black/green left-leg band are a diagnostic combination.

Hope reappears at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope reappears at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

And here’s her familiar face.

Hope at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:34pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:34pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

She probably was at the Cathedral of Learning during last night’s terrific thunderstorm, but who knows.

Hope doesn’t perch in sight at Pitt so I’m never sure if this peripatetic bird is actually there.

 

(photos by Anthony Bruno, Steve Gosser and the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

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