Archive for the 'Peregrines' Category

Jun 15 2015

Peregrine Watching at Pitt and Westinghouse

Published by under Peregrines

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

Pitt Peregrines:

Because his development is delayed, we can’t predict when the Cathedral of Learning peregrine chick will fledge but we can always get together to watch his parents and talk about peregrines.

Beginning June 19 I’ll be at the Schenley Plaza tent (most days) during lunch hour to watch peregrines in my favorite setting.  Check the Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch calendar for meeting times.   It’ll be a Peregrine Fan Reunion.


PGC & PennDOT look for the peregrines' nest at the Westinghouse Bridge, 20 May 2014 (photo by John English)

PGC & PennDOT at the peregrines’ nest at Westinghouse Bridge, 20 May 2014 (photo by John English)

Westinghouse Bridge Peregrine Banding:

The PA Game Commission will band the two peregrine nestlings at the Westinghouse Bridge on Monday June 22 at 9:00am.  PennDOT and the banding team will use a bucket truck to access the nest.  The nest is under the bridge deck.  Norfolk Southern Railroad prohibits access under the Westinghouse Bridge.  Click here for a map showing a sidewalk viewing location on the nearby East-Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard Bridge.


(Schenley Plaza tent photo by Kate St.John; Westinghouse Bridge 2014 banding photo by John English)

7 responses so far

Jun 15 2015

Hard To Keep Track Of

Published by under Peregrines

Fledgling #2 on the rescue porch, 14 June 2015 (photo by Terry Wiezorek)

Fledgling #2 on the rescue porch, 14 June 2015 (photo by Terry Wiezorek)

Fledgling birds are hard to keep track of.  Hard on their parents.  Really hard for humans!  Yesterday’s Peregrine Fledge Watch in Downtown Pittsburgh was a case in point.

By Saturday evening Fledgling#2 had flown for the first time and ended his day on the Union Trust Building.  Sunday morning he was still there when Doug Cunzolo arrived.  Soon the bird flew to the Courthouse ledge, then an hour later to Union Trust on Grant Street.  So far so good.

The bird’s parents had their hands full babysitting #3 at the nest and persuading #1 to fly high.  They were busy.  We watched #2.

Peregrine falcon watching young learning to fly, Downtown Pittsburgh, 14 June 2015 (photo by Terry Wiezorek)

Adult peregrine watches youngsters learning to fly, Downtown Pittsburgh 14 June 2015 (photo by Terry Wiezorek)

Just before noon it started to rain so we stopped watching on Grant Street and sheltered under the scaffolding around the corner.  We thought #2 wouldn’t fly in the rain.  Hah!

When the rain was over he was gone.  All five of us searched the ground, buildings and plazas along Grant Street and Fifth.  We knew he wouldn’t be hit by a car because traffic was at a standstill, detoured for the Pride Parade.

Fledge Watch continued, we left, others arrived.  Then at 2:30pm Terry Wiezorek was watching on Fifth Avenue when PGC Officer Kline walked up with a cage and said, “Are you looking for this?”

Fledgling #2 at the Security Desk, awaiting delivery to the rescue porch (photo by Terry Wiezorek)

Fledgling #2 on his way to the rescue porch (photo by Terry Wiezorek)

#2 had been on the ground at BNY Mellon.  Who knew!

By 4:00pm Terry knew #2 was on the rescue porch and #3 was at the nest.  She could hear a fledgling, perhaps #1, calling for food.  She watched Dori and Louie for clues.  Where is #1?

Hard to keep track of!


(photos by Terry Wiezorek)

p.s.  After last night’s heavy rain (2.25 inches!) the birds probably won’t fly for a while and may be even harder to find.  More news later.

p.p.s. 9:15am all 3 accounted for: 2 on UTB, one at nest.

UPDATE, June 16, 9:40am: #1 on BNY Mellon ledge on 5th Ave at 6th across from ivy-covered old jail wall (a different building than Main), #2 on dormer at roof line of Union Trust, #3 sleeping in nest, Dori on Courthouse knob, Louie off hunting.

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Jun 14 2015

Quick Peregrine Update

Published by under Peregrines

Louie during Downtown Fledge Watch, 13 June 2015 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Louie (adult male) perched at the Frick Building, 13 June 2015 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Downtown:  Status as of June 14, 7:00 a.m.

If you come Downtown, the best location for observing the nest ledge is at the Union Trust Building sidewalk on Fifth Ave. The ledge is the top balcony of Macy’s Annex on Scrip Way.  When there’s a fledgling on the “rescue ledge” it can be seen from Mellon Square.

We think Fledgling#1 left the “rescue ledge” yesterday morning.  We don’t know where he landed but his parents do and that’s all that matters.

As of 8:00pm, Robin reported that Fledgling#2 landed on the 4th floor ledge of the Union Trust Building.  He flew up to it from the ledge above the Frick Building entrance.  Up is good.  4th floor is good.  This morning Doug Cunzolo saw him fly to the Courthouse.  The bird is making progress.

As of 7:00am today (June 14), the 3rd nestling is still hanging back inside the nest area.

Thank you, Robin and Doug, for your reports.

If you have time, we need watchers in the evenings after 5:00pm.  No need to sign up.  Just come on down.  Make sure you write down the phone numbers on this flyer in case you need them.


Neville Island I-79 Bridge:  Status as of June 13 afternoon.

Red takes a walk in the safe zone, 13 June 2015 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Red takes a walk in the safe zone, 13 June 2015 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

On Friday the female fledgling, “Red” above, landed on a barge traveling down the Ohio River and had to be rescued by PGC Officer Kramer.  She would have starved without her parents as she traveled to New Orleans (or wherever).  He took her back to Neville Island.

Yesterday afternoon Anne Marie Bosnyak saw a second fledgling flapping on the top arch of the bridge after many days of assuming he’d died. So there are two!  Great news!


Cathedral of Learning:  The Pitt chick will fledge in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, here’s an informative June 11 article in Pitt’s University Times.


(photos by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

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Jun 12 2015

Lunchtime Excitement

Published by under Peregrines

PGC WCO Kramer rescues Fledgling#1 (photo by Michael Leonard)

PGC Wildlife Conservation Officer Kramer rescues Fledgling#1, Downtown 11 June 2015 (photo by Michael Leonard)

Lunch hour in Downtown Pittsburgh was extra exciting yesterday when one of the three peregrine nestlings made his first flight.  Fledgling #1 landed safely on BNY Mellon’s plaza at Fifth and Grant and was rescued promptly by PGC Officer Kramer who placed him high on a nearby building to start over.

Michael Leonard, an Aviary volunteer and Pittsburgh Falconut, was passing by the area and helped guard the bird until the PA Game Commission arrived.  Then he snapped this rescue photo.  Great job, everyone!

Fledgling#1 is just fine so he’s ready to make his second flight from a much higher location than his inaccessible nest.  WCO Kramer put him on the “rescue porch” where he immediately and actively(!) checked out his surroundings.  He was not banded (no bands available at time of rescue).

Downtown Pittsburgh, first fledgling on the "rescue porch," 11 June 2015(photo by Kate St. John)

Downtown Pittsburgh, Fledgling#1 on the “rescue porch,” 11 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

His June 11 flight was two days earlier than I expected but weeks of preparation paid off.

Knowing that Fifth and Grant was likely to be Ground Zero for fledglings, I circulated this flyer with the PGC phone number to nearby businesses and security guards.  Perhaps someone used the flyer to make the call.

I also knew that rescued fledglings would need a higher zone than the 7th floor nest for their second take-off so I proposed a location, Art McMorris approved it, and Larry Walsh cleared the way.  Thanks to John Conley who handles on-the-ground details and to The Business Most Affected By This (whom I won’t reveal for privacy of the porch & fledgling.)  Many thanks to all!

Meanwhile two youngsters were still waiting for take off yesterday afternoon.  The brown one looks like he might fly today.  The other is younger and will wait a while. But who knows how long?  I’m afraid to predict at this point.

Two remaining peregrine nestlins at Downtown Pittsburgh nest, 11 June 2015 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)

Two remaining peregrine nestlings at Downtown Pittsburgh nest, 11 June 2015 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)

Downtown Fledge Watch starts tomorrow where Fledgling#1 landed.  Chances are there will be some excitement this weekend.  Click the link for details.

C’mon down!


p.s. Check Matthew Digiacomo’s Flickr page for recent photos from the nest.

(photo credits:  PGC rescue by Michael Leonard, Fledgling#1 on the “rescue porch” by Kate St. John, two nestlings by Matthew Digiacomo)

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Jun 11 2015

Almost The Same

Published by under Peregrines,Songbirds

Downy woodpecker juvenile and adult (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Downy woodpecker juvenile and adult (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

In most bird species by the time baby birds leave the nest they resemble their parents, but they don’t look quite the same.  The young are still in juvenile plumage.

Peregrine falcons, for instance, are the same size and shape as their parents but the juveniles are brown and cream colored where the adults are charcoal gray and white.  The juvenile plumage lasts two years and may protect young peregrines from attack by territorial adults.  (“I’m too young to breed. Don’t hit me!”)

Comparison of adult and juvenile peregrine plumage (photos by Kim Steininger)

Comparison of peregrine plumage: adult (left, looking at photographer) and juvenile (right, looking down) — photos by Kim Steininger


Pictured at top, the two downy woodpeckers are parent and child.  You can tell who’s who by their behavior — the parents feed their kids.  You can also tell by plumage.

On Throw Back Thursday, learn the color differences between juvenile and adult male downy woodpeckers at They Almost Look Alike (from 2008).


(photo credits:  downy woodpeckers by Marcy Cunkelman, peregrine falcon photos by Kim Steininger)

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Jun 10 2015

Below The Nest

The chick almost matches the nest, 8 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine chick gazes toward the sky, 8 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Some of you watching the Cathedral of Learning falconcam have worried that the chick is missing (sometimes) or that he will fall off the nest.  Here’s why neither of those things have happened and what you can expect in the future.

Peregrine falcon nestlings will not step off the edge until they are fully feathered and ready to learn to fly.  This inherited safeguard is hard-wired because all of today’s peregrines are descended from birds who would not step off the edge.

At 28 days peregrine nestlings move around the nest area but they’re speckled and hard to find.  If you don’t see them, they didn’t fall.  They’re hidden in plain sight.

At 35+ days they’re fully feathered and ready for wing practice.   At this point they have to move to nearby ledges (off camera) or they’ll never learn to fly.

Stepping out can be dangerous at bridge sites.  Bridges have water below, no lower ledges, the wind blows hard, and if a fledgling lands on the ground it may be killed by predators or vehicles.  Bridges have higher fledgling mortality rates than good cliffs.

None of these hazards apply to the Cathedral of Learning.  There is no water, there are many ledges for landing below the nest, and it’s impossible for a young bird to fall directly from the nest to the street.

The nest box stands on a floor surrounded by walls. A chick that jumps or bumps to the floor cannot get to the street. The front wall is so tall that Dorothy and E2 use it to perch above the nest (above the camera).  You see them arrive and depart from that direction.  Here’s an overhead diagram of the site.

The Cathedral of Learning nest is surrounded by high and low walls (diagram by Kate St. John)

The Cathedral of Learning nest is surrounded by high and low walls (diagram by Kate St. John)

The box itself is elevated with room to explore underneath it.  If a chick reaches the floor, Dorothy teaches him to come back to the surface by waiting for him to climb up on his own.  This is an important learning experience for the chick.  The explorer always resurfaces.

Nestbox looks like this if it stood alone (diagram by Kate St. John)

Nest box is elevated (diagram by Kate St. John)

Our most famous under-nest explorer was Green Boy in 2010.  One of five in an active crowded nest, his brother bumped him off the front perch.  Green Boy spent many hours exploring the gully and then came topside in this hotspot video footage.  (Read all about his adventure and see additional footage here.)

So, no worries about the gully.

The only First Flight hazard for a young peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning is this:  Curious People.

Curious people think “It won’t hurt if I sneak up close to take a look/picture.”  But it will.

Before a peregrine learns to fly it walks off the nest to nearby ledges and practices flapping its wings (off camera).  Adult peregrines teach their kids that humans are dangerous.  If a youngster sees a human near him while he’s ledge walking, he may try to fly away before he is able and crash below.

So, curb your curiosity.  Stay away from peregrine nests while youngsters are learning.

You don’t want to be the one who scared the chick and ended his life in a crash!


(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh. Diagrams by Kate St. John)

p.s.  You cannot see the nest from inside the building nor can you see it from the street. To see the Pitt peregrines, come down to Schenley Plaza.

18 responses so far

Jun 08 2015

Downtown Peregrines’ Fledge Watch, June 13-20

Dori guards while a nestling explores, 5 June 2015 (photo by Matthew Digiacomo)

Mother peregrine, Dori, guards while a nestling explores, Friday June 5, 2015 (photo by Matthew Digiacomo)

In less than a week three peregrine nestlings will make their first flight in Downtown Pittsburgh.  Because their nest is low they might need our help.

In the first 24 hours of flight, fledgling peregrines lack the wing strength to take off from the ground.  If they land on the street they just stand there and may be hit by vehicles.

Last Friday’s photo shows they were speckled with white down and brown feathers.

Downtown Pittsburgh peregrine nestlings, 5 June 2015 (photo by Matthew Digiacomo)

Downtown Pittsburgh peregrine nestlings, Friday June 5, 2015 (photo by Matthew Digiacomo)

By the time they fly they will be all brown with dark cheek stripes like the bird circled in red (and like this bird yesterday at Neville Island).

Comparison: red-tailed hawk & juvenile peregrine (photos by Katie Cunningham & Kim Steininger)

Comparing red-tailed hawk & immature peregrine. Click on this photo for more details


What you can do:  If you see a peregrine on the street, call the PA Game Commission (PGC) at 724-238-9523.  If you can safely do so, carefully corral and guard the bird until PGC arrives.

You can also volunteer for Fledge Watch June 13-20 during daylight hours in the vicinity of Fifth Avenue at Grant Street. (The Watch will end before June 20 if the last bird has flown for 24 hours.)

The #1 purpose of this Watch is to educate the public so lots of people know to call the Game Commission if they find a downed peregrine.  Yes, we’d love to believe trained volunteers would find every bird, but the reality in Downtown Pittsburgh is that peregrines in trouble are found by people who’ve never seen a peregrine.  People often tell building security guards about the birds so I’ve notified management/security at the nearby buildings.

The second purpose of the Watch is to station a few trained volunteers in the vicinity of Fifth Avenue and Grant Street to watch and wait just in case.  This area is made up of sidewalks and private property so we cannot congregate as we do at the annual Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch in Schenley Plaza.  Two to four people at a time is all we need.

You can participate by formally signing up for a shift or by informally checking the area as you pass through on your way to work.

Learn what to do:  Get training before you participate!  I’ll conduct two basic training sessions at Mellon Square on Saturday June 13 at 10:00am and Monday June 15 at noon.  You’ll recognize me by my hat and binoculars and bright fluorescent yellow backpack.

How to sign up:  To volunteer for a shift, click here to see open times on the Downtown Pittsburgh Peregrine Fledge Watch Calendar (click on an appointment to see its time span).  Then leave a comment on this article with your name, email address and the dates/times you’d like to volunteer.  I will see your message and add your shift to the calendar.

If you cannot commit to a date/time but will be Downtown to watch informally, leave a comment with name, email and the location where you’ll be watching.

Meanwhile, though the nest doesn’t have a webcam Matthew Digiacomo is documenting the nestlings’ progress in photographs on his Flickr site.  Click here or on this photo to see how beautiful they are.

Two peregrine nestlings, obviously different ages,Downtown Pittsburgh, 5 June 2015 (photo by Matthew Digiacomo)

Two of the three nestlings, Downtown Pittsburgh, 5 June 2015 (photo by Matthew Digiacomo)

I hope to meet you at Mellon Square.


(photo credits:
Downtown peregrine photos by Matthew Digiacomo.
Comparison photos of red-tailed hawk and peregrine by Katie Cunningham (hawk) and
Kim Steininger (peregrine))

See this link if you have questions about the weather.

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Jun 07 2015

At Neville Island: 1 Down, 1 Up, and 2 to Go

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine fledgling from I-79 Neville Island Bridge, 7 June 2015 (photo by John English)

Peregrine fledgling near I-79 Neville Island Bridge, 7 June 2015 (photo by John English)

The peregrine situation looked sad yesterday at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge when site monitor Anne Marie Bosnyak checked for fledglings. She found one far below on the river’s edge — dead.  Apparently it had landed on the ground and a predator killed it(*).  … 1 Down.

But things looked much better today.  One of the remaining two birds had fledged to a tree.  … 1 Up.

His parents Beau (top left) and Magnum (bottom right) kept a close eye on him.

Beau and Magnum monitor their fledgling, 7 June 2015 (photo by John English)

Beau and Magnum monitor their fledgling, 7 June 2015 (photo by John English)

Meanwhile two nestlings remain at the nest, though only one was seen today.  The youngest, a female, will fly last because she has less feather development and is heavier.  … 2 to Go.


(*)  In the first 24 hours of flight, fledgling peregrines lack the wing strength to take off from the ground.  If they fledge to the ground they just stand there and may fall victim to predators or vehicles.

(photo by John English)

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Jun 06 2015

Photos Solve The Mystery

Published by under Peregrines

Male Peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, Blk/Grn 19/W, 30 May 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Male Peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, Blk/Grn 19/W, 30 May 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

When you want to identify a banded peregrine it pays to find a good photographer.

In the old days we read peregrines’ bands using scopes and binoculars but it was notoriously difficult and nearly impossible at high nest sites like the Westinghouse Bridge.

Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

We used to learn the females’ bands on Banding Day because mother peregrines guard the nest, but the males always remained a mystery because they never come close.

However… when the Hays eagle’s nest failed this spring, Dana Nesiti (Eagles of Hays PA) was casting about for a subject to photograph.  Site monitor John English invited Dana to the Westinghouse Bridge.

Right off the bat, Dana documented an unusual changeover.  Early in nesting season his photos showed the resident female was still Hecla (black/red, 68/H) but on April 12 the bands looked different.  His photo of black/green, 66/C revealed that the former resident Storm had ousted her rival.  We would never have known this without Dana’s photos.

Then on May 30 the PA Game Commission’s Art McMorris visited the Westinghouse Bridge to check on the peregrines’ nesting status.  Dana took photos from below while Art found two 5-day-old chicks and three unhatched eggs.   Several photos of the male were good enough to read the bands: black/green, 19/W.

It took a while to find out where this bird came from but it was worth it.  He hatched on Cobb Island in 2006, a barrier island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and was hacked at the New River Gorge, West Virginia as part of the peregrine restoration program.  He had no name.

A Google map of Cobb Island is embedded below (zoom out to see more).  Click here for information on the New River Gorge peregrine program.


Now that he’s nesting this bird gets a name.  John English named him “George” for George Washington of Virginia, George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Bridge, and the gorge (almost george) of the New River Gorge, West Virginia.

Thanks to Dana Nesiti we now know that Storm and George are at the Westinghouse Bridge.

Photos solved the mystery.


(peregrine photo by Dana Nesiti, map embedded from Google Maps, bridge photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 03 2015

Estimated 2015 Fledge Dates for Pittsburgh Area Peregrines

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine falcon juvenile at U.S. Steel Tower (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Juvenile peregrine Downtown at U.S. Steel Tower, June 2014 (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Now that peregrine nestlings have been examined and aged in the Pittsburgh area, we can estimate when each site will make its first flight.

The fledging dates below are just estimates, calculated as the 39th day after hatch(*).  Young peregrines fly at 40-45 days old but the actual fledge date is up to the individual bird and sometimes the weather.  Males fly earlier than females because their lighter weight makes it easy to get airborne. In a nest with both male and female chicks the youngest females are alone at the nest for a day or two after the males have left.

In Pittsburgh, point-based Fledge Watches are set for a day or two before expected fledge through at least the second day after the last bird has flown.  Two days before flight it’s fun to watch the birds ledge-walk.  Two days after fledge, young peregrines have enough strength and flight ability to move faster and further than Fledge Watchers can navigate, especially in Downtown Pittsburgh.  At that point the official Fledge Watch dissolves while we wait for random reports of young peregrines peering in windows (nice to know) or accidents requiring rescue.

The table below shows the estimated dates.  Note that end dates always depend on activity at the site.

Nest Site Nestlings 39-day Estimated Fledge Date Watch for accidents until…
Neville Island I-79 Bridge 3 males, 1 female 6/10/2015 (Actual: Two left bridge on 6/6) 6/17 depending on activity
Downtown near corner of
Fifth & Grant
3 chicks, sex unknown, not banded 6/14/2015 (Actual: 1st flew on 6/11) 6/20 depending on activity
Cathedral of Learning at Pitt 1 chick, sex unknown,
development delayed by
5 days as of 5/29/15
6/18 or 6/23/15 due to unknown sex and
delayed development  (Actual: 6/21)
2 Days after the chick fledges
Westinghouse Bridge 2 chicks, sex unknown 7/3/15 7/10 depending on activity


Four of Pittsburgh’s eight peregrine nest sites have either no nesting activity or are a mystery this year.

  • Mystery: Monaca, Beaver County. Nest site is inaccessible on top of the big black P&LE Railroad bridge that crosses the Ohio River from Monaca to Beaver.
  • Mystery: McKees Rocks Bridge. Every year the peregrines’ nest is notoriously hard or impossible to find, even with a bucket truck.  This spring an adult pair was seen on May 24 and the pair “kakked” at a kayaker on the Alcosan side of the river on May 31.  It appears they have young but we have no idea where.
  • No nest:  Tarentum Bridge: This pair has not attempted to nest, perhaps because the male is young and still in juvenile plumage.
  • No peregrines: Green Tree water tower. Nest was attempted in 2013. No peregrines this year.

(photo of a fledgling at the U.S.Steel Tower, June 2014 by Patti Mitsch)

(*) The official first-flight age is 40 days after hatch, but can appear to be 39 days when a bird hatches overnight.

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