Dec 12 2014

The Falcon Of The Queen

Screenshot of Falco della regina (screenshot from YouTube)

This beautiful YouTube video shows a family of Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae) at their summer home in Sardinia.

Eleonora’s falcon is an Old World hobby(*) falcon that winters in Madagascar and East Africa and nests on barren islands in the Mediterranean.  It was named for Eleonor of Arborea, national heroine of Sardinia. When you know Eleonor’s history you can see the honor of this name.

Eleonor took over Arborea, a sovereign state in west-central Sardinia, in a moment of crisis in 1383. The Crown of Aragon based in Barcelona had conquered all of Sardinia except Arborea and succession to the Arborean throne was shaken by the murder of Hugh III. Eleonor’s infant son Frederick was next in line to the throne so she rushed to Arborea and became regent Judge at age 36. In the first four years of her reign she united the Sardinians in a war against Aragon and won back nearly all of the island.

Eleonor’s greatest legacy was the Carta de Logu, the laws she promulgated in 1395.  Advanced for its time the laws were a uniform code of justice, publicly available, that set most criminal penalties as fines instead of imprisonment or death and preserved the property rights of women.  The Carta de Logu was so good that it lasted four centuries.

Eleonor passed another important though lesser known law: the protection of this falcon that bears her name.

As the video title says in Italian, this is the Falcon of the Queen.


(video posted on YouTube by santonagriva)

(*) Hobbies are smaller than peregrines, larger than American kestrels, and were often used by falconers to hunt birds. “Hobby” does not mean amateur pastime. Instead this word comes from Old French, probably derived from Middle Dutch “hobeler” which means to turn or roll.

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Dec 11 2014

TBT: Ubiquitous Human Noise

Aldo Leopold at his Salk County shack, around 1940 (photo from Univ of Wisconsin Digital Archives)

Aldo Leopold at his Salk County shack, around 1940 (photo courtesy UW Digital Archives)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT) to October 2012:

Imagine listening to birds without the sounds of human activity in the background.

In 2012 ecologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison recreated a soundscape from Aldo Leopold’s time without today’s background noise of vehicles, airplanes, boats, trains and tools.

Click here to read more and hear what it’s like to escape our ubiquitous human noise.


(photo of Aldo Leopold, courtesy UW Digital Archives)


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Dec 10 2014

Jackie O

Published by under Birds of Prey

Jackie O, barn owl at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Meet the beautiful Jackie O.

Jackie was just a nestling when she was rescued by Ohio DNR who’d arrived to band barn owl chicks at her nest.  They discovered that Jackie’s left eye had been severely damaged, probably by one of her siblings, so she was taken to Medina Raptor Center where she’s lived ever since.

Jackie’s on the small side for a barn owl so the Raptor Center thought she was male and named her Captain Jack (a one-eyed pirate…).  As she matured her plumage looked female and a DNA blood test confirmed her sex so she was renamed Jackie.

The first time Jackie meets you she uses her good eye to check you out (above).   Eventually she shows you her whole face and you can see that her left eye is missing.

Barn owl, Jackie O, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Among all the birds at the Raptor Center Jackie’s story is unique.  She’s the only one whose injury was caused by a bird.  Every other raptor was injured by humans, directly or indirectly — hit by vehicles, crashed into buildings or wires, poisoned, or shot.  It’s very sad that we cause so much trouble for birds.

Jackie O travels to events as an educational bird ambassador, teaching us how to prevent raptor injuries and how barn owls benefit us by controlling rodent populations.

You can sponsor her and other birds at Medina Raptor Center by clicking this link.


p.s.  O is for Owl. 😉

(photos by Kate St. John)


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Dec 09 2014

Modern Home

Barn owl in flight near its nest box (photo by Chuck Tague)

Since Chuck Tague first posted this on Facebook, his photo of a barn owl near a white box has stuck with me.  As odd as it looks, the box is the barn owl’s home.

Barn owls nest in structures — often in barns — but they don’t need entire buildings to make them happy.  A right-sized hole and good interior space are what they look for when they’re ready to nest.  If you can satisfy their needs with a smaller structure the owls will make it home.

As barn owls declined due to habitat loss, wildlife agencies across the U.S. worked to restore their populations by installing barn owl nest boxes.  This modern-looking box, designed and sold by Pittsburgh-based Barn Owl Box Company, was installed at Lake Apopka Restoration Area in Orange County, Florida.

The boxes are also popular with farmers and vintners who’ve learned that barn owls are a great alternative to poison rodent control.  The owls are tolerant of humans, tolerant of each other (no fights), breed like crazy at successful sites, and focus their hunts on the highest density rodent locations.  Lots of rodents lose their lives to feed the baby owls.

Click on this link to watch an America’s Heartland video of owls patrolling California vineyards where they’ve installed these modern homes.  As they say on the video webpage, “The next time you raise a glass of fine wine, you might want to thank an owl .”


(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Dec 08 2014

How To Escape A Peregrine Attack

If you haven’t seen this amazing video yet  …

Do great horned owls swim?  You bet they do if there’s nowhere else to go.

Last week passersby at Chicago’s Loyola Park saw a pair of peregrine falcons chasing a great horned owl away from their territory.  The owl flew out over Lake Michigan but the peregrines kept hammering it.  Eventually their attack forced the owl to ditch in the lake. Only then did the peregrines leave him alone.

Unlike ospreys, owls aren’t built to go airborne directly from the water so the owl swam the butterfly stroke to get back to shore.  peasant1 on YouTube captured it on video.

On the beach the owl caught his breath and dried out a bit before flying to a tree down the street.  Sand in wet feathers.  What an embarrassing mess!

That’s the last time this owl goes near Loyola Park!


(videos by peasant1 on YouTube, originally publicized by Fox 6 News)

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Dec 07 2014

Chicken In The Sky

Stellar nursery IC 2944 as seen by ESO's Very Large Telescope (photo by ESO)

If our eyes could look deep into space we’d see the clouds in this stellar nursery in the Centaurus constellation, 6,500 light years away.

This pink glowing nebula and clouds of dust were photographed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) at Cerro Paranal, Chile.  The nebula’s formal name is IC 2944.  Because it’s visible to the naked eye it has a nickname too: The Running Chicken Nebula.

According to ESO’s description, the clouds are Thackeray globules “under fierce bombardment from the ultraviolet radiation from nearby hot young stars.”

Click here or on the image to find out what will happen to the clouds.

If you know where to look on a clear night, you can see a running chicken in the sky.



(photo of stellar nursery IC 2944 by ESO, the European Southern Observatory at Cerro Paranal, Chile. Click on the image to see the original)

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Dec 06 2014

Another Kind Of Siskin

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Eurasian siskin (photo by K.Lin, Hiyashi Haka, Cretive Commons license via Flickr))

While we listen and watch for pine siskins in Pennsylvania, here’s one of their cousins from the other side of the world.

This male Eurasian siskin (Carduelis spinus) resembles a pine siskin but his colors are more striking with his black cap and bright yellow and black wings and tail.  He lives in northern Europe and northeastern Asia and irrupts southward in some winters, just like our siskins do.  (Click here to see North America’s pine siskin for comparison.)

Without knowing his identity you could probably guess “siskin” if you saw him in Taiwan where he was photographed by K.Lin (a.k.a. Hiyashi Haka).

Please click on the image to see the original photo and scroll down to read K.Lin’s description of this bird.


(photo by K. Lin, Hiyashi Haka on Flickr, Creative Common license)

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Dec 05 2014

They Can Always Eat What They Want

Published by under Birds of Prey

Turkey vultures in Garland, Pennsylvania (photo from Wikimiedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

As we age we notice that no matter how much we like certain foods, we just can’t eat them anymore without feeling lousy.  At each new discovery my husband and I say, “You Can’t Always Eat What You Want” (from this parody of The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want).

But if we had the guts of vultures we could eat anything!

Vultures eat rotted, bacteria-ridden, poisonously-infected carrion that would kill any other animal but it never hurts them.  Think of this:  Vultures eat anthrax and they don’t get sick!  How do they do it?

The answer is:  Vultures evolved an extreme gut to cope with their disgusting dietary habits.

Since vultures’ faces get really dirty when they take apart a carcass, researchers from Denmark and The Smithsonian teamed up to compare the bacteria on vultures’ faces and in their guts.  If there’s less bacteria in their guts than on their faces, their guts are cleaning up the mess.

According to Science Daily, the study generated DNA profiles from the bacteria living on the face and guts of 50 black and turkey vultures.  On average, the vultures’ facial skin contained DNA from 528 different types of micro-organisms, whereas their guts had DNA from only 76 types.

“Apparently something radical happens to the bacteria during passage through their digestive system,” said researcher Lars Hestbjerg Hansen of Aarhus University.

You bet!

Vultures can always eat what they want.


Click here to read more in Science Daily.

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

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Dec 04 2014

TBT: The Crows Know

Published by under Crows & Ravens

American Crow (photo by Brian Herman)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

As birds fly overhead they notice things we humans cannot see because we’re stuck on the ground with a narrow perspective.

Most birds ignore our activity but crows pay attention to humans and watch for things of interest.  How else could they find out it’s Garbage Day and show up just in time to poke holes on in our garbage bags?

In February 2011 there was an early morning mystery on my street.  At dawn, the crows leaving the winter roost flew over my neighborhood and saw it below.  Each flock paused, circled above, and cawed loudly. Click here to read what happened that morning.  The crows were the first to know.

This fall Pittsburgh’s winter crow roost has settled in the Hill District above Bigelow Boulevard near Cliff Street. Because of its location very few crows fly over my neighborhood at dawn.

If there’s a mystery this winter it will have to wait for us humans to discover it.


(photo by Brian Herman)

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Dec 03 2014

The Link Between Hemlocks And Birds

Published by under Trees

Eastern hemlocks shading Tom's Run, Cook Forest State Park (photo by Nicholas Tonelli via Wikimedia Commons)

As I mentioned two weeks ago, a Pennsylvania hemlock project needs volunteers to report hemlock woolly adelgid in the Allegheny High Plateau so that the trees can be protected against this deadly pest.

Many of us want to help because we love the hemlock’s beauty, but for some birds the trees are more than beautiful, they’re essential.

At the project kickoff seminar Dale Luthringer told us about hemlocks and their link to birds.

Eastern hemlocks are the most shade tolerant tree in the U.S. and can thrive in pure stands or in damp areas of deciduous forests.  Wherever hemlocks grow their dense evergreen canopy creates a cool, shady habitat that’s used by 90 species of birds.

Studies have shown that six species depend so much on hemlocks that they decline when the woolly adelgid kills the trees.  Here are the six who go missing:

Black-throated green warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)

(1) Black-throated green warblers are obligate to hemlock stands. They experience a 93% decline when the trees die off. (photo by Steve Gosser)

Blackburnian warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

(2) Blackburnian warblers like all hemlocks but prefer old growth stands. They’re found 40 times more often among old growth hemlocks than younger trees. (photo by Chuck Tague)

Ovenbird with nesting material, May 2014 (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

(3) Ovenbird populations go down when hemlocks die (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

and… (4) hermit thrushes, (5) blue headed vireos and (6) Acadian flycatchers decline where the woolly adelgid takes its toll.


With hemlocks covering 19 million acres in the eastern U.S., we’ll lose a lot of habitat — and birds — if we do nothing to combat the hemlock woolly adelgid.

Read more here on how you can help the Allegheny High Plateau adelgid project. (See where on this map — from Cooks Forest northward to NY).


Eastern hemlocks shading Tom’s Run in Cook Forest by Nicholas Tonelli, via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original.
Black-throated green warbler by Steve Gosser
Blackburnian warbler by Chuck Tague
Ovenbird by Marcy Cunkelman

p.s. Magnolia warblers are also affected. They’re 45 times more likely to be found in old growth hemlock forests than in stands of younger trees.

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