It’s Hatch Day at Pitt! Happy Earth Day 2024!

First sight of the hatched peregrine chick and half eggshell, 22 Apr 2024, 11:02am (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

22 April 2024

This morning at 11:02am the first of Carla and Ecco’s four eggs hatched at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. Our glimpse was fleeting because Carla kept her back to the camera (above). Later in the hour she turned and we got a better view.

This slideshow from the streaming falconcam contains the best snapshots from the 11:00am hour with one chick, one pipped egg, and an empty eggshell. Carla ate the eggshell to regain the calcium she lost in laying the egg. The shell was nearly gone by noon.

You can see Ecco’s very brief visit at 11:42am in these video highlights.

He made another appearance in the 1:00 o’clock hour but I missed it.

Stay tuned to the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh to see the remaining eggs hatch and the chicks grow up.

Happy Earth Day!

UPDATES:

(all photos and video are from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Watch for Hatching at the Pitt Peregrines’ Nest

Carla hunches over the eggs and seems to speak to them, 21 April 2024, 9:21am ()

21 April 2024

This morning Carla periodically hunched over the eggs, rocked her body and appeared to vocalize to the eggs. This is typical mother peregrine behavior when she hears a chick hammering on its shell.

While hatching is underway the parent birds can hear the chick peeping inside the egg and can hear it the hammering on the shell. Hatching itself takes many hours but the first step we’ll see is a pip, an air hole that the chick punches to begin the process. Richmond Falconcam FAQ explains how long it takes for the tiny bird to hatch:

Hatching is an energetically demanding process. The young chick uses its egg tooth, a small knob on top of its bill, to hammer a pip (hole) in the egg. It periodically works to break the egg around the pip area, but rests much of the time. The entire process from initial pip to hatch can take up to 72 hours. All the eggs in a Peregrine Falcon clutch generally hatch “synchronously” (within 24–48 hours for a clutch of 4).

Richmond Peregrine Falconcam FAQ

Watch for a pip at the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.

Three Waves of Warblers

Louisiana waterthrush (photo by Steve Gosser in 2018)

21 April 2024

Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Ohio has been banding birds for more than three decades. When they analyzed their warbler data since 1992, the arrivals and departures fell into three distinct waves with the same species in those waves year after year.

This led to their Spring Migration Wave Theory, illustrated on BSBO’s website. I have embedded their graphic and made it tiny on purpose so that you will click on the image to see all the details in the original.

Spring Migration Wave Theory (graphic embedded from BSBO.org): First Wave=red, Second Wave=blue, Third Wave=yellow

BSBO describes the waves and their timing in northwestern Ohio. These timings don’t always apply to Pittsburgh. We are between the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, so birds often get here last.

The first wave dominated by male White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, male Myrtle Warbler, and male Ruby-crowned Kinglet occurs around 25 April [in Northwestern Ohio]. Sub-dominant warblers include the Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and Nashville. …

The second wave, known as the big wave, occurs 7-13 May [in Northwestern Ohio] and is represented by the greatest species diversity of the spring … The second pulse of this wave coming five to seven days after, usually has the largest volume. …

The third wave normally comes around Memorial Day weekend [in Northwestern Ohio] and is dominated by female Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Mourning Warbler, vireos, and flycatchers.

Black SwamP Bird Observatory: Spring Migration Wave Theory (boldface added)

Which species are in each wave?

In Pittsburgh the First Wave contains species we’ve already seen this month: Louisiana waterthrush, white-throated and fox sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, hermit thrushes, male yellow-rumped (myrtle) warblers, male ruby-crowned kinglets and now, at the end of April, palm warblers.

Palm warblers, two subspecies “Yellow” and “Western” (image by Chuck Tague)

The Second Wave is the Biggest Week in American Birding at Magee Marsh and the biggest couple of weeks in Pittsburgh. Species include stragglers from the First Wave, too.

The Third Wave includes mourning warblers and the rarely-seen-in-Pittsburgh Connecticut warbler. If you want to see a Connecticut warbler at Magee Marsh, their peak is 20-27 May.

Drawing of Connecticut warblers, male and female (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Spring Migration Wave Theory explains why I’ve never seen some species in May in northwestern Ohio. I thought they didn’t come there but the real reason is that I wasn’t there when they passed through. I’ve always visited Magee Marsh in the second week of May so I’ve never seen a Louisiana waterthrush nor a Connecticut warbler while there.

This year I’m going a week earlier than usual; the BSBO website tells me what I’ll see. Find details on each warbler and its peak at Magee Marsh here (click on the species name to open the details).

Learn more about Spring Migration Wave Theory and the birds in each wave.

(credits are in the captions)

Seen This Week

Wild blue phlox, Cedar Creek Park, 15 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 April 2024

Do you ever feel frantic in the Spring?

This week in Pittsburgh the highs were always above 60°F and three days were in the low 80s. Migratory birds came in a rush midweek while early-blooming flowers went to seed. Spring came so quickly that I couldn’t keep up. It’s enough to make you frantic.

On Monday we went to Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County where we found many of the flowers I’d seen at Barking Slopes. Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) was in full bloom. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), that bloomed in Beaver County on 31 March, had gone to seed. There were so many flowers that I had little time for pictures.

Bloodroot gone to seed, Cedar Creek Park, 15 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

There were some stunningly clear days this week but the partly cloudy ones were more interesting, especially at sunrise: Duck Hollow on 15 April and Oakland on 19 April.

Sunrise at Duck Hollow, 15 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sunrise in Pittsburgh, 19 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Thursday 18 April Charity Kheshgi and I saw great birds in Frick Park.

The trees in town began the week with tiny pale green leaves; Some ended the week with large dark green leaves. American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) was blooming yesterday in Schnley Park.

American bladdernut flowers, Schenley Park, 19 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) had immature green flowers on Tuesday and mature dark red flowers on Friday. The flowers use their purplish-red color and a fetid smell to attract flies and beetles, not bees.

Pawpaw flowers, Schenley Park, 16 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

That frantic feeling will disappear in the next two days when spring slows down. There’s a Freeze Watch tonight and tomorrow morning.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Tenants Add Mud to the Apartment

screenshot of banner: Gwyllt Hollow – Sitting Room Nuthatches

19 Friday 2024

Last Friday we watched a Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea) vigorously remove a decoration from his beautifully furnished nestbox in South Wales. Apparently the Tenant Didn’t Like the Decorations (blue box).

Nuthatch removes a decoration from the nestbox (screenshot from @katemacrae WildlifeKate on X)

Since then the pair has been remodeling the apartment to their liking. They’ve added plenty of leaves and are now applying plaster (mud!) to the interior. Are they covering the decorations they don’t like? Or just filling in the gaps?

The nuthatches now have their own Live Stream at Gwyllt Hollow – Sitting Room Nuthatches. Follow WildlifeKate @katemacrae on X for updates.

Who’s Making That Metal Drumming Noise?

Northern flicker, male (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 April 2024

In case you haven’t noticed, northern flickers (Colaptes auratus) are loud right now.

The Northern Flicker is very vocal in spring during which its long call (kick, kick, kick, kick, kick) and drumming may be heard from more than a kilometer away [0.62 mile]. Homeowners sometimes express annoyance at individuals who take to hammering on metal chimneys and gates early in the morning, but fortunately this territorial advertisement only lasts for a few weeks in spring. 

Birds of the World, Northern Flicker vocalizations

Both sexes of flickers make a “jungle” call and drum loudly to attract a mate and establish territory. When drumming on wood they sound like this.

LOUD is important and city flickers have figured out that hammering on metal is louder than wood.

They hammer on streetlights. (This one stopped drumming for his photograph).

Northern flicker on streetlight, waiting to hammer (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They hammer on the metal covers on electric poles. (Hey, be careful!)

Northern flicker hammering metal on electric pole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They hammered on the metal hoods of these old ballpark lights every spring. The lights were replaced at Magee Field in 2018. I never got a photo of the flickers on the floodlights but here’s one of a red-tailed hawk.

Old ballfield lights at Magee Field, Pittsburgh, with red-tailed hawk, July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Flickers can be annoying when heard across the street, and worse than annoying when closer to home.

Who’s making that drumming noise? A northern flicker.

(credits are in the captions)

Migration Last Night!

Blue-gray gnatcatcher (photo by Steve Gosser)
Blue-gray gnatcatcher (photo by Steve Gosser)

17 April 2024

The winds over Pittsburgh were favorable last night and the birds were anxious to head north. There was high migration over southwestern PA and BirdCast tells the tale on their new Migration Dashboard.

Since 2017 we’ve been checking BirdCast for live migration maps and forecasts. This year they’ve supplemented the maps with a Migration Dashboard that provides a wealth of county-by-county information including expected species each night.

Let’s take a look at this morning’s dashboard for Allegheny County, PA.

BirdCast Migration Dashboard: screenshot of Allegheny County, PA on 17 April 2024 at 5:00am

As of 5:00am today, more than a million and a half birds had flown over Pittsburgh but they were slowing down. Live traffic was sparser (50,700 birds in flight), they were moving more slowly (12 mph), and they were losing altitude (1,400 feet). This is normal; they will land before dawn.

The count of birds peaked at midnight (graph on left). It was a really good night for April (graph at right.)

BirdCast Migration Dashboard: screenshot of Allegheny County, PA on 17 April 2024 at 5:00am

You can see an additional reason why the numbers dropped at 5:00am by comparing these two Live Migration maps. At 1:40am the map in Pittsburgh is bright yellow with migrants but a dark hole (no activity) develops in Ohio and West Virginia at 5:00am. Birds stopped flying there because it was raining ahead of a cold front.

screenshots of BirdCast Live maps on 17 April 2024, 1:40am and 5:00am

Who migrated over Pittsburgh last night? The Dashboard shows 14 expected species. (This is a screenshot. Visit Allegheny County’s Dashboard and scroll down to see the rest of the list).

BirdCast Migration Dashboard: screenshot of Allegheny County, PA on 17 April 2024 at 5:00am

I haven’t seen a house wren, yellow warbler or brown thrasher yet this year …

House wren (photo by Chuck Tague)
House wren (photo by Chuck Tague)
Yellow warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)
Brown thrasher bathing in a puddle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Did any of them land in Pittsburgh this morning? It’s hard to say. I’ll just have to go birding to find out.

Meanwhile check out the BirdCast Migration Dashboard for your county.

(credits are in the captions. Click the caption links to see the originals)

Seen Last Week

Coltsfoot gone to seed, Frick Park, 9 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

16 April 2024

Last week was so full of news, from peregrines to floods, that I had to skip my usual “Seen This Week” report. Meanwhile Spring isn’t holding still. Wildflowers are blooming and the early ones have already gone to seed. Here’s a selection of my best photos from last week, April 8-11.

Above and below, three photos from Frick Park. All of these are alien and some are invasive but they are pretty.

  • Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), at top, is found in disturbed soil.
  • Speedwell’s (Veronica persica) tiny flowers bloom in fields and lawns. A dewdrop dangled above this one from a blade of grass.
  • Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) is abundant along creeks and river banks including Duck Hollow and Nine Mile Run. Very invasive, but pretty, which is why it was imported as a garden plant.
Eyebright, Frick Park, 9 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Lesser Celandine, Frick Park, 8 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last Thursday I visited Barking Slopes for just an hour before the rain chased me away. Even though I didn’t have much time I saw more than 15 species in bloom including:

Large-flowered Trillium, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring Beauty, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Trout Lily, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Blue Cohosh flowers, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Large-flowered bellwort, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Star Chickweed, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is here! Get outdoors so you don’t miss it.

(all photos by Kate St. John)

Yes, We Saw Sapsuckers

Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

15 April 2024

Twelve of us gathered in yesterday’s perfect weather for an outing in Schenley Park.

Schenley Park outing, 14 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I announced the outing, I said we had a good chance of seeing yellow-bellied sapsuckers and indeed we did — at least four plus an interesting interaction between a male and female.

Was this pair migrating together? Birds of the World says Not likely. Male yellow-bellied sapsuckers migrate first, the females follow later. When the males reach the breeding grounds they drum and squeal to establish territory and attract a mate. There was no drumming and squealing in Schenley (they don’t breed here) but the two birds followed each other from tree to tree. One of them seemed annoyed. Was the other “stealing” sap from his/her holes?

There were plenty of holes to choose from. The sapsuckers redrilled old rings on shagbark hickories and made new rings on tuliptrees.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker sipping sap from a tuliptree, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

We also saw nest building among blue jays (a pair) and red-winged blackbirds (just the female) …

Blue jay carrying nesting material, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

… and a pair of red-tailed hawks incubating eggs in last year’s successful nest under the bridge.

Red-tailed hawk on nest under PH Bridge, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

There aren’t many wildflowers in Schenley Park because of abundant hungry deer but we saw a few foamflowers (Tiarella sp) in an inaccessible spot.

Foamflower in bloom, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Can you see the flying honeybees and honeycombs in this photo? The hive is so high up (20-30 feet) that we wouldn’t have seen it if we hadn’t been looking for birds.

Honeybee hive way up high in a hollow branch, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

In all, we saw 33 species and lots of breeding behavior. Our last sighting was a surprise: two bald eagles, an adult and an immature, circling northward in Junction Hollow. I wondered if one of the Hays eagles was escorting an immature intruder away from the Hays nest.

See our checklist below and online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S168641182

Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Apr 14, 2024, 8:30 AM – 10:45 AM, 33 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 4
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 2
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1 Immature
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) 2 One adult & one immature flying/soaring up Junction Hollow.
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) 4 Drilling and sipping sap, especially on trees with well established sapsucker rings on bark.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 4
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 6
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) 2
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 7 Two jays carrying nesting material to same nest area.
Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus) 1 Heard
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 5
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Corthylio calendula) 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) 2
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 2
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) 2
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 4
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 5
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 6
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 5
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 4
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) X Heard
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 5
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 9 Female building a nest.
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) 3
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 3
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 6

(all photos by Charity Kheshgi except for the people-photo by Kate St. John)

Pitt Peregrine Alumni is Nesting at Sewickley Bridge

Peregrine at Sewickley Bridge, 16 May 2023 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

14 April 2024

The Sewickley Bridge has hosted single peregrines since 2017 but a pair was not regular there until early 2021. At some point observers noticed that one of the pair is banded but who could read the bands?

Banded male peregrine at Sewickley Bridge, 6 June 2023 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

And where was this pair nesting on the bridge?

This spring Jeff Cieslak answered both questions. He photographed a nest exchange in which the male took over incubation and the female left the nest.

Peregrine nest exchange at Sewickley Bridge, 25 March 2024 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

And he got a photo of the male’s bands.

[The male] was on the near tower so I only had to walk half-way across the bridge (so the sun was behind me). As soon as I stopped, he started to scratch his face, and his bands rotated enough and were focused enough that I think I can read them. They’re upside-down, so it’s “black 0 5 (or 6) over green S (or 5) 6.”

Jeff Cieslak in Our Daily Bird, 4 Feb 2024
Banded male peregrine at Sewickley Bridge (Black/green, 05/S) on 4 Feb 2024 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The bands are Black/Green 05/S and he used to nest at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge (a.k.a. the Glenwood Bridge) until it was boarded up for construction in 2020 for more than three years. At Neville Island I-79 he was nicknamed Beau by site monitor Anne Marie Bosnyak.

Neville Island I-79 Bridge wrapped for construction, 2023 (photo embedded from Beaver County Times)

Beau didn’t move far to find a new nest site and he didn’t move far from his birthplace. He hatched at the Cathedral of Learning in 2010 to parents Dorothy and E2. I know for sure that he is 05/S because his brother 06/S, nicknamed Green Boy, died in the Webster Hall chimney in June 2010.

Beau is now 14 yrs old but he has longevity in his genes. His mother Dorothy lived to be 16 and his grandad Louie from Downtown lived to be 17 and bred successfully at 3rd Ave in his 17th year. (Beau’s father, E2, was hit by a car in 2016 so we’ll never know how long he would have naturally lived.)

Read about the first time we identified Beau, Black/Green 05/S, in this vintage article.

(credits are in the captions)