Have you ever felt threatened by humans while birding in a public place? It shouldn’t happen and it rarely does to most of us. I can count the few incidents I’ve experienced on one hand.
During Pennsylvania’s Second Breeding Bird Atlas, 2004-2009, I surveyed an under-reported block in Somerset County, walking the edge of a public road. I listened for birdsong and scanned the adjacent open field with my binoculars. I was startled when a resident from the other side of the road started up her car and began following me slowly, creeping behind me at my walking pace. She pulled alongside, drove next to me, and stared hard. She never spoke. Her threat was clear. I left immediately and I never went back.
That incident 15 years ago was one of the few times I felt threatened by humans while birding. I take my own safety for granted but some people cannot. This week I’m learning what it’s like to go birding in someone else’s shoes.
The event aims to increase visibility of Black birders, who face challenges and dangers that non-Black people do not experience when recreating or conducting fieldwork in the outdoors.
To many Americans, wilderness represents freedom and a space that should be open to all. In reality, it is not. Black Birders Week is a way for Black birders, who may have not seen another Black birder, to join together and encourage more participation and diversity in outdoor spaces.
It’s already Wednesday (sorry I’m late reporting this!) but there’s more coming up this week.
As @Ologies said on Twitter: “If this initiative has opened your eyes to how our Black friends feel unsafe in outdoor areas, how that impacts the fieldwork they do, the careers they choose: tweet about it. Follow them. Cheer them on.” It’s #BlackBirdersWeek.
This is the week we go birding in someone else’s shoes.
Across Pennsylvania breeding birds are hatching eggs and feeding young. As the nestlings grow the nests become crowded, a sure sign that the babies will leave soon.
Baby birds in hollow trees have an amazing way of leaving the nest: they climb up the inside of the hole and jump! This is true of chickadees, screech-owls, woodpeckers and wood ducks. But ducklings have no flight feathers and they jump away. That’s OK, they’re built for it.
Yesterday Michael Potoski remarked that he hadn’t been watching the falconcam often “but when I do look it seems the eggs keep moving to different positions with no sign of Morela, Terzo or Ecco.” A mystery! So I looked into it.
Sunday 31 May 2020 was a very active day at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest even though the eggs are no longer incubated. In this Day-in-a-Minute video you can see Morela come to the nest at 9:20am and move the eggs into a pile. Then at 10:05am Terzo shows up for one of many visits.
It was chilly yesterday with a northwest wind but the nest side of the building was out of the wind and in full sun. At 12:15pm Terzo arrived to sunbathe for about an hour.
Then at 1:50pm Morela came too and bowed with Terzo for more than 4 minutes. This is the longest time they’ve spent together at the nest since Ecco, his rival, made Terzo so cautious. This video includes the full 4.5 minutes even though there’s not much action.
Terzo was on camera a lot yesterday. Ecco was absent, at least for the day.
When a young peregrine lands on the ground on his first flight he doesn’t yet have the upper body strength to flap and get airborne. He has to be rescued and put on a high perch to start over.
In Downtown Pittsburgh the Third Avenue nest site is so low that fledglings land on the ground every year. Thankfully, passersby call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 to rescue the downed birds.
Downtown’s fledglings are often found on the sidewalk but sometimes a bird gets creative. Last year one waited at the bus stop. Seven years ago a fledgling landed six feet off the ground on a pickup truck roof rack. Then things got interesting.
Dana Nesiti has been keeping up with the peregrine family at the Westinghouse Bridge by photographing them every few days. On Wednesday 27 May 2020 he saw the chicks for the first time, pictured above near the edge of the nest area.
Their success is due to the care and feeding supplied by their parents, Hammond (male) and Ms. Indiana (banded female from South Bend, Indiana, 2016). This slideshow of Dana’s 17-24 May photos shows how the pair cooperates to bring in food.
Hammond delivers prey to Indiana at the Westinghouse Bridge, 17 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nestiti)
(photo by Dana Nesiti)
Indiana flies toward the nest with prey, 17 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Repositioning the prey, 17 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
(photo by Dana Nesiti)
Indiana flies into the nest area at Westinghouse Bridge (arrow),17 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Babysitting is sleep inducing, 24 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
If you want an easy look at young peregrine falcons the next week is the time to do it. Four youngsters at the Tarentum Bridge are ledge walking and will make their first flight some time between May 31 and June 7.
Yesterday I visited the Tarentum Boat Ramp and digi-scoped these photos with my cellphone. All four youngsters were preening fluff from their feathers and walking along the middle bridge pier. The top photo has three birds in it; the third is hidden behind his siblings.
The fourth youngster walked over from the nestbox and jumped up to the step.
Meanwhile their mother watched from the far pier. She turned her head away just as I snapped this photo.
The youngsters are changing fast. Just two days earlier they were much whiter as seen in John English’s photos from Memorial Day, 25 May 2020. Next week they’ll be completely brown.
The youngsters will fly soon so visit the Tarentum Bridge now through June 7. Click here for a map. This is the week to see them!
When whip-poor-wills nest the female lays two eggs on the ground on top of dry leaves, choosing a place where sunlight makes dappled patterns to match her camouflaged plumage. Hall E. Harrison’s Birds’ Nests Field Guide explains:
Incubating bird sits close; when flushed flies silently away like a moth. Eggs usually discovered by accident rather than by search. Friend of author flushed female from 2 eggs, and returning later to point out nest was unable to find it. After careful study, author detected nearly invisible female incubating 4 ft (1.2 m) away.
— Birds’ Nests Petersen Field Guide by Hall E. Harrison
Since they operate at night even a singing male is hard to find. As we approached our cars to leave, a whip-poor-will sounded very close. Barb Griffith found him in the dark, calling from a flat rock. This photo isn’t the bird we saw, but you get the idea.