Watch These Bridges

Peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 10 May 2018 (photo by April Sperfslage, PGC)

Peregrine season is in full swing in Pittsburgh. We have peregrine families at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, at Third Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh, and on 7 or more bridges. Are the bridge nests successful? Help us find out. Watch these bridges.

Top Priority

Art McMorris, PGC’s peregrine coordinator, has news from some bridges but needs updates from four sites. Watch to see if peregrines bring food to the sites listed below. If they do, there are chicks in the nest. If they don’t, keep watching. Report your findings (yes or no) in a comment here. If you visit regularly I’ll send you Art’s contact information.

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (also called the Glenfield Bridge), Ohio River

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)
Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

We know that peregrines are nesting on the Neville Island I-79 Bridge but we don’t know if their eggs have hatched. Stop by the best viewing area at the Fairfield Inn parking lot on Neville Island.

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge, Ohio River

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge (image and map from Wikimedia Commons)

One or two peregrines have been at the Ambridge Bridge since last winter but only one has been seen in the past month. Are they incubating eggs? Stop by the Ambridge side of the river to view the bridge.

Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge -or- Monaca-East Rochester Bridge, Ohio River

Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge and Monaca-East Rochester Bridge (photos by Kate St. John and PGC’s Steve Leiendecker)

A pair of peregrines usually nests in the Beaver, PA area but few people look for them. Check for peregrines on these two bridges: the Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge and the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge.

Route 422 Graff Bridge at Kittanning, Allegheny River

Peregrine falcon at the Graff Bridge, Kittanning, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)
Peregrine falcon at the Graff Bridge, Kittanning, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Peregrines have nested under the Route 422 Graff Bridge near Kittanning for many years but news is hard to come by. Stop by the best viewing area — under the bridge on the Armstrong Bike Trail — to check on their status.

Good News from Other Bridges

McKees Rocks Bridge, Ohio River

McKees Rocks Bridge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After the Pitt peregrine banding on 14 May 2019, PGC’s Dan Brauning and Sam Ruano stopped by the McKees Rocks Bridge to check for a nest and found 4 chicks too young to band. Dan estimates they were 12 days old so we expect them to fledge during the second week of June.

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River

View of Tarentum Bridge nestbox area, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)
Tarentum Bridge with nestbox, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)

This is the second year that an unbanded female peregrine with a dotted breast and a male peregrine banded black/green 48/BR have used the nestbox on the Tarentum Bridge. Susan Krouse saw the first food delivery on May 7 or 8. Tony Bruno reports noisy whining yesterday, May 19, by the mother bird (photo below). The chicks will probably fledge in mid-June. Watch them from the Tarentum boat ramp.

Mother peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 19 May 2019 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Westinghouse Bridge, Turtle Creek

Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Joseph Elliott, Library of Congress)
Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Joseph Elliott, Library of Congress)

John English reports that though he saw no peregrines at the Westinghouse Bridge yesterday, he certainly heard them! Begging calls from young and an adult whining. Stop by the bridge and you may be the first to see them.

No News from …

The remaining two bridges are unlikely to have nesting peregrines: Elizabeth Bridge over the Monongahela River (PennDOT covered the access holes) and the Hulton Bridge over the Allegheny River. Have you seen any recent peregrine activity at these sites? Let me know.

(see photo captions for the credits)

Today in Schenley Park: Canada Warbler!

Canada warbler in Schenley Park, 19 May 2019 (photo by Peter Bell)

This morning 14 of us met at the Visitors’ Center for a bird walk in Schenley Park. We started with a view of the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning and ended with Best Bird in a tree near the Visitors’ Center — a Canada warbler!

Schenley Park outing, 19 May 2019 (photo taken by Margaret Laske)

Highlights in between included the sound of Tennessee warblers, scarlet tanagers, a yellow warbler, and an Acadian flycatcher, plus the sight of two ruby-throated hummingbirds, a wood thrush building her nest, a blue jay feeding nestlings, and a bay-breasted warbler in the tree canopy.

There were a heck of a lot of bullfrog tadpoles in Panther Hollow Lake. Why so many? They were almost gross.

After the walk we were milling about when Peter Bell took the photo at top and asked what it was. A Canada warbler! Several of us stayed 20-30 minutes to re-find it with some really great looks.

In all we saw and/or heard 32 species.  The complete checklist is at

(photo of Canada warbler by Peter Bell, group photo taken by Margaret Laske using Kate St. John’s phone)

Andean Condors Nest on Camera

Andean condor, Lianni, on her nest at the National Aviary (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

Andean condors usually nest on inaccessible cliffs 16,000 feet above sea level so it’s a real treat to see a pair nesting on camera at the National Aviary. The condor pair, Lianni and Lurch, expect their egg to hatch June 6-9.

Native to the Andes and nearby Pacific coast, Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) are the world’s largest flying bird. Their 10+ foot wingspan allows them to ride thermals in search of the carcasses of large animals that they scavenge. The condors are so majestic that they’re the national bird of Bolivia, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador and a national symbol throughout the Andean states.

Range (yellow) of Andean condor (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Because the adults have no natural predators Andean condors have evolved to live long a long time (more than 70 years!) and reproduce slowly (only one egg every 1.5 to 2 years).

Unfortunately, due to habitat loss and secondary poisoning from hunted animals, the species is threatened in the wild and critically endangered in Ecuador. Zoos worldwide are participating in an Andean condor breeding program. Lianni and Lurch’s chick will increase the wild condor population.

Watch the condors’ nest on the National Aviary Condor Cam. The link includes a video of Lianni laying her egg.

Stay tuned June 6-9 when the condors’ egg is due to hatch.

(photo courtesy the National Aviary)

Where Are Their Parents?

Two peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 17 May 2019, 2pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Saturday, 18 May 2019

If you watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam every day, you’ve noticed a change in the peregrine family’s behavior. For at least a week now the chicks are often alone on camera. Where are their parents?

When peregrine chicks become mobile and start to grow feathers (2-3 weeks old) their parents give them space to walk around and test their wings. The older the chicks become, the more space their parents give them. You’ve probably noticed that Hope now perches at the front of the nest, not on the nest surface. This give the chicks maximum room to walk around.

Hope perches at the front of the nest now that the chicks are older, 17 May 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The parents also perch nearby on the Cathedral of Learning within eyesight of their chicks. You can see Hope and Terzo with binoculars from Schenley Plaza but you can’t see them on your computer. The falconcam is below the parents’ perches because it’s the only place to put it in such a small area(*).

Yesterday, 17 May, the chicks were alone on camera for more than 82% of the daylight hours. But they weren’t alone.

If you watch the chicks’ behavior you can tell their parents are nearby. In the photos at top and below, the chicks are looking up and one is whining. He is whining at his parent.

Two peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 17 May 2019, 2pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

We didn’t know which parent was being nagged until Terzo came down to feed them.

Terzo feeding the chicks, 17 May 2019, 2:23pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday Wendy asked if anyone has seen Terzo lately. Here he is. (As a rule among peregrines, the mother is the one who feeds the young most often.)

Don’t worry about Hope and Terzo. They are very close by. You can’t see them but the chicks can.

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

(*) p.s. If you watch the Hays eaglecam you can see the entire nest, nearby trees, and a long view across the river in winter. The eaglecam is attached to a taller/higher tree than the eagles’ nest. At peregrine nests, especially at the Cathedral of Learning, there is nothing across the way that is taller than the nest itself. That’s how peregrines like it.

Used To Be Wild Flowers

Tulips (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

We often forget that garden flowers were originally wildflowers. This is easy to do with tulips because they look so perfect and don’t match any of our wildflowers.

Tulips (Tulipa sp.) are members of the Lily family (Liliaceae) originally from southern Europe and Central Asia. Their nearest relatives are three wildflower genera, shown in the slideshow below.

  • Erythronium: The leaves are the right shape but the flower faces down. This is the genus of our trout lilies.
  • Amana: The flower looks like a tiny white tulip but the leaves are too narrow.
  • Gagea: This mostly Asian genus has thin leaves and more open flowers, least like a tulip.
  • Erythronium caucasicum, native to central Caucasus and North Iran (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

None of the tulips’ wild relatives look exactly like a tulip because they’ve been cultivated and crossbred since the 10th century in Persia. In the 1500s, Europeans visiting the Ottoman Empire saw garden tulips and were so impressed that they brought them home. Everyone fell in love with them.

By the 1600s tulips were a luxury item, The Netherlands was the main tulip-producing nation, and the most prized tulips were those with a color “break” of two or more colors, often striped as shown below. (Ironically the “break” was caused by a virus that damaged the tulip.)

The Semper Augustus Tulip, the most expensive tulip sold during Tulip Mania (image from Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1630s the Netherlands developed a futures market on tulip bulbs and set the stage for Tulip Mania, a period of wild speculation in 1636-1637. At the height of Tulip Mania the top price paid for a coveted tulip rose to 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It’s hard to translate that into today’s dollars, but my guess is $500,000 to $1 million for a single tulip bulb.

The mania ended abruptly when the market collapsed in February 1637.

Tulips went back to the garden and eventually escaped to the wild in western Europe. After all, they used to be wild flowers.

This 7-minute video is a good explanation of Tulip Mania.

(photos and chart from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the originals)

Peregrine Watchers Needed Downtown!

Watchers needed at this site (photo by Kate St. John)

Can you spare five minutes to look at the back of a building in Downtown Pittsburgh?

This year’s peregrine nest is again at Third Avenue, only 12 stories high. The location is so low that on first flight, a few of the chicks always land on the street and have to be placed on the Rescue Porch to start over.  I’d like to schedule a Downtown Fledge Watch to help these youngsters, but I don’t know when they’ll reach the Fledge Watch stage. That’s where you come in.

Several days before young peregrines fly, they appear at the nest opening (location of yellow arrow).

It only takes five minutes — with binoculars or camera — to stop by the Third Avenue sidewalk at the edge of the Carlyle parking lot and look up at the nest opening.  Is there a juvenile there? If so, leave a comment on this blog.  Please take a picture. I’ll get an expert to look at your photo and tell us the age of the chicks.

What to look for: Juveniles are brown-and-cream-colored birds like the ones in this closeup from 2016. When they first appear, they’ll have downy white fuzz clinging to them.

Two peregrine chicks at Third Avenue nest, 1 June 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Don’t confuse them with their parents. The adults are sleek charcoal gray and white, like this.

Dori at the Third Ave nest, 3 March 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Dori at the Third Ave nest, 3 March 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

There’s no need to linger.  All it takes is five minutes. Let me know what you see.

(photo of Third Avenue site by Kate St. John. photos of Downtown peregrines by Lori Maggio)

Two Male Chicks Banded at Pitt

  • Banding Day 2019 at the Cathedral of Learning

Yesterday morning, 14 May 2019, two male peregrine chicks were banded at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning.  Here’s the story in pictures by Peter Bell with additions from John English, Kim Getz and the National Aviary falconcam.

This spring is the fourth year Hope and Terzo have nested at Pitt and the fourth year their chicks have been banded, so they knew something was about to happen when they heard the event assembling indoors.

Hope was especially vigilant and a very protective mother. She stood on the nest between her chicks and Lead Bander Dan Brauning of the PA Game Commission and would not leave! Dan had to gently brush her away before he could place the chicks in a box for safe transport.

Fortunately PGC Biologist Sam Ruano had Dan’s back while Hope flew back and forth, strafing the area just above the soft broom that Sam held up as her target (rather than their heads).

Indoors, the chicks were given health checks (both healthy), weighed to determine their sex (both male), and given two leg bands: a black/green color band that can be read from a distance, and a silver USFW band.

Dan permitted me to stick a bit of colored tape on the USFW silver bands so that observers can tell the birds apart on the falconcam and with binoculars: Red for chick#1 (C1), Yellow for chick#2 (C2). The tape will fall off within a year but we’ll find it useful in the meantime.

The chicks were returned to the nest in less than half an hour and Hope immediately came to protect them. Dan wrapped up indoors with a Q&A and showed us the unhatched egg.

The peregrines also received a lot of media attention:

Watch them on the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh.

(photos by Peter Bell, John English, Kim Getz and the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Today Is Banding Day

Peregrine chicks at the Cathedral of Learning, 12 May 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Today, 14 May 2019, is banding day for the peregrine falcon chicks at the Cathedral of Learning. The event is closed to the public (the room has a very strict occupancy limit!) but you’ll see some of the action on camera.

The first hint will be the sound of “kakking” as Hope and Terzo react when Dan Brauning of the Pennsylvania Game Commission goes out on the ledge to retrieve the chicks.

The chicks will receive health checks and leg bands and be returned to the nest in less than half an hour.

Stay tuned for photos and an update on who’s who.

p.s. In this photo from Sunday May 12 you can see that the chicks are getting a lot to eat. The dark bulge on each chest is “dinner” stored in the crop. When the crop is full it expands so much that the skin shows between the feathers.

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

Schenley Park Outing, May 19, 8:30a

Red-eyed vireo on nest (photo by Don Weiss)

Join me on Sunday May 19 at 8:30am for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive for this 8:30am to 10:30am walk. We’ll see flowers, late migrants and nesting birds. Red-eyed vireos, shown above, nest in Schenley Park. Will we see one?

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Check the Events page before you come for more information and in case of cancellation.

(photo of nesting red-eyed vireo by Don Weiss)

They Fold Their Leaves

Black locust, young leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Now that black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) are leafing out in Pittsburgh we can watch their leaves do exercises.

According to Wikipedia black locust leaves fold together at night and during wet weather, a trait of the Legume family called nyctinasty. I’ve often seen nyctinasty in clovers but have never noticed it in black locusts because I haven’t been paying attention. This month I plan to take a look.

It will be a good week to get close to black locusts. They’re blooming now with a sweet grape-like scent. See photos and read more about them in last year’s article: The Sweet Smell of Trees.