Scenes Of Cardinal Family Life

Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are common backyard birds that we often take for granted, but their family life is very interesting.

Bob Kroeger photographed cardinals nesting in his Cape Cod backyard in May and June.  The slideshow lets us pause and see what they’re doing.

The male is very bright red:  This is good news for the family. Studies have shown that males with bright red breasts and females with bright underwings show more parental care to their young.

He feeds his mate at the birdbath:  The male’s job is to feed his mate from nest building through brooding (and perhaps beyond).  This makes sense because male cardinals don’t have brood patches.  The females build the nest, incubate the eggs and brood the young.

She’s eating away from the nest:   It’s perfectly normal for the female to spend time away from the nest, even if there are eggs in it.  During incubation, which lasts 11-13 days, the female spends 30% of daylight hours away from the nest.

Two juveniles on a branch with their father:  This cardinal couple beat the odds. The majority of nests fail due to predation.

How to recognize juvenile cardinals:  The juveniles resemble their mother but their beaks are dark.  (Adults have orange-red beaks.)  The juveniles’ beaks will turn orange-red when they are 65-80 days old.

You can’t see the food in the father’s beak:  The parents feed insects to their young but they  carry the food far back in their large beaks.  Researchers probably find this frustrating when they have to identify what the young are eating.

How long will the young depend on their parents?  Juvenile cardinals are completely dependent on their parents for about 19 days.  Around that time, their mother starts to build her next nest. Dad may feed the youngsters occasionally until they are 25-56 days old.

 

(photos by Bob Kroeger of South Dennis, MA: photos on Facebook; his business website.)

Today in Schenley Park

Schenley Park outing, 24 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Park outing, 24 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eight of us went birding in Schenley Park today near and saw lots of cool bird behavior.

In the first fifteen minutes we saw an unusual scarlet tanager — bright orange like an oriole instead of scarlet like a tanager.  We also had good looks at our Best Bird of the day:  a beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeak.

Down the trail we found a tiny sentinel.  A male ruby-throated hummingbird perched high on a dead snag watching his domain.  We also found an Acadian flycatcher on her nest and an American robin feeding nestlings.

After so much rain the creek and first waterfall were running fast.  Last Wednesday’s downpour washed a culvert into the gravel trail that reached right down to the bedrock — a layer of blue-green slate.

In all we saw / heard 29 species.  The complete checklist is here.

p.s. I promised daisy fleabane and we did see it. Whew!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Fruit In Transition

Fruit is forming on Large-flowered Bellwort, 29 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)
Fruit is forming on Large-flowered Bellwort, 29 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

In late June the spring flowers are gone and summer flowers haven’t bloomed yet.  I find it hard to identify plants without flowers but this one was rather easy.

The leaves are perfoliate and alternate on the stem.  The six-sided fruit indicates the flower had six parts. The fruit stem pierces the leaf.

Here’s a plant with these characteristics. Large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) has six petals and the stems pierce the leaves.

Large-flowered bellwort in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)
Large-flowered bellwort in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

In late June bellwort fruit is still puffy looking.  Eventually it will shrink into three lobes.  Click here to see.

Right now the fruit is in transition.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

A Bee Backs Out

Last weekend in Virginia Beach I saw a bit of black at the tip of a tightly closed yellow flower.

The flower was making a buzzing sound. What next?

As I watched a bumblebee backed out.  In the last photo you can see that she was in the flower upside down.

 

p.s. Do you know what flower this is?  Is it False Foxglove? It was growing in sandy soil by the Long Creek Trail at First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Peregrine Update, June 22

Peregrine chick at Humane Animal Rescue, 15 May 2018 (screenshot from Humane Animal Rescue Facebook page)
Peregrine chick at Humane Animal Rescue, 15 May 2018 (screenshot from Humane Animal Rescue Facebook page)

22 June 2018:

Yesterday was a big day for peregrine falcon news.  There are updates from four sites.

Downtown Pittsburgh’s peregrines: formerly at Third Avenue

On Wednesday the PA Game Commission Southwest Region issued a press release on the status of the Downtown peregrine chicks that were removed from their nest on 8 May (pictured above on 15 May).  I have not seen the press release so my source for this news is John Hayes’ 21 June 2018 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  Displaced Pittsburgh peregrine falcon chicks resettle in new home in northcentral PA.

Though two of the chicks passed away I am happy to learn that the remaining two were fostered in a wild peregrine nest on a cliff in north central Pennsylvania.

Fostering is much better than hacking.  In hacking, the chicks have no parents to learn from.  In fostering, the chicks are placed in a family with chicks of similar age.  The family accepts the newcomers and the parents feed and teach everyone.

Please read John Hayes’ article for all the details.

UPDATE, 11am:  I received the PGC Press Release (click here to read the entire release).  Here’s my favorite quote from it:

“The Pennsylvania Game Commission on May 31 transported the chicks from a wildlife rehabilitation facility to the nest, where both adult and young peregrines had been seen. It quickly was apparent the adults at the nest accepted the new chicks as their own. The chicks were seen at the nest the next day, with chicks that had hatched in the nest and their parents.”

 

Elizabeth Bridge, Monongahela River, Allegheny County

Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

Unfortunately, the Elizabeth Bridge nest site is dangerous for peregrine fledglings. This year we’ve learned that they land on the roadway on first flight.  One fledgling was found dead on 5 June, the other was found injured on 3 June and taken to Wildlife Works rehab center.

Yesterday we heard good news of the surviving juvenile, embedded below from Wildlife Works, Inc Facebook page.  (Click here for a full-length photo.)

During the week of  10 June observers checked the bridge often for signs of continued nest activity — especially looking for food deliveries — but there were none.  The parents remain at the bridge. PennDOT has resumed construction work on the entire bridge.

 

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, Allegheny-Westmoreland Counties

Young peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 18 June 2018 (photo by Steve Gosser)
Young peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 18 June 2018 (photo by Steve Gosser)

By now at least one of the three juveniles has fledged.  Rob Protz reported this activity on 20 June 2018:

Tarentum: Fledge watch Wed. evening (between the raindrops).

The smaller juvenile was not seen. The two larger juveniles were present, mostly on top of the nestbox, though one did wander down to the downriver end of the railing early on after 6 PM. There was one visit by an adult – probably a food drop – but since it was mostly behind the box, it wasn’t very visible. One juvie did jump down and stay behind the box for a while at that point.

Visit the Tarentum Bridge soon to see the young peregrines.

 

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

Terzo and Hope court on Midsummer Day, 21 June 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo and Hope court on Midsummer Day, 21 June 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On Midsummer morning, Hope and Terzo made a quick visit to the nestbox and bowed to each other. Though they will not nest again this year bowing strengthens their pair bond.

 

(photo credits:
screenshot of Downtown peregrine chicks 15 May 2018 from Humane Animal Rescue,
peregrine at Elizabeth Bridge by John English,
injured juvenile peregrine from Elizabeth Bridge embedded from Wildlife Works Facebook page,
juvenile peregrines at Tarentum Bridge by Steve Gosser
Terzo and Hope at Cathedral of Learning from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh
)

Nests Over Water

Green heron, Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)
Green heron, Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)

Why does this bird have his crest raised?

Perhaps someone came too close to his nest.

Green herons (Butorides virescens) are shy waders in swampy thickets, preferring to fish in the shadows and nest alone.  Because of their secretive nature it’s always surprising to find a nest.

When green herons return to Pennsylvania in the spring they’re already paired up for nesting.  The male chooses the location, usually in a small tree over water, giving preference to last year’s site if it was successful.  He starts to build the nest but as soon as his lady gets the hint his job is to bring the sticks as she places them.  Then she lays 4-5 eggs.

Green heron nesting in Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)
Green heron nesting in Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)

With this dual building effort it’s amazing that the structure is sometimes so thin that you can see the eggs through it from below.

That is, if you can find the nest.  Green herons don’t want you to.  They fly away loudly if you come too close.  Typically they sound like this (Xeno Canto 147343 by Paul Marvin at Viera Wetlands, FL)

… but if they’re really annoyed they are much louder (Xeno Canto 145806 by Paul Marvin at Viera Wetlands, FL)

Right now most of Pennsylvania’s green herons have young in the nest and the parents are busy bringing food.  At 16-17 days old the chicks will climb out of the nest — or swim if they have to.  They’ll fly at 21-22 days old.

Stay alert for the sight and sound green herons.  You might find a nest over water.

Bob Kroeger found these herons in Florida.

 

(photos by Bob Kroeger of South Dennis, MA. Bob photographs birds for fun and shares them on Facebook. Here’s his business website.)

Schenley Park Outing: June 24, 8:30am

Fleabane blooming in Schenley Park, 10 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Fleabane blooming in Schenley Park, 10 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Summer arrived before the solstice.  It’s time to get outdoors!

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, June 24, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road. We’ll look in the meadow for birds and flowers, then explore the woodland trails.  I’m sure we’ll see daisy fleabane. It’s blooming now.

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

Before you come, visit the Events page in case there are changes or cancellations.  The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning.

Hope to see you there!

Hacking Young Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)
Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)

Many of you have asked about the status of Dori and Louie’s peregrine chicks, taken from their Downtown Pittsburgh nest on 8 May 2018.  I have no news of the chicks, but I do know the PA Game Commission planned to hack them at an undisclosed location.  Based on the chicks’ age, I think this would have happened in early June.

What is peregrine hacking?

Hacking is a falconry term for the process of introducing captive chicks without parents to independent free flight. The Peregrine Recovery Program used this method to restore peregrines to the wild after they went extinct east of the Mississippi. Every wild peregrine in the eastern U.S. is descended from one or more hacked birds.

The Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Virginia has four decades of experience in hacking peregrines.  Please read their excellent description of hacking, complete with photos from their program.

This brief description, partly drawn from ccbbirds.org, includes National Park Service photos from the Shenandoahs and New River Gorge.

A hack box, above, is prepared and placed on the cliff.  It has:

  • Grill-work on the cliff side so the chicks can see the sky and valley,
  • A door that opens on a safe ledge for wing exercising,
  • A chute for delivering food to the chicks.

Young peregrines are placed in the box after banding and before they are old enough to fly.  The box is kept closed at first for the chicks’ protection from great horned owls and other predators.

Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology)
Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

The chicks are fed using the chute. (They don’t see humans feeding them.)

Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)
Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)

When they are old enough to ledge walk, the door is left open so they can walk out and exercise their wings.  They are still fed using the chute.

Eventually the chicks fly and learn to hunt. Food is delivered to the hack box until they are self sufficient.

Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)
Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)

When the fledglings are self sufficient they fly away (disperse).

We know they disperse far.  Three hacked birds from the Center for Conservation Biology program have come to Pittsburgh to nest.

 

(photos by the National Park Service from the New River Gorge National River hacking program and via the Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

Let’s Go, Kids

  • Uh oh! We've been seen.

Last week in Schenley Park I heard unusual mewing sounds above me.  Three raccoon kits were whining as their mother assessed whether I was dangerous. She saw me before I saw her family.

Eventually Mama decided her kits should move up the tree for safety’s sake.  “Let’s go, kids!”

After they were safely (almost) hidden she looked down to see if I was gone.  That tiny tail in the last photo is one of her kits.

(photos by Kate St. John)