I love ravens, not only because they’re really smart but because they’re great acrobatic fliers. They show off to impress each other.
Ravens live a long time — 30 to 40 years — and don’t breed until they’re 2-4 years old. In their first few years they hang out in flocks, get to know other ravens, and choose a mate for life.
Part of getting to know each other includes playing in the sky. When they’ve chosen a mate they make courtship flights together — swooping and diving, soaring with wingtips touching, locking toes and tumbling in the sky.
Have you ever seen ravens tumble? It’s rare to see in western Pennsylvania because we don’t have big flocks of ravens but they’re easy to find in winter in California.
It’s been hard to schedule this year’s Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch because I can’t guess when the chicks will fledge. Their first flight depends on their sex — males fledge earlier than females — and now I’ve learned that this year’s chicks are male.
Here’s the Pitt Fledge Watch schedule, then I’ll tell you about the male/female thing.
Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch Schedule, 2018
When: Friday, May 25 through Wednesday May 30, 11:30a – 1:30p. (Sun. May 27 is 11a-1p) Click here for the calendar. Where: At the Schenley Plaza tent. Click here for a Google map. Parking is free on Sundays. Who: Join me and/or John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts to watch peregrines and swap stories. Except … We will not be there in rain or thunder. Also, Fledge Watch will end when they’re flying and hard to track. (Example: If they fly on Tuesday we won’t be there on Wednesday.)
! Check the Events page for updates before you come to Schenley Plaza !
Why the two “female” chicks are male:
Are they male? Yes. Here’s why.
Among peregrine falcons, females are always larger than males. At banding age the weight of peregrine chicks indicates their sex. The rough rule of thumb is: Under 700 grams is male, greater or equal to 700 grams is female.
On Banding Day May 11 at the Cathedral of Learning, the Pitt chicks’ weights were borderline. In that case, chicks are given the larger (“female”) bands so that the rings won’t bind if they turn out to be female.
As time passed and we saw them mature on camera Dan Brauning and Art McMorris emailed me with a revision. Both chicks are male.
It doesn’t matter that they have larger “female” bands. These chicks are listed as male in PA Game Commission records.
This spring (2018) I’ve seen two red-tailed hawk nests in Schenley Park and there’s probably a third. Gregory Diskin is documenting one of them with his camera.
Above, the mother hawk watches her two chicks on May 14. Below, the chicks gaze out from their bridge nest on May 17.
On May 18 a chick tests his wings.
On May 21 a chick displays his new, reddish chest feathers.
(Click on any photo to see more of Gregory Diskin’s album.)
These two will fly in the next few weeks. They’re much further along than the tree nest overlooking the Parkway where the mother is still incubating or brooding. She’s hard to see now among the leaves.
If you watch red-tailed hawks in your area you might find a nest. When you see one carrying prey in its talons, it’s taking food to the chicks. Follow the bird and you’ll find the red-tailed hawks at home.
I thought that the downstairs chick would eventually return to the nest but this morning the opposite happened. When the down under chick got his breakfast the upstairs chick couldn’t stand missing out so he jumped into the gully to be fed.
Now they’re all off camera.
I doubt they’ll bother to come upstairs before they fly.
p.s. Dorothy, the previous female peregrine who lived at the Cathedral of Learning for 15 years, did not feed chicks in the gully. Apparently she wanted all of them together upstairs — and coincidentally on camera. Hope doesn’t play by Dorothy’s rules.
11:00am: Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch. Meet at the Schenley Plaza tent.
Parking is FREE on Sundays.
Note! The 10-day weather forecast calls for thunderstorms on May 27 but that could change. If it’s storming these outings will be canceled. I don’t do lightning.
Schenley Park Bird and Nature Walk, May 27, 8:30a – 10:30a.
Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, May 27, 8:30a – 10:30a.
We’ll meet me at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center to see what’s popping in the park since our birdless walk in April. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks nest in Schenley Park. Will we see one? I hope so!
Click here for more information and in case of cancellation.
… and then …
As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza to look for peregrines. (I will start the watch immediately when I get there. The 11a start time insures that peregrine fans will find me even if our bird walk runs late.)
Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, May 27, 11a – 1p.
When will the Pitt peregrine chicks fly from the Cathedral of Learning? I don’t know but I’m sure they’ll be fun to watch on Memorial Day weekend.
Join me at the Schenley Plaza tent on Sunday May 27 11a – 1p for a Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch. We’ll swap peregrine stories and get close-up looks at the peregrines through my scope.
Click here for a Google map of Schenley Plaza. Don’t forget to check the Events page for last minute updates before you come. Fledge Watch will be canceled if it’s raining or thundering.
p.s. A complete Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch schedule will be posted later this week. This year it’s harder than usual to predict when these birds will fly!
(photo of a rose-breasted grosbeak by Cris Hamilton, photo of Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch 2017 by John English, photo of the Schenley Plaza tent photo by Kate St. John)
April showers bring May flowers. Here’s a taste of what’s blooming now in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Fire pink (Silene virginica) was blooming in Harrison Hills Park on May 12, above. When I went back to take its picture someone had picked most of it. 🙁
Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is blooming in Schenley Park. At first you’ll notice it’s large three-part leaves, then you’ll see the pulpit where Jack lives. Some of the pulpits have stripes inside, some do not. Lift the lid to see.
Squawroot (Conopholis americana) isn’t green because it has no chlorophyll. Instead it coexists with oak trees, taking nourishment from their roots. Though it’s parasitic it rarely hurts the trees. This month squawroot’s “bear corn” flowers are everywhere in Schenley Park.
Squawroot, Schenley Park, 18 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
This week the air in my neighborhood smells so sweet. The black locust trees are in bloom.
Black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) are common in Pittsburgh because they’re one of the first trees to grow in poor, disturbed soil. Our area has a lot of habitat for them, generated by people and nature — bulldozers and landslides.
Black locusts are ugly in winter with gnarly bark and twisted branches but they are sweet in May. The trees are in the pea family and it is evident in their flowers. Here’s what they look like in bloom.
The flowers are attractive to bees and birds. I’ve seen rose-breasted grosbeaks use their large beaks to grab the base of the flowers, then twirl to make the petals fall off. They swallow the nectar end.
Black locusts usually reach their peak on May 12 but they’re late this year. Look for these beautifully scented trees before the flowers fade in about 10 days.
Humane Animal Rescue, Update, May 15 at 6:22pm: Rehabilitators at our Wildlife Center continue to provide care for the four chicks removed from a Third Avenue building in Downtown Pittsburgh last week. While the birds are still reliant on staff members wearing our Peregrine puppet for food, they’ve begun to show interest in eating on their own.
Meanwhile, Dori and Louie are rarely seen at their former Third Avenue nest site. Click here for the entire story.
2. Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh
Two chicks were banded at the Cathedral of Learning on 11 May 2018. On Wednesday, May 16, one was bumped off the nest into the gully a few feet below, so now one is topside and the other is underside.
The underside chick’s movements are easy to follow from Schenley Plaza because his mother and father, Hope and Terzo, perch above him along the bulwark.
3. Westinghouse Bridge over Turtle Creek, Monongahela watershed, Allegheny County
On Thursday May 10, Dan Brauning and April Sperfslage of the PA Game Commission visited the Westinghouse Bridge to check on nesting activity. They found three chicks too young to band — about 15 days old — and two protective parents. The male’s bands were confirmed as black/green, 19/W, nicknamed George. The female is unbanded, nicknamed Rose for her rosy cheeks.
If you’d like to watch onsite, click here for a map of 3 viewing locations. The best one is Elder Street (yellow X).
4. Elizabeth Bridge, Monongahela River, Allegheny County
Our newest peregrine family is nesting at the Elizabeth Bridge over the Monongahela River at Elizabeth, PA. Click here for details and where to watch.
5. McKees Rocks Bridge, Ohio River, Allegheny County
On May 11, PGC’s Dan Brauning and April Sperfslage checked the McKees Rocks bridge for signs of nesting activity but only found two unattended eggs at last year’s nest site. When John English and I stopped by on Tuesday May 15, we saw no peregrines on the bridge but two soaring together downriver. It appears that this nest has failed.
6. Neville Island I-79 Bridge, Ohio River, Allegheny County
Whenever you visit the Neville Island I-79 Bridge you are likely to see a peregrine but it’s always on the Glenfield side. Dan Brauning says the nest is on that end of the bridge this year, though he couldn’t get up there to check when he and April visited on May 10. We can’t be sure of the adults’ identities but they were confirmed three years ago as Magnum (Canton, 2010) and Beau (Cathedral of Learning, 2010, son of Dorothy and E2).
7. Monaca-East Rochester Bridge, Rt 51, Ohio River, Beaver County
When John English and I visited Rochester’s Riverfront Park on May 15, we were surprised to see an osprey nesting on top of the Monaca-Beaver railroad bridge. I’d assumed the peregrines would nest there this year but Scott Gregg reports that they have moved to the Monaca-East Rochester Rt 51 bridge because of conflicts with the ospreys. On 4/26 Scott found the peregrines nesting on the same platform under the Rt 51 deck as in prior years. However on 5/6 and 5/13 he couldn’t confirm chicks. John and I saw no peregrines there at all on May 15.
If you’re in the vicinity, look for peregrines on the power towers near the bridge. Let me know what you see.
8. Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, Allegheny-Westmoreland Counties
The Tarentum Bridge is one of our newest success stories. Several years before she moved to Pitt, Hope used to nest in cubbyholes in the arch of the Tarentum Bridge but her nest sites were always over water and dangerous for fledgings. In 2015 the PA Game Commission installed a nestbox on the bridge pier. Hope never used it but this year a new peregrine couple has taken up residence.
On Monday May 14 when John English and I visited the bridge we found the female in the nestbox. John’s photo above shows the location of the nestbox. My digiscoped photo shows the female inside it. Stand on the sidewalk on 1st Avenue with a scope or high-powered camera for this view.
On Tuesday evening May 15, Rob Protz reported the first food delivery to the box at 5:40pm. The eggs have hatched!
9. The Graff Bridge, Route 422 Kittanning, Allegheny River, Armstrong County
This photo by Tony Bruno in 2017 shows there are indeed peregrines at the Graff Bridge, Rt 422 Kittanning, but now they are hard to see. On Monday May 14 John English walked the Armstrong Trail at Manorville to get under the bridge for a better view. We moved upriver a bit and were pleased to see a peregrine arrive with prey and pluck it vigorously on the West Kittanning side. We think they’re nesting.
Peek through the trees along the Armstrong Trail, upriver from Manorville, and you might see a peregrine. Bring a scope or a high-powered camera!
1. Downtown: screenshot from a video on Humane Animal Rescue’s Facebook page,
2. Cathedral of Learning: photos from the National Aviary falconcams
3. Westinghouse Bridge: photos by April Sperfslage, PGC
4. Elizabeth Bridge: photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA
5. McKees Rocks Bridge: photo from from Wikimedia Commons
6. Neville Island I-79 Bridge: photo by April Sperfslage, PGC
7. Monaca-East Rochester Bridge: photo by Steve Leiendecker, PGC
8. Tarentum Bridge: photos by John English and Kate St. John
9. Graff Bridge, Rt 422: photo by Anthony Bruno)
It happens every year. At 28-35 days old, one of the Pitt peregrine chicks stumbles off the nest surface into the gully below. People watching the camera get worried. The chick will be fine.
Today (5/16/2018) at 2:52p there was confusion on the nest surface as Hope brought in a dead red-winged blackbird for the afternoon snack. One of the chicks backed up to the edge of the box and lost his balance. Oops! He disappeared from view.
The video above shows what happened. We can still hear him! He is close by and he is very annoyed!
Soon he’ll start exploring below and eating the scraps that fell from above. His parents will bring him food. He might come back to the nest or he might not. He doesn’t need to. He’s fine.
CORRECTION on FRIDAY MAY 18: I was wrong when I thought the chick’s parents would not feed him in the gully. He is getting fed where he is so he has no reason to come back up to the gravel where you can see him on camera.
Here’s why I was confused: Dorothy (the previous female peregrine who lived at the Cathedral of Learning for 15 years) did not feed a chick in the gully; she waited for the chick to return. After 15 years of watching Dorothy I thought all peregrines were like her. Hope doesn’t play by Dorothy’s rules. Hope feeds the chick no matter where he is.
For more information on the area below the nest and video footage of a chick returning to the nest, see this vintage blog from 2015: Below The Nest.
A Note to Commenters: Watch the video of the chick climbing back into the nest at this link — Below The Nest — before you comment.
p.s. Humans cannot go back to the nest now without risking the death of one/both chicks. The chicks are beyond banding age, very active but they cannot fly. Nonetheless, they will jump to their deaths to escape predators (i.e. humans). Human intervention at this point would be deadly.