First Cabbage Whites

Cabbage white butterfly (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Cabbage white butterfly (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

During mid April’s hot weather I saw my first cabbage white butterfly of the year.

Cabbage whites (Pieris rapae) overwinter in the chrysalis but are quick to emerge when the weather warms up. They’re one of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring.

You might think they look boring because they’re simply white but these butterflies have an amazing color we can’t see.

On Throw Back Thursday, read how cabbage whites communicate in color in this vintage article:  If Only We Could See.

Cabbage white butterfly reflects UV light (photo by Nathan Morehouse in Science Magazine)
Cabbage white butterfly reflects UV light (photo by Nathan Morehouse in Science Magazine)

 

(photo at top from Wikimedia Commons, white-and-purple image by Nathan Morehouse in Science Magazine. Click on the images to see full photo credits.)

The Dance Makes A Difference

How can we tell when similar birds are actually different species?

In the jungles of Indonesia the male superb bird of paradise (Lophorina superba) is famous for his courtship dance.  To attract a mate he calls loudly, unfurls his jet black feathers and iridescent green apron, and starts to dance.  If he’s really good at it, the female accepts him.

The bird’s color and dance are so mesmerizing that ornithologists at first dismissed the differences between the eastern and western birds. Now they’ve looked more closely.

This video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows how the western bird’s behavior convinced scientists to split the superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) into two species.

The dance makes a difference.  The bird with the sidestep gait is now called the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda).

 

p.s. Volgelkop is the name of a peninsula in western New Guinea, Indonesia where this bird lives.  On the map the peninsula is shaped like a bird’s head.  Vogel+kop means “Bird head” in Dutch.

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Peregrine Mothers Rule The Nest

When a raptor nest doesn’t have a camera, the only way to tell if the eggs have hatched is to watch near the nest for the first food delivery.

Last week Lori Maggio stopped by the Downtown peregrines’ nest every day to see if Louie was bringing in food.  On Thursday, April 19, she was lucky to be there when he made his first delivery to Dori and the chick(s) — but it took five attempts before he was allowed to drop it off.

That’s because the mother peregrine is always in charge at the nest. She’s present when the eggs are hatching, she calls the shots on the timing of feedings, and she’s the one who feeds the chicks until they are older.

This slideshow of Lori Maggio’s photos shows how completely Dori is in charge at the Downtown nest … and proves that the eggs hatched on April 19, 2018.

In his first four tries, Louie brings prey to the nest opening but Dori says “Not yet; go away” She probably tells him with just a look.  On the fifth attempt she says OK, Louie makes his delivery, and flies away with empty talons.

Even if we had a webcam at the Downtown nest we would never have seen this activity.  The same is true at the Pitt peregrine nest.

The Cathedral of Learning falconcam has such a narrow view that we can’t see when Terzo arrives with a food delivery and we can’t see how many times he’s brought food and been rebuffed.  Here’s what we do know:

  • Somewhere off camera Terzo signals that he’s brought food.
  • When Hope signals OK, Terzo comes into the nest to shelter the chicks while Hope leaves to get the food.
  • Hope is gone for a few minutes.
  • She returns, bringing the food into camera view.
  • Terzo leaves and Hope feeds the chicks.

Peregrine mothers rule the nest.

 

(photos by Lori Maggio)

Pitt Peregrines: Yesterday in a Minute

In case you missed it, here’s what’s been happening at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest.

This Day in a Minute video from 22 April 2018 shows 12 hours of their activities in 60 seconds. Things are looking good.

Yesterday Hope and Terzo’s two chicks were three and four days old.  The chicks still need to be brooded but the weather was sunny and warm so their parents didn’t have to cover them completely.

You’ll see the chicks receive a very long feeding at 9:30a, then Terzo took over the morning shift. At noon he and the chicks shuffled to the front of the nest box. Then Hope came in and shuffled the chicks back in place.  Sleep and eat, that’s what they do.

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

 

(video made of snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

 

Schenley Park Outing: April 29, 8:00am

Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)
Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)

Spring is here. Let’s get outdoors!

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, April 29, 8a – 10a.  (Note the early start! 8:00am)

Meet me at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center for this joint outing with the Three Rivers Birding Club.

New birds come to town every day in late April so there will be plenty to see. Have you seen your first-of-year gray catbird yet?  I expect to find one on this outing.  (Catbirds, don’t let me down!)

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes.  Don’t forget your binoculars!

Click here for more information and in case of cancellation.

Hope to see you there!

 

(photo of a gray catbird by Chuck Tague)

Good News You May Have Missed

Hermit thrush (photo by Steve Gosser)
Hermit thrush (photo by Steve Gosser)

After a turbulent week for Pittsburgh’s peregrines, here’s some good news you may have missed.

Spring migration is bringing new birds to Pittsburgh almost every day.

Wednesday’s new arrival (for me) was a hermit thrush at Bird Park in Mt. Lebanon, illustrated by Steve Gosser’s photo above.

On Thursday morning birders discovered that huge flocks of migrating buffleheads, scaup, horned grebes and Bonaparte’s gulls had landed on Pittsburgh’s rivers Wednesday night.  This phenomenon, called a “fallout,” was a one day wonder.  Most of the birds left that evening.

And songbirds that arrived last weekend are still here.  Check out more good news in Tuesday’s article: New Birds In Town.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

Happy Friday

We’re taking a break from peregrine drama with the cutest owls on the planet.

This video of young burrowing owls was sent as a Thank You from Cornell Lab of Ornithology to its contributors in 2016.

Enjoy!  And happy Friday!

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

p.s. In case you’re not familiar with Cornell Lab … they’re a unit of Cornell University that works to advance the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds.  We, and the birds, have all benefited from their work.

You’ve probably used at least one of their online tools or participated in their programs:  All About Birds website, eBird, the Merlin ID app, online bird ID classes (new class this month on Warbler ID!), nestcams & feeder cams, Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch,  … to name a few.

Read more about Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s workJoin them here.

Two Chicks!

Hope and two chicks, 6:34am 19 April 2018
Hope and two chicks, 6:34am 19 April 2018

Thursday April 19, 2018 at 7:30am.

Yes, there’s an exclamation point in the title!  The suspense is over.  Out of four hatched eggs, Hope killed two chicks and spared two.  (Click here for Hope’s history of killing her young.)

The 4th egg:

Last night at 11:15pm Hope pulled an eggshell from the nest beneath her.  We knew the 4th egg had hatched but no one could see if the chick was OK.  Hope gave us a hint last night when she stepped aside at 3am and revealed two chicks (below).

Hope and 2 chicks at 3am, 19 April 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope and 2 chicks at 3am, 19 April 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

We saw them clearly when Terzo brought food at dawn. At top, Hope leaves to get the food. And here Terzo arrives to brood them while she’s gone. (Typically the mother peregrine eats a little, then brings the rest back to feed the babies.)

Terzo arrives to brood 2 chicks, 19 April 2018, 6:37a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo arrives to brood 2 chicks, 19 April 2018, 6:37a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Every year after hatching is over, Hope becomes a good mother.  She fledged 1 youngster in 2016 and 3 in 2017.

So the coast is clear. Whew!

A word about naming the chicks:

At Pittsburgh’s on-camera sites we use a naming scheme similar to that used at bald eagle nests: a letter for the location plus the hatch number.  The Cathedral of Learning is “C” and last year’s chicks were C6 to C8 so this year’s chicks are C9 and C10.

 

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

Waiting For The Coast To Clear

Terzo watches as Hope feeds the chick, 17 April 2018, 4:56pm (photo from National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Terzo watches as Hope feeds the chick, 17 April 2018, 4:56pm (photo from National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Wednesday April 18, 2018, 7:40am:

Yesterday was hatch day at the Cathedral of Learning nest but it was not a happy day.  As the female peregrine Hope has done in the past, she killed and ate some of her young as they hatched.  The status right now is:

  • April 17, 8:10am: As the first egg began to hatch, Hope picked up the chick, killed and ate it. Her back was to the camera.
  • April 17, 9:07am: As the second egg began to hatch, Hope opened the egg, killed and ate the chick in full camera view.
  • April 17, 1:35pm: Terzo was on the eggs. Hope arrived and chirped for him to leave.  She opened the 3rd egg, picked up the chick and carried it, but did not kill it.  Hope eventually brooded the chick and the remaining egg.
  • April 17, 4:55pm:  Early evening: Terzo brought food. Hope fed the chick.
  • April 18, 6:20am:  Nest exchange at dawn. Terzo arrives with food. Hope feeds the chick. Then Terzo broods. 1 egg remains.
One chick, one egg, 18 April 2018, 6:21am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
One chick, one egg, 18 April 2018, 6:21am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Hope looks at Terzo with egg and chick, 18 April 2018, 6:28am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope looks at Terzo with egg and chick, 18 April 2018, 6:28am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Why does Hope kill and eat her young?

We don’t know.  This is such a rare occurrence that there’s no guidance from similar peregrine nests — they just don’t do this.  Meanwhile every idea we come up with is a guess.  I prefer not to wade into the guessing.

Unusual behaviors:

Yes, Hope kills and eats her chicks but there are two unusual habits that accompany it:

  • Hope opens the egg.  The hatching rule for all birds is this: Chicks must open the eggs themselves. At other peregrine falconcams notice that the mother watches but does not touch the shell until the chick has forced open the two halves.  Later the mother eats the shell (which is normal). Raptors beaks are sharp and could damage the chick. Normal mother raptors do not use their beaks on the eggs.
  • Hope picks up and carries the chick.  Normal peregrines don’t pick up their hatchlings. When a chick is outside the scrape (nest bowl) the mother uses the underside of her closed beak to pull the chick back to her.  Hope uses her closed beak to arrange the eggs but she breaks that rule when they hatch.

 

Why doesn’t Terzo stay at the nest and prevent this from happening?

The rule at peregrine nests is that the mother bird is totally in charge.  The father bird defers to her.

A corollary is that the mother bird is always present and in charge at hatching time.  She calls all the shots, including timing of the first feeding.

The father bird may communicate that he wants something to be different but it’s her decision.  When Hope tells Terzo, “It’s my turn to be on the nest!” he has to leave.  When he tells her “An egg is hatching” she takes over.  This is the way of the peregrine.

What next?

We don’t know what Hope will do with the last egg so these warnings still apply.

A Caution to Viewers:

Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

A Caution to Commenters:

If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.  So… If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

I’ll let you know when the coast is clear.

Bad News Again

Hope eats her first-hatching chick, 17 April 2018, 8:11a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Hope eats her first-hatching chick, 17 April 2018, 8:11a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Bad news.

This morning the eggs began to hatch at the Cathedral of Learning but as the first one opened its egg the mother peregrine, Hope, killed and ate the chick.  Fortunately she had her back turned while she ate.

There were four eggs when the day began. It remains to be seen how many will survive.

Hope does this every year so I here’s my recommendation:

A Caution to Viewers:

Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

I’ll let you know when the coast is clear.


Update: At approximately 9:00am Hope killed and ate chick#2.
Update: At 1:35pm Hope manipulated 3rd egg. Chick #3 hatched. She is brooding it with 4th egg.  (This report is 3rd hand; I was not watching.)

A Caution to Commenters:

Though this situation resembles reality TV in which viewers can vote someone on or off the island, it is not a “voting” situation.  If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.

Normally I do not edit readers’ comments but this situation is not normal.  If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

Though I am not watching Hope closely (I don’t want see her kill her young), I do want the camera to stay up.

 

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