Wildlife Returns While Humans Stay Indoors

Limpkin on patio railing in Boca Raton, FL (sent by Natalie Mitchell, 31 Mar 2020)

As we shelter indoors, wildlife is reclaiming our neighborhoods faster than we thought possible. Limpkins in Florida, deer in Pittsburgh, and wild boars in Italy!

Limpkins in Florida:

Now that human activity has slowed in Boca Raton, my sister-in-law says that limpkins have moved into the neighborhoods and are shouting all night to attract mates and establish territories. If you’ve never heard a limpkin you’d think it’s a human in distress and you might call 911. Ooops! It’s a bird. Limpkins are a thrill to birders but annoying if you’re trying to sleep. Here’s what one looks and sounds like from 2012. You can hear other limpkins in the distance.

Deer in Pittsburgh:

Deer are getting bolder and coming out during the day now that Pittsburghers are not outdoors. Yesterday, 31 March, Donna Foyle found a family group right next to a front porch in Brentwood.

On 25 March KDKA reported deer on Pitt’s campus in a photo and article.

Wild boars in Italy:

Wild boars can be dangerous but they usually avoid humans. This mama and youngsters were filmed strolling through Bergamo, Italy, posted to Twitter on 30 March 2020.

Have you seen any interesting wildlife in town lately? Leave a comment to let me know.

(limpkin photo sent to me by Natalie Mitchell on 31 Mar 2020, deer in Brentwood via cellphone from Donna Foyle)

Two Mates, No Eggs

Unbanded male with Morela, 31 Mar 2020, 8:31a

1 April 2020

Two mates, no eggs. No fooling!

The last day of March was another confusing day at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. Morela courted with two mates — Terzo and the unbanded male — yet she still has not laid an egg, though she looked as if she was ready to do it the day before.

Yesterday’s Day In A Minute video shows 12 hours of the revolving door, 7a-7p, in only a minute. It sure looks busy!

Thanks to all of you who’ve reported nest activity, we have a partial picture of what’s going on. I’m sure we’ve missed something.

  • 6:43a Terzo before dawn (Kate St. John)
  • 8:25a Unbanded male (Pa Gal)
  • 10:46a Terzo (Kate St. John)
  • 11:47a Unbanded male (J)
  • 12:30p seen from Schenley Park: male peregrine on lightning rod of CL while Morela at nest (Kate St. John)
  • 2:10p Terzo (Pa Gal & Mary Ann Pike)
  • 2:23p – 2:53p Terzo alone (Mary Ann Pike, Pa Gal, Luann Walz, John English)
  • 3:56p Terzo (Pa Gal)
Terzo with Morela, 31 Mar 2020, 3:55p

At this point the males have reached a stalemate. They chase each other but neither one wins.

I can’t even predict what will happen next. Keep watching the National Aviary falconcam and let me know what you see.

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

Please Cooperate Or Parks Will Close Too!

The parks have been our solace in these troubled times but EVERYONE must obey the COVID-19 rules or Pittsburgh’s parks will close as they have in other cities.

A message from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, 31 March 2020:

Pittsburgh, it’s in our hands to keep the parks open. We have to follow the guidelines set by the City of Pittsburgh, our national government, and the CDC. 

Be safe in #PittsburghParks – practice physical distancing (6-8 feet) – wash your hands before and after a park visit – avoid surfaces: benches, railings, fences, exercise equipment – playgrounds are closed – no contact sportsno playdates in parks for kids – no pavilions – park facilities and amenities will be closed – no restrooms, water fountains, etc. – if you are experiencing symptoms stay home!

Revolving Faster, Plus Comfort Food

Morela brings comfort food to the nest to court with Terzo, 30 March 2020, 16:37

31 March 2020:

Yesterday the revolving door of male peregrine falcons moved faster at the Cathedral of Learning. Terzo and the unbanded male appeared over and over again on camera, usually with Morela. As Morela got closer to laying her first egg — not yet — she brought prey with her and clutched it while crouching over the scrape. Maybe it’s comfort food.

This Day In A Minute video for 30 March 2020, 7a-7p, shows the revolving door spinning faster and faster.

Thanks to your watchful eyes on the National Aviary falconcam and your comments telling me when a male peregrine is at the nest, I was able to piece together this play-by-play for 30 March 2020:

  • 6:36a Terzo
  • 10:02a Terzo
  • 11:26a New unbanded male
  • 11:36a New unbanded male
  • 11:52a New unbanded male
  • 12:23p New unbanded male
  • 12:49p New unbanded male
  • 1:15p New unbanded male
  • 1:57p Terzo
  • 3:32p New unbanded male
  • 3:51p Terzo
  • 4:31p Terzo
  • 4:40p Terzo
  • The rest of the day was just Morela often with comfort food

Here are just a few of the many snapshots from those visits:

Terzo and Morela before dawn, 30 March 2020, 6:37
Terzo arrives first, 30 March 2020, 10:02
Unbanded male and Morela, 30 March 2020, 11:26
Unbanded male and Morela, 30 March 2020, 12:24
Unbanded male arrives first, 30 March 2020, 12:49
Terzo and Morela, 30 March 2020, 13:57
Unbanded male and Morela, 30 March 2020, 15:32
Terzo with Morela, 30 March 2020, 15:51

At this point it’s obvious that Morela wants to lay her first egg. She often crouches over the scrape and, oddly, holds prey as she concentrates. In the photo below she has her third eyelids closed (nictitating membranes) and is clutching the same bedraggled food.

Morela concentrates on laying an egg as she clutches comfort food, 30 March 2020, 16:51 (She did not lay an egg at this visit)

As of 31 March, 7:25am there is still no egg.

Keep watching the National Aviary falconcam and let me know what you see and when. Thanks, everyone!

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

The Revolving Door Turns Again

Morela and Terzo, 29 March 2020, 17:48 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

For three days — 26 to 28 March 2020 — the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest was eerily quiet. Morela hasn’t laid an egg and she was rarely on camera. Thanks to “Pa Gal’s” faithful nest watch we found out why.

Yesterday afternoon at 3:45pm Pa Gal saw the new unbanded male courting Morela for several minutes. Two hours later, John English reported Terzo back at the nest. The revolving door has turned again.

Yesterday’s Day In A Minute video (29 March 2020, 7a-7p) shows a nest that’s mostly empty until two peregrines show up at 3:45p.

The unbanded male peregrine bowed closely with Morela, then looked around and left. I believe he’s the same male from earlier this month with the bright orange cere and legs.

Unbanded male peregrine with Morela, 29 March 2020, 15:42
Unbanded male peregrine with Morela, 29 March 2020, 15:43
Unbanded male peregrine with Morela, 29 March 2020, 15:44

The situation at this point seems to be:

  • Morela is the only female at the nest; no female challengers.
  • Terzo was on camera twice on Wednesday morning, 25 March, then absent until 5:45pm on Sunday 29 March.
  • I assume from Terzo’s absence that he was chasing away the other male for 3-4 days.
  • The dispute between the males probably explains why Morela hasn’t laid an egg yet.

It was really hard to figure this out because my usual detective method failed. (The @pittpefaALERT Twitter feed died on 20 March and won’t be back until the COVID-19 shutdown is over.)

Please keep watching the National Aviary falconcam and tell me what you see and when! We’ll get to the bottom of this eventually.

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

Perpetual Sunday

Schenley Park’s Bob O’Connor Golf Course is empty now (photo by Kate St. John)

Sunday, 29 March 2020:

I don’t know about you but I am really confused about what day it is. Because of the COVID-19 shutdown there’s no traffic anywhere, few cars are on the street, parking lots are empty and few pedestrians venture out before midday unless the weather is exceptionally good. Every day feels like Sunday.

Pittsburgh’s Strip District, the home of restaurants, international food markets and boutique retailers is normally packed before dawn on Saturday mornings. Yesterday Dave DiCello filmed the emptiness and posted on Twitter.

Happily, Sunday is my traditional day for hiking and birding so I’ve been outdoors every day to see migration ramping up including these Best Birds seen yesterday, 28 March 2020, on a Saturday that felt like Sunday: One Bonaparte’s gull and six female red-breasted mergansers at Duck Hollow, plus eight(!) fox sparrows at Schenley Park.

By the way these photos by Cris Hamilton, Bob Kroeger and Steve Gosser are not the individual birds I saw. See the captions for their locations.

Bonaparte’s gull in Seattle (photo by Cris Hamilton, 2018)
Red-breasted merganser at Cape Cod (photo by Bob Kroeger, 2019)
Fox sparrow, Sewickley Heights Park (photo by Steve Gosser, 22 March 2020)

(photos by Kate St. John, Cris Hamilton, Bob Kroeger, Steve Gosser)

Relieve Stress Outdoors

Birding at Presque Isle State Park, a safe social distance (photo by Ramona Sahni)

During this stressful time of COVID-19, there’s a way to get some relief. Spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature lowers our stress levels and boosts our mental health.

Gardening, watching birds, walking and hiking are good ways to feel happier. We can easily maintain a safe social distance while birding. We can also connect with nature by watching our bird feeders.

Birding at Duck Hollow, a safe social distance (photo by Kate St. John)
Birds at Marcy's feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Connect with nature by watching your bird feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

The City of Pittsburgh is blessed with five large parks that provide a welcome release from stress — Schenley, Frick, Highland, Riverview and Emerald View.

My closest park is Schenley where I’m following the progress of spring.

Be Safe and Keep Others Safe in the parks from COVID-19:

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy offers these safety tips for park users. I circled the 6-feet physical distance message which is difficult when the parks become crowded! Plan accordingly.

Check the CitiParks website or Facebook page for updates on the City of Pittsburgh parks.

p.s. Here’s the Parks Physical Distancing list typed out so you can search for it later.

  • If you are exhibiting symptoms, don’t use the parks! (*)
  • Wash your hands before and after using the parks.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from other persons at all times.
  • Many restrooms and facilities are closed so be prepared (hint, hint).
  • Don’t touch handrails or playground equipment (By the way, the playgrounds are closed until further notice).
  • (And need I say this?!?) No play dates, no group games, etc. If an activity involves getting close to each other, don’t do it.

(*) Sorry to end on a down note but if you have symptoms, you and your household are contagious. Isolate yourself & quarantine your household for 14 days. Here’s what to do.

We Need A Laugh

27 March 2020:

Yesterday the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. exceeded the number in China. Those who became infected and contagious(!) 10 days ago are now feeling sick. Now more than ever we must stay at home and wait it out. It’s a very stressful time.

We need a laugh. Parrots are here to help.

p.s. If you have a pet bird you have lots of time right now to work with him on new tricks. 🙂

(video from Just Aww on YouTube)

Migration By Smell

Gray catbird (photo by Shawn Collins)

I have not seen a gray catbird in Pittsburgh yet but I know they’re on their way. Next month they’ll arrive from their wintering grounds in the southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central America. How do they get here?

Migratory birds are born with an innate sense of direction and distance to their goal but must learn how to get there on their first trip south. After they’ve made the trip once, they create a mental map and can use the sun, stars, earth’s magnetic field and their sense of smell to return home.

Their sense of smell? Yes! Birds do have a sense of smell and they use it.

On Throw Back Thursday, learn how gray catbirds proved they navigate by smell in: Sniffing Their Way North.

(photo by Shawn Collins)

Signs of Spring, 18-23 March

Crocuses blooming in my Pittsburgh neighborhood, 21 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 March 2020:

Around the world, more and more of us are under Stay At Home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. Yesterday Governor Wolf announced that eight PA counties — 45% of Pennsylvanians — must Stay At Home through 6 April. Fortunately residents are permitted to “engage in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing” — i.e. stay at least 6 feet apart.

So I’ve been going outdoors alone … especially when the weather is drizzly, cold or gray because no one else is out there. I’ve seen lots of birds including red-winged blackbirds, hundreds of American robins, eastern phoebes, a brown-headed cowbird, a golden-crowned kinglet and a merlin(!) in Schenley Park.

I’ve also photographed some signs of spring, 18-24 March 2020. Flowers are blooming in Greenfield’s neighborhood gardens, above and below.

Daffodils in my neighborhood, 21 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The earliest trees are beginning to leaf out including the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) in Schenley Park.

Bud on a bottlebrush buckeye, Schenley Park, 23 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
New leaves on a bottlebrush buckeye, Schenley Park, 23 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas) are in bloom at Schenley. Photos of the whole tree and a blossom closeup.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) tree in bloom, 23 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in bloom, 22 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yet the rest of the forest is still quite brown. The smaller American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) stand out with dry pale leaves. Photo from afar and a close-up.

A small American beech stands out with its papery dry leaves. Raccoon Creek State Park, 18 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Papery leaves of a American beech, Raccoon Creek State Park, 18 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Getting outdoors is not cancelled.

Stay safe.

(photos by Kate St. John)