Monthly Archives: April 2008

Feeding baby peregrines

Now that the eggs are hatching at University of Pittsburgh, we have two sets of hungry baby peregrines — Pitt and Gulf.

Peregrine Falcons Tasha2 and chicks watch as Louie brings food, Gulf Tower, Pittsburgh, April 30, 2008

At Gulf Tower, Tasha2 stopped brooding the chicks long enough for Barbara Simon to capture two good photos.

In the first picture, you can see the two unhatched eggs on the gravel next to the two chicks. The chicks certainly have grown! These two eggs will not hatch at this point and will eventually be moved aside by the adult birds.

In the second picture, Louie brings food for the family. He will tear it into tiny pieces and drop it into the chick’s mouths.

Peregrine falcons, E2 and Dorothy, attend to their first chick of 2008, University of Pittsburgh, April 30, 2008

Above, E2 watches from the perch while Dorothy brings food to their first chick.  Watch the slideshow below to see them interact with their first nestling of 2008.

  • Dorothy is brooding the chick and eggs


You can watch both webcams at the National Aviary website.

For more of my peregrine blogs, click here.

Today! Peregrine eggs hatching at Pitt

Eggshell visible next to Dorothy.  E2 arrives to see the action.This morning at 8:07am I got a call from my friend Karen Lang.  She saw an eggshell next to Dorothy so we knew the eggs had begun hatching at the University of Pittsburgh peregrine falcon nest.  Congratulations to Dorothy and E2!

When Karen first saw the shell it was a perfect half shell.  As I write, the shell is no longer visible because Dorothy ate it.  However I’ve included two snapshots.

The first one shows what’s left of the shell at 8:37am after Dorothy already ate part of it.

The second snapshot shows E2 arriving to see the eggs hatching.  You can see a little bit of shell next to Dorothy’s shoulder.

I hope to see the chicks soon on the National Aviary’s webcam.



Peregrine falcons, Dorothy and E2, at their nest at University of Pittsburgh, April 29, 2008I believe the peregrine falcon eggs will hatch soon at Pitt. Compared to last week, Dorothy is spending more time incubating than E2. In this picture she seems to be telling him, “Get up! It’s my turn.” She has years of experience hatching eggs while this may be his first year as a dad.




Peregrine eggs at Pitt - perhaps with pip marks, April 29, 2008And maybe – just maybe – the photo at right shows some pips (dents) in the eggs. If so, the chicks are starting the exhausting job of breaking the shells.





Apple blossoms in PittsburghLast week the trees put on their best apparel, all decked out in flowers. The weather was fine – not cold like today. Here are some memories from last week’s beautiful weather, captured on my cell phone camera.

An apple tree in full bloom behind WQED’s offices. It looked lovely and smelled sweet, the quintessential flowering tree.




London plane tree seed ballsA London plane tree in Greenfield sporting red and green balls. The balls are covered with the tree’s tiny flowers. When the flowers are fertilized, the balls become seeds that break up and float away in the wind the following spring.

This tree is a hybrid of the Oriental plane tree and American sycamore. Many of them were planted in Pittsburgh more than 100 years ago because they are very tolerant of air pollution.




Maple flowers

A sugar maple in full flower. From below, its flowers look like fluffy, pale green, hanging leaves but they are actually bunches of small flowers suspended on long stems. They are pollinated by both insects and wind.

And yes, the pollen count was high last week.





Bumblebee Dance

Bumblebee on white clover in the Wayne National Forest, Ohio (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a place on my lunchtime walk where bumblebees have nested for many years. In April they become quite active near a tall privet hedge. I don’t want to be stung so I have never looked for the hive.  I don’t need to see it that badly!

But I still encounter the bumblebees. They hover in the airspace between their hedge and a telephone pole. In doing so, they usurp the sidewalk.

I’ve read that bumblebees don’t do the waggle dance that honeybees are famous for but these bees certainly exchange information. I always find at least one hovering at eye level over the sidewalk. Sometimes as many as three are engaged in hover-and-zoom activity.

I usually step into the street to avoid the bees but the other day I was not in the mood to give way and there were cars in the street. Since only one bumblebee was hovering over the sidewalk I approached slowly with frequent pauses, hoping I wouldn’t make her angry.

The bee didn’t get mad. She just refused to move. If I was going to win this contest I would have to literally bump into the bee as it hovered in front of me. No way.

I stepped into the street … and so I joined in the bumblebee’s dance.


(photo of bumblebee in the Wayne National Forest, Ohio from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

Waiting for Catbirds

Gray catbird (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Gray catbird (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

I never thought it would come to this but I’m anxious to see a catbird.  Our unusually warm, sunny weather has fooled me into thinking the calendar is further along than it is.  So if it’s May (it isn’t!) I should have seen a catbird by now.

Gray catbirds leave Pittsburgh in the fall and migrate to Florida, Cuba and the Gulf coast of Central America.  They return behind the first tantalizing spring migrants – blue-gray gnatcatchers and Louisiana waterthrushes – but before the big push of warblers, thrushes and tanagers.  I am so ready for the Big Push that I want the catbirds to get here fast so the fun can begin.

Actually, I should be careful when I say I want to “see” a catbird.  Hearing one is just as good and is far more likely because catbirds spend their time in thickets.  If you pique their interest, however, they’ll pop out on top of a bush.  That’s probably how Marcy Cunkelman got this picture.

And, yes, they “meow.”  Catbirds copy the songs of other birds in a jumble of unconnected raspy sounds.  The twist is that they meow periodically, not in a way that would fool a cat but in a way that catches our attention.

I listened for that sound this morning but no luck yet.  This year climate change has gotten out ahead of the catbirds.

April 27, 2008:  Just saw my first catbird today.  Let the fun begin!


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Peregrines hatching at Gulf Tower

Peregrine eggs, chicks and mother at Gulf Tower, Pittsburgh, 4/22/08Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Here are two snapshots from the Gulf Tower peregrine nest on Tuesday afternoon April 22, thanks to Jamie Sehrer and Joanna Steward. 

In the first you can see the two chicks who hatched on April 20 and two eggs still waiting to hatch.  The baby birds are so tiny and weak they can barely hold their heads above the eggs.  In the second picture, Tasha2 arrives to feed them. 

The chicks cannot regulate their body temperature yet so Tasha will brood them for about 7-8 days.  A brooding mother bird looks a lot like she’s incubating.  The purpose is the same – to keep the babies warm.


Close Encounters

Louisiana Waterthrush (photo fromChuck Tague)

If you want to see birds up close, go to where the birds are, sit down on the ground and eat your lunch. 

I’m not kidding!  But first you have to understand the context.

I was prepared for rain last Sunday so I was wearing a big floppy hat and a yellow rain slicker over my backpack.  This gave me a big head and a hunchbacked look.

I was in one of the best spring birding places in Pennsylvania:  Enlow Fork, literally the “Enlow Fork of Wheeling Creek” which forms the border between Washington and Greene counties, almost in West Virginia. 

I was the only person there – even the fishermen weren’t on the scene – and the sky looked ominous.  It rained off and on.

I moved slowly.  The hungier I got, the slower I moved.  When it rained at lunchtime, I took shelter at the second bridge and opened my crinkly lunch bag.  Imagine a bird’s perspective:  a creeping yellow hunchback with a floppy green head making crinkly sounds.  How intriguing!

Zip!  A yellow-throated warbler flew past my left shoulder, stopped on the bridge for a quick glance and he was gone.

Chink!  A Louisiana waterthrush, pictured above by Chuck Tague, perched across the creek and sang a challenge to me.  How dare something so weird sit in his territory!

The rain came down harder.  I crept into better shelter and the Louisiana Waterthrush flew up for a better look.  Perched on the bridge just above eye level, he took a bath in the rain.  Awesome!

Bonus sightings:

Muskrat (photo by Chuck Tague)While standing above a small pond, I saw a muskrat swim by carrying leaves.  He went back and forth several times without noticing me. 

Finally I couldn’t stand the suspense.  Animals often recognize a human voice faster than a human shape, so I spoke to the muskrat.  “Hello, Muskrat.”  He froze immediately, feet splayed out, but he kept drifting forward.  Ha!  He’s not hidden with those waves moving out ahead of him! 

Chuck Tague tells me muskrats are oblivious.  This one proved it.

Virginia Bluebells blooming at Enlow Fork, April 20, 2008

And finally, though Enlow Fork is known for its wildflowers the rain kept most of them closed.  Not so with the Virginia Bluebells as you can see in this photo from my cellphone.

So if you want to see birds up close, put on a big floppy hat, and sit in the rain.  It works for me!


Making more Grackles

Common Grackle, male (photo by Chuck Tague)It’s been six weeks since the first common grackles came back to Pittsburgh for the summer.  (We don’t have great-tailed grackles; they’re a southwestern bird.)

In the beginning the flocks were made up of males who came early to work out the pecking order before the ladies arrived.

In early April the females started to trickle in.  At first they were in such small numbers that the males outnumbered them and there were loud chases – three guys for every gal.

Now the balance has swung to 50-50.  The ladies are here and the guys are getting down to the serious business of courtship.

I could tell how far the grackle nesting season had progressed when I saw a pair of common grackles courting in a tree near my house.  The male puffed himself up and said “Skreeeeeeeek!”  The female fluttered her wings and said “ee ee ee ee ee ee ee.” 

It must have done the trick because they mated.  More grackles will soon be in the making.

When will the eggs hatch?

Peregrine Falcon eggsI’m sure you’re beginning to wonder how much longer the peregrine falcons must incubate their eggs.  It’s been going on a long time and they aren’t done yet.  So when’s the happy day?

Peregrine eggs hatch around 33 days after incubation begins, but I have never been good about noticing when the parent birds switch from standing over the eggs to incubating them.  (This switch occurs when two or three eggs have been laid – not after the first one.)

I do, however, keep records of first egg dates and hatch dates so I can give you a rough idea of what to expect based on past history.

At Gulf Tower, Tasha laid her first egg on March 11.  Her eggs usually hatch 39-42 days later so this year’s clutch will probably hatch between April 19 and 22.  Start watching the Gulf Tower webcam this weekend for new baby birds.   News flash April 20:  Tasha2’s eggs began to hatch this afternoon!

At Pitt, Dorothy laid her first egg on March 23.  Her eggs usually hatch 38-40 days later so we can expect to see her first babies between April 30 and May 2.

Of course, just as with human babies, you can never predict exactly when they will be born.

Meanwhile, what is Dorothy doing? Dorothy (peregrine falcon) takes a sunbath at University of Pittsburgh

For those of you watching the Pitt webcam yesterday afternoon you may have seen the adult female peregrine do something strange.  She fanned out and hunched over (picture at left).

Dorothy was sunbathing.  There are various theories as to why birds sunbathe ranging from eradicating parasites to straightening their feathers.  They also might do it because it feels good.  “Ahhhh”, says Dorothy, “nice heat on my back.”