Who is he? New male peregrine at Univ of Pittsburgh

Who is he?  Male peregrine, nicknamed E2, at Univ of Pittsburgh
Who is he? Male peregrine, nicknamed E2, at Univ of Pittsburgh

2 April 2008

On February 17th I was startled by a photo from the University of Pittsburgh falconcam.  In it the leg bands on the male peregrine were not the same color as those on Erie, the resident male since 2002.   If this was indeed true it meant that Erie was gone, replaced by another male peregrine.  

I should have been clued in to the difference in behavior that began in November 2007, but I was too new to peregrines and the birds were both banded so I started there. (Click here to jump to the behavioral clues.)

Rather than jump to a conclusion without more evidence I decided to investigate, comparing new webcam photos to prior years and searching for evidence of band colors.  Band numbers are impossible to read on the webcam because over-the-web images are such low resolution.

Over a period of 6 weeks I examined more than 4,500 photos.  Eventually I couldn’t ignore what I was seeing.  This is indeed a new male.  Since we don’t know his name yet, my friend Karen and I have nicknamed him Erie2 or “E2” for short.

Here’s how I decided this bird isn’t Erie.

Erie vs E2 comparison of bands, male peregrines at Univ of Pittsburgh
Erie vs E2 comparison of bands, male peregrines at Univ of Pittsburgh

Way back in 2002 we identified Erie by a digital photo which clearly showed his band numbers. Shown at left are Erie’s leg bands:  his right leg pink, his left leg black/red T*/W. 

At right for comparison is the February 17th photo of E2’s bands:  his right leg is silver, his left leg black/green. 

Could these be Dorothy’s bands?  No, her right leg is pink – not silver – though her left leg is black/green.   Besides, the original photo had both birds in it and after looking at thousands of photos I can tell who is who.  And further, neither bird ever shows black/red bands so neither of them is Erie.

Erie vs E2 comparison with Dorothy, Peregrines at Univ of Pittsburgh
Erie vs E2 comparison with Dorothy, Peregrines at Univ of Pittsburgh

I also compared their physical appearance.  Erie always had a marked color contrast between his back and tail. 

Here are two courtship photos with the males in similar poses.  On the left Erie (pale back with dark wing tips and tail) is leaving the nest last year after bowing to Dorothy.  This was 6 days after he won the territory battle.  On the right E2 is leaving the nest this spring.  E2 is uniformly gray with much less contrast.

Erie vs E2 on nest, Peregrines at Univ of Pittsburgh
Erie vs E2 on nest, Peregrines at Univ of Pittsburgh

The difference in appearance is also noticeable when the males incubate the eggs.

Again, Erie is on the left in a 2005 photo showing a strong color contrast between back and tail.  E2 on the right has much less contrast.

When did E2 arrive?  Was there a fight?

Karen and I and Dr. Tony Bledsoe have compared our observations.  As far as we can tell there was no fight because Erie disappeared before E2 arrived.  We think Erie disappeared in October.  There was a long period when we saw only Dorothy at Pitt.  Then in mid-to-late November we saw several things that we now realize meant a new peregrine was taking over:  

  • Dorothy and E2 did lots of courtship flying in late November and early December, something that never happened at that time of year between Dorothy and Erie.  January was Erie’s normal time for courtship.
  • In November, December and January, E2 repeatedly attacked the red-tailed hawks at Central Catholic.  Erie never cared about those red-tails unless they came to campus.
  • E2 doesn’t perch in Erie’s favorite places on the 32nd and 28th floors.  This is a minor point but it adds up.

Though my friend Karen and I grieved a bit for Erie, life goes on. 

Dorothy is happy with E2.  They have 4 eggs to incubate and he’s helping with incubation more than Erie did in recent years.  So who are we to complain? 

Now if we could just read his bands!

To read my latest blogs about peregrines, click here.

Watch the Pitt peregrines live at their nest on the National Aviary’s falconcam.

39 thoughts on “Who is he? New male peregrine at Univ of Pittsburgh

  1. Great detective work, Kate et al. A very interesting tale. ūüėČ Poor Erie — but as you write, life goes on. Do you suppose you’ll find out what happened to him? (as you did last year with the loser of the battle.) And if E2 performs more husbandly duties than Erie did, so much the better. Dorothy needs to be relieved from that boring task.

  2. That was some great detective work! I have enjoyed watching the nest activity on the internet for the last 3 years. I am ashamed to say that I work in Oakland and have never seen the falcons. My office even looks out at the Cathedral. Do they hunt for pigeons in the Oakland area? I have seen red tailed hawks numerous times. Is there a certain time or location that they like to hang out where they could be spotted? Do you think you will get a look at the new birds bands when the new falcons are banded? Okay, I’ve asked enough questions! Thank you for keeping us all informed and interested.


  3. Maureen asked several questions which I’ll answer here:
    >Do they hunt for pigeons in Oakland?
    You bet!
    >Is there a certain time or location where they could be spotted?
    Yes, at the top of the Cathedral of Learning…but you’ll need binoculars to see them.
    >Do you think you will get a look at the new birds bands when the new falcons are banded?
    I certainly hope so but the male peregrines tend to stay back from all the banding action. They strafe the banders – fly by – and don’t tend to perch and fight. The mother birds are the ones who perch close to protect their young.

    p.s.  The news of E2 made it to the Associated Press!

  4. Kate,

    Thanks for all the answers. I will bring my binoculars and drag some co-workers along and we will get a look. Hopefully the mystery of the new male will be solved.


  5. I just read about E2 in the Post-Gazette this evening, and wanted to let you know I spotted a peregrine earlier this evening. I was waxing my car around 7:30 (love this nice weather with light in the eveings!) and saw a large bird land in a nearby tree. It looked to be a little bigger than a crow. I could not really tell what it was, being no expert, and with fading light, but I could see it had a white front and a smaller beak than a crow. After seeing the pictures in the paper, I’m pretty sure it was a peregrine, perhaps Erie?

    I live in New Kensington, about 20 miles up the Allegheny. I’ve never seen a peregrine around here before, and I don’t know if there are others in the area.

  6. Well I hope we can come up with a name…… E2 is nice for your research purposes, but I think a more public name would be a good decision.

  7. When we’re able to read his bands I think we will find that he was named when he was banded. At that point we’ll know his real name and begin to call him that instead of “E2.”

  8. Erie couldn’t be downtown. The resident male peregrine at Gulf Tower is actually his son. Erie wouldn’t have taken a territory away from his son when he had his own territory at Pitt.

  9. Is their nest on the cathedral the box in the photos? If so, why don’t they have a nest that they made? Did they ever? Which came first, their residence on the CL or the nest box? Is the nest on top of gulf tower also a box? Thanks.

  10. Yes, the nests on the Cathedral of Learning and at Gulf Tower are located in the boxes you see on camera. The actual nest is merely the gravel depression that the birds lay the eggs in. They really don’t need a box. They just need deep gravel and they prefer an overhang to keep the rain off.

    At both sites, the peregrines arrived before a nest box existed. The first year at Pitt (2001), Dorothy and Erie attempted to nest somewhere on the building but the attempt failed. This was probably because there was no gravel to cushion the eggs, so the eggs did not survive incubation.

    At both sites, nest boxes were erected after the peregrines arrived so their nests would be successful. Peregrines can and do choose to nest on structures (buildings & bridges). Sometimes the structures have gravel already but when they don’t people give the birds a helping hand.

  11. I have seen Peregrines in 2 places in the last few years. I saw a peregrine standing on a rock in the Ohio River where the Chartiers Creek flows into it and has created a sort of sand bar. Also, on the hill above Station Square, where the Wabash Tunnel goes into the hill, there is a railing above the opening. I have seen the peregrine perched on that railing and just posing there for quite a long pose. it was a wonderful siting. I don’t have the dates of these sightings, but they were in the last few years and during warm weather.

    Also, there is a Redtailed hawk nest at Bloomfield. The hawks built the nest around Easter time. A friend whose house has a direct view of the nest described to me that the male brought all the sticks and the female spent all day arranging them. This was approximately on Good Friday-March 21? I have only seen her once in the nest, but the nest is large and my friend says that the female never leaves the nest, but that she hunkers down inside the nest so that I, looking from a distance, just haven’t been able to see her, but that she has been in there all along, while the father bird brings her all her food. My friend is home all day with her children and has been watching from her kitchen window every day. This is a real thrill for me and I hope to see the fledgling birds sometime soon.

    Happy bird watching!

  12. Today both bird were in the nest together and Dorothy (I presume) left and the other bird took over sitting on the eggs for her. I”ve been watching these guys for days and this is the first I have seen the two together………….Barb Simon

  13. I am having serious problems distinguishing E2 from Dorothy. Any hints on how to tell the difference? …………..Barb Simon

  14. To me the easiest way to tell is that E2 is smaller (you have use something to compare, literally hold a ruler on your computer screen) and E2’s beak is yellower all the way down to a very small area of black at the tip. Other than that it’s really hard.

  15. Kate–I don’t think this picture will transfer properly. I have a mac and can’t right-click or properly follow your instructions, but I sure got a good picture of the 2 birds yesterday together . If you send me your e-mail I can probably successfully send it to you. It looks to me like one of the birds has a blacker tail and the other one, well, the area across her shoulders that is dark, is wider than on the other bird. It seems to me that the bird with the darker tail is the male and the one with the wider dark on the shoulders is Dorothy but I really don’t know…….Barb Simon

  16. Egg number 1 hatched right at 10:40 a.m. Today – April 30, 2008. Dorothy had the egg in front her, she was looking at it, then I think she hit it with her beak, because all of a sudden there were two halves of shells , one on her right and one on her left. Then both parents were in the nest together, then Dorothy got back on top of the eggs and new chick. I didn’t see the chick, but caught a glimpse of some white under her as she was turning around….Barb Simon

  17. I enjoy checking into this site to check on the progress of the birds. I am a Pgh. native now living in Rochester, NY. “Your” birds are several weeks ahead of Mariah and Kaver, the peregrines that have a nest box on Kodak Office near the Genesee River. There is a web site as well. http://rfalconcam.com Check it out as it includes Rochester peregrine history complete with a family tree of Mariah, information about peregrines in general, photos of our falcons and reports with links of past fledglings that have been spotted in Canada and Detroit. As the new eggs hatch and the eyases try their wings there will be more photos of them out and about.

  18. If you happened to see only an adult peregrine falcon when you looked at the Pitt camera, it’s because the babies were under the adult staying warm. Peregrine chicks cannot regulate their body temperature until they are 7-8 days old so their parents “brood” them. When the adult bird is brooding chicks, it looks a lot like incubation.

  19. So can someone tell me whats up with the 4th egg. Will it ever hatch? Also there are still two eggs at other nest not hatched. Thanks.

  20. Thanks for the the info. I find myself spending a lot of time watching, at home and even at work.

  21. Just let me say that I am waiting to see a parent return to the Gulf Tower site before I can retire for the evening….it is 9:20 EST….as I have periodically checked during the day, the Cathedral site baby falcons seem to have more parental attention….what is going on with the Gulf Tower….a single parent now working overtime to feed them?….I noticed your added commentary today about both parents leaving the chicks alone, while hunting…..still concerns me that the tending seems disproportionate….Thank you for this enchanting website!

  22. Don’t worry! The parents are there. They’re just out of camera view.

    After peregrine chicks are about a week old they are able to regulate their body temperature so their parents don’t have to keep them warm. In addition, the chicks become a little more independent, can hold their heads up and begin walking around.

    The chicks at Gulf Tower have reached that point. Their parents are out hunting for food or perched near the nest watching their kids – but out of camera view. The camera view is SMALL compared to the size of the area!

    At Pitt the chicks are 10 days younger so the parents are visible more often. Soon you will see less of the parents at Pitt too.

    So, don’t worry. Just as our infants go from being helpless to walking, talking and then off to school, these baby birds are growing up. We give our children more independence as they grow up, at first watching them from across the room, then from across the ball field (Little League!). Peregrine parents do the same.

  23. Did something happen at the CL nest site? What are all the dark feathers in the nest? Did something attack? When will the chicks be banded?

    I have forwarded the site to others and you have people watching from across the country. Teachers have put the sites up side by side so their students can check in throughout the day. Thanks to all there for the hard work and information. We love it!!

  24. Nothing bad happened at the CL nest site. Dorothy and E2 have been feeding pigeons and other birds to their chicks. Sometimes Dorothy is in such a rush that she doesn’t remove the prey’s feathers until she’s actually feeding the chicks. When that happens, the nest gets messy. It looks like the kids had a dark pigeon or perhaps a grackle for dinner.

    Dorothy’s housekeeping habits are not what they could be. See:

    Read lots more blogs and information about the peregrines at:

  25. Kate–3:04 Pm, May 18-I believe at least one of the babies at the Gulf Tower nest fledged a couple minutes ago. It disappeared as I was watching, had been standing next to the edge of the nesting box.


  26. The Gulf Tower chicks are too young to fly – they don’t have any flight feathers – so if one went off the edge of the building he/she would die. I can tell from the camera now (5/18/08 at 8:45pm) that they are both there.

    Peregrine chicks stay on the nest platform until they are ready for first flight. This “safety feature” seems to be programmed into all of them. However, they do walk around a lot. The nest platform at Gulf is much bigger than the camera is able to show you. There is a ledge on the right that the chicks learn to hop up on (you can’t see that ledge on the camera) and there is space behind the nest box and behind the camera. The abyss (straight drop to the street) is on the left.

    The chicks won’t experiment with that edge until they are fully feathered and look like the photo here:

  27. The nest at the Gulf Tower is empty now. Can the little ones actually fly yet? I’m doubting it so I’m wondering where they are. Are they just on a lower shelf of the building or have they fallen to the ground? Will they return to the nest box after leaving it or the first time? I am aware that the parent birds stop at the nest box from time to time in the off season, but how about these little guys? Do they stop in for a rest? Will we see them again?…….Barb Simon

  28. At the CL site one of the chicks is still at the nest. Does he not want to fly? it seems the mother is trying to coax him or her out but to no avail. Is the chick alright?

  29. He’s fine. He’s been out of the nest before. He’s just not ready to fly.
    Historically the chicks from this nest usually fly at 38-41 days old. They’re only 37 days told today. And, yes, his parents are urging him to get moving. They know their kids are safer when they can fly.

  30. I will miss the little ones now that they are gone from the nest, its a sad but happy time. I will miss watching them, its like I didn’t want them to leave but yet I knew they had to go out on their own. As with my little ones they too have flown the nest. I just hope they stay safe and grow up and have their own family some day.

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