Prodigal Son

Yesterday afternoon was full of adventure for one of the five young peregrines at the University of Pittsburgh.  It’s an incident that happens every year but this time we saw it on video.

Just after 2:00pm one of the male nestlings was daydreaming on the front perch when his brother decided to use the nest as a runway. Flapping wildly and paying no attention, his brother careened to the front of the box.

Bump!  Whoops!  The young male was knocked off his perch into the gully two feet below.

The nestling was fine, he wasn’t hurt, but he had never encountered this situation before and didn’t know how to get back to the nest … yet.

When his parents found out what happened they did what all peregrine parents do — they withheld food until the youngster was hungry enough to come get it.  Nothing motivates a young peregrine so much as hunger.  He’ll even learn to fly if it’s the only way he’ll get fed.

So all the nestlings waited.  And waited.

At 4:50pm Dorothy stopped by to check and offered a scrap of meat from the corner of the nestbox.  It wasn’t a real meal.  The nestling below did not come up.

“Well,” thought Dorothy, “they’ll just have to wait.”

At 5:15pm she perched on the nestrail above his best escape route and looked down on her son in the gully.  He was fine.  He just had to figure it out.

Finally, after 6:30pm, he discovered he could get back to the nest if he went to the spot his mother seemed to indicate and scrabbled up a bulwark on the left side of the box.  (This area isn’t visible on the camera.  I happen to know what it looks like up there.)

The noise riveted his siblings.

Suddenly he appeared on camera!  They stared at him in wide-eyed wonder.  “What happened?  Are you OK?”

He stared back, then went to a corner to preen.  “I’m fine.  Give me a break.”

It wasn’t until 8:00pm that Dorothy finally brought them a real meal and by then they were so hungry all five screamed at the tops of their lungs.

“Good,” thought Dorothy, “The prodigal son returned.  It was well worth the wait.”

p.s.  To see how it happened, watch these two hotspots from the Cathedral of Learning archives: “Bumped out of the nest” and “The adventurer returns.”  Thanks to Jennie Barker for spotting these!

p.p.s.  Now that one of them has been off the nest, the other four will be brave about ledge-walking too.  You often won’t see all five on camera.  They’re getting ready to fledge.

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, video from the lost archives of

14 thoughts on “Prodigal Son

  1. I’m sure glad that the little guy is ok! The clips are amazing…I love the way his sibs looked at him when he returned to the nest. Thanks to you and Jennie for bringing the story and the clips to us…

  2. That’s so fascinating, the way they know to use food as a learning incentive. I was just thinking while watching them stumble around a couple days ago that they probably knock each other out of the nest alot when it’s time to strengthen those wings.

    A few days ago I watched one of them take a headfirst stumbling flapping run right into the wall at the back of the scrape, bonking it’s head. It was actually pretty hilarious (it wasn’t too hard of a bonk).

    Thanks for the excellent narrative, Kate!

  3. I loved the one when Dorothy finally brought the food! They almost pushed her out of the nest – poor Dorothy she looked like she was in a war zone with all those screaming kids.

  4. Thanks, Kate, for explaining what was going on that we couldn’t see on camera. Great description of what turned out to be a learning experience for the nestlings and for the rest of us!

  5. This is a great title and story! Thanks for telling it so well, Kate!

    Being able to see still pics and video hotspots of the action is wonderful!

    These Peregrines frequently do something unexpected. I am always learning something new!

  6. Did it happen again? I can only see 4 of them from the 2 angles. Perhaps I’m just missing one…

  7. Nevermind – I see them all. Though one of em just started flapping like crazy and taking quick little runs – I thought for it was about to jump/fall off.

  8. Another one (same?) got bumped out of the nest this evening about 808 pm. He made it back rather quickly.

  9. In some respects hopping into and out of the gully may become a game. “See me jump down! See me climb up!” It won’t last long. As soon as they know how to fly they’ll play games in the air.

  10. You are all so blessed. I just heard from a FB freind that he witnessed the first flight!
    So I googled and then I found your site, Kate!
    I am coming up to Oakland tomorrow or Friday to witness this amazing experience!
    Keep up the wonderful work!

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