In March Pittsburgh’s peregrines engage in courtship rituals that cement their pair bond.
Some are the courtship flights described here. Others are “familiarities on the cliff” called ledge displays.
Early in the breeding season ledge displays may take place elsewhere but as egg-laying time approaches the pair performs them at the nest. You’ll see these activities on the Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning falconcams.
Here’s what to look for:
The male has a ritual that he does alone. In it, he tries to entice his mate to join him at the nest by swaggering onto the ledge and walking to the scrape with a high stepping tip-toe gait. He then stands in the scrape, high on his legs but with his head bowed, and calls to his mate. (E2 is doing that in the snapshot above.) The male makes scraping motions with this feet, then pauses and looks at the female as if to say, “Will you join me?”
How long the male continues this display depends on the female’s reaction. At the Gulf Tower you’ll see that Louie is a master at the tippy-toe gait and is quite loud. On the Cathedral of Learning falconcam the view is so narrow that you can’t see that Hope is watching from a perch nearby; E2 is looking at her.
When the female joins the male at the nest the pair engages in a mutual ledge display like the one Dorothy and E2 are doing above at the Cathedral of Learning in 2010. In this ceremony they bow low together over the scrape and say “ee-chup, ee-chup,” bowing repeatedly. (The “scrape” is the bowl they make in the gravel where she’ll lay her eggs.)
In mid-winter when peregrines first begin this ritual the bowing may last for only 10 seconds. In March when the female is only days away from egg-laying, the ceremony lasts longer and becomes more intimate. The pair calls softly and twists their heads to opposite sides while they bow. Sometimes they even touch beaks.
The male usually leaves the nest first. The female stays behind.
Click here for a video of a mutual ledge display by Hope and E2 on 8 March 2016. See how low she bows? (She’s the larger bird on the right.) Listen to them “ee-chup.”
(photos from the National Aviary’s falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning)
p.s. Want to learn more? See my Peregrine FAQs.