Familiarities on the Cliff

Dorothy and E2 bow at their nest, March 2010 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

3 March 2011: Peregrines names and nests are current to 2011. This article includes a photo from 2016.

In early spring Pittsburgh’s peregrines engage in courtship rituals that cement their pair bond.

Some are in the air, 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 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:

E2 swaggers at the nest, calling for Hope to join him, March 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
In March 2016, E2 swaggers at the nest, calling for Hope to join him (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

The male has a ritual that he does alone.  He arrives at the nest and tries to entice his mate to join him by swaggering and walking to the scrape with a high stepping tip-toe gait. 

He 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.)  He also makes scraping motions with this feet, 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 Dorothy 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 leaves the nest first.  The female stays behind.

Click here for a video of a quick ledge display by Terzo and Morela on 1 November 2019.  See how low she bows?  (Terzo arrives first. Morela is the larger bird on the left.)  Listen to them “ee-chup.”

Watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam in the spring and you’ll see what I mean.

(photos from the National Aviary’s falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning)

p.s.  Want to learn more? See my Peregrine FAQs.

5 thoughts on “Familiarities on the Cliff

  1. The “high stepping tip-toe gait” sounds adorable. Since I can’t view cams I’ll just have to imagine what this looks like.

  2. One of the Pitt Peregrines was doing nice swoops & circles around the top of the building yesterday around 4:30 PM. Maybe Dorothy, getting ready to join E2 for some “familiarities”? Sadly, the light turned green and I had to stop watching!

  3. I am on the 23rd Floor of the CL facing H. Chapel and my window is open most days. I could hear them calling in the late morning this week. I am Looking foward to hearing them yell at their new flyers late in the spring as they learn to fly around the CL and the Chapel. They sound like parents instructing their kids to drive!

  4. Leah (my daughter) just commented that the Peregrines are “so much more interesting than Jersey Shore!” True, true….:-)

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