Monthly Archives: March 2014

She Was Egg Bound

Dorothy the day after egg-bound, 30 March 2014 expelled (from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This is a bird who didn’t feel well.  Yesterday Dorothy looked ragged, tired and uncomfortable.

On March 20, she laid her first egg of the season and was due to lay her second on March 22, but nothing happened.  During the week that followed she often stood over the scrape, looking as if she wanted to lay another egg.  Nothing.  We all wondered what was going on.  Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary wondered if she was egg bound.

A bird becomes egg bound when she’s unable to pass an egg that has formed inside her.  It’s a serious, sometimes fatal medical condition and is more common in older birds than young ones.  At age 15 Dorothy is definitely an older bird, two years older than the average life expectancy of adult peregrines.

Saturday night (March 29-30) Dorothy roosted on the nest box roof.  At some point she expelled a red splotch on the roof, a yellow splotch on the right edge of the box, and a deflated eggshell on the gravel.  When E2 came to visit at dawn all three signs were visible.  He was active.  She was not moving very fast.

Dorothy and E2 at dawn, expelled egg bound egg (retouched from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

I saw the yellow splotch at dawn and wondered if it was a yolk.  When Bob saw the signs below he knew that Dorothy had been egg bound and it was over.

Dorothy's egg-bound eg, expelled as seen on 30 March 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


Since egg binding is life threatening, it’s good news that Dorothy expelled the egg.  This morning at dawn she was more alert and even picked up and ate the expelled eggshell.  (Female peregrines often eat the eggshells of their hatched chicks.)

Dorothy  eats the eggshell she expelled yesterday, 31 March 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

However this episode is one more confirmation that Dorothy is in poor breeding condition and unlikely to have a successful nest.

I don’t know what will happen next but I can predict with confidence that some day a new female peregrine will arrive at the Cathedral of Learning and we’ll see eggs and baby peregrines again at Pitt.

I don’t know when.


(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at the University of Pittsburgh)

Lift Every Voice And Sing

Pair of sandhill cranes calling (photo by Shawn Collins)

Though this photo could have been taken in Wisconsin it’s actually from Crawford County, Pennsylvania where a few sandhill cranes hang out near Miller’s Pond.

Sandhills breed in northwestern Pennsylvania so right now they’re calling and courting.  Here’s what a pair of cranes sounds like. Not exactly melodic, but they put a lot of spirit into it.


Life every voice and sing!
Pair of sandhill cranes crowing (photo by Shawn Collins)


(photos by Shawn Collins)

Eaglet’s Parents Celebrate

First eaglet of 2014 at Pittsburgh's Hays bald eagle nest, 28 March (snapshot from the eaglecam)

There he is, the first eaglet of 2014 at the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest.  He’s hard to see because he matches the nest, hence the arrow.  The two remaining eggs and his discarded eggshell (closest to Dad’s beak) stand out.

This tiny gray ball of fluff emerged on a warm and windy afternoon, March 28, under his mother’s gaze.  As soon as he was dry she brooded him until Dad returned with food.

Click on the snapshot above to watch “Hays Parents Celebrate Hatch.”  Dad has brought a fish to share.  While Mom eats, Dad studies the eaglet. “Is he hungry?” Not yet, so Dad rearranges the nest.  Mom leaves on a well-deserved break and Dad settles down to brood the chick.

Bald eagles brood their nestlings during cold and inclement weather until they’re about four weeks old.   In the first week the brooding is almost constant because the nestlings can’t regulate their own body temperature.  This also serves the dual purpose of incubating the unhatched eggs while keeping the eaglet(s) warm.

The next egg is slated to hatch on March 31.  Watch the eaglecam to see.


p.s. Don’t forget you can also see the eagles in person today (March 29) on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail with the National Aviary’s Bob Mulvihill, 9:00am to noon.  Click here for more information.

(snapshot from Pittsburgh Hays Eaglecam, broadcast by WildEarth)

The Eaglet Has Landed!

The first eaglet of the season hatched today in the Pittsburgh’s Hays Bald Eagle nest at approximately 2:30pm.  In this YouTube video captured by PixController you can see the baby bird next to two eggs and his own eggshell.  Then mom comes over to help.

Watch him on camera here at PixController or here on the National Aviary website.

Media Attention:  He’s already a celebrity!

Festivities tomorrow!    March 29, 9:00am to noon, watch the nest at Hays — in person!

National Aviary Ornithologist Bob Mulvihill will be at the Hays Bald Eagle nest site tomorrow morning from 9 a.m. until noon with the spotting scope donated by Wild Birds Unlimited! Feel free to stop by for a really good look at the nest, maybe even catch a glimpse at what’s going on IN the nest!
Parking is available courtesy of Keystone Iron and Metal Co. in their employee parking lot at the end of Baldwin Road (see map), or use the address 4901 East Carson Street into your GPS!
The viewing site is a short distance from there: carefully cross the railroad tracks and turn left onto the trail. Bob will be about 200 feet down the trail with the spotting scope!
Click here for a map of how to get there.

Thanks to the PA Game Commission and PixController for bringing this eagle family up close.


Red Rimmed Eyes

Ring-billed gull in breeding plumage (photo by Shawn Collins)

It’s spring and even the gulls look snazzy!

Look closely and you’ll notice that adult ring-billed gulls have put on their breeding plumage.  Not only are their heads snowy white but the skin around their eyes and beaks is bright red.

Here’s another view.

Ring-billed gull in breeding plumage (photo by Shawn Collins)

Watch for them to open their mouths.  Wow!  Talk about red!


Until recently they were boring in basic plumage with speckly head feathers and black skin like this.

Ring-billed gull in basic plumage (photo by Shawn Collins)

I wasn’t paying attention when they made this transformation and was stunned last weekend when one opened his very red mouth.

Look for their red-rimmed eyes while they’re still in town.  They’ll be in southwestern Pennsylvania for a couple more weeks, waiting for their breeding grounds to thaw up north.


(photos by Shawn Collins)

Any Wood Frogs Yet?

This month I wrote about ducks that sound like frogs.  Here are some frogs that sound like ducks.

Wood frogs are often the first frogs to appear in the spring in eastern North America, quickly followed by spring peepers.  As the video indicates temperatures have to be in the 40s for the wood frogs to “wake up,” but western Pennsylvania hasn’t had a lot of warm weather yet.

The cold winter has made a difference.  Two years ago we had an exceptionally warm spring and the frogs came out in early March.  This year we’ve had a few blips of warm weather surrounded by temperatures in the teens, a discouraging combination for cold-blooded frogs.

Today we’re headed for a spate for warm weather that may signal the end of winter’s grip.  We’ll know it’s really spring when we hear frogs calling.

Have you heard any wood frogs yet?


(video from Great Smoky Mountains Association)


Dorothy preening, 25 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy laid her first egg on March 20.  It appears to be her last and she is not incubating it.

In her prime Dorothy laid an egg every 2.5 days until she completed a clutch of four or five.  She always hatched all or all-but-one.

Last year her age began to show.  Her time between eggs was prolonged, three eggs did not hatch, and one of the hatchlings was too handicapped to live.

Back in 2010 I wrote about what happens when female peregrines age (click here).  Dorothy is now 15, two years older than the average adult life expectancy of 13.  So we’re learning something.

Yesterday Mary DeVaughn coined the term “hen-o-pause” on the Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page.  I don’t know if birds experience anything like menopause but it explains Dorothy’s solo egg and her lack of desire to incubate.

She’s certainly the right age for “hen-o-pause.”


(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)



Mad, Mad Mergs

Three male red-breasted mergansers pursue a female (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr
Three male red-breasted mergansers pursue a female (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr)

Red-breasted mergansers already look a little crazy because of their wild head feathers.  Here you see they’ve really gone nuts.

In this photo by Pat Gaines three male red-breasted mergansers are courting one female. The guys zip around and churn the water like jet skis, abruptly halt and point their bills skyward, dip their necks and crowd around her.

The lady doesn’t look like she wants this much attention.  Pat wrote that she flew away pursued by all three males and concluded, “So this is what it must be like for a beautiful woman at a singles bar.”

Click on the photo for a closeup and here for a video of their courtship behavior.


(photo by Pat Gaines on Flickr, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. Notice how the feathers around the female’s eye form a dark circle.  It looks like she hasn’t slept in weeks.  😉


Dorothy and her frozen egg, 24 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

It’s very cold this morning:  14 degrees at the airport, 21 degrees in my city backyard.  Assuming the Cathedral of Learning is just as warm as my backyard (1.5 miles away), the temperature at the nest has been below freezing since 8:00pm last night.

For whatever reason, Dorothy stopped sheltering her egg around 9:30pm.

Peregrine falcons don’t begin incubation until they’ve laid their next to last egg in the clutch.  However, they do shelter the eggs to keep them from freezing.  In her younger years Dorothy would have been on top of the egg in weather like this, not merely standing over it, and it would look like she’s incubating.  But she’s not.

The egg is certainly frozen and will never hatch. CORRECTION!  I have since learned that it might hatch. (It was not incubated and abandoned to the cold weather so it might be viable.)

This spring Dorothy is 15 years old, retirement age for wild peregrines.  She has a reason for acting this way.  I don’t know what it is.


(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh