Monthly Archives: May 2015

This Morning’s Walk in Schenley Park

Participants in May 31 Walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Participants in May 31 Walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Great turnout this morning — 21 people, including myself — and the weather cooperated!

From our meeting place at the Visitors Center we could see E2 on the lightning rod at the Cathedral of Learning so we talked about peregrines and I answered questions before we walked to Panther Hollow Lake.

Best sightings included beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles at their nests, a house wren at its nest in a street lamp, and northern rough-winged swallows taking flight-baths in the lake.  Two wood thrushes sang in the woods and common whitetail dragonflies chased at the lake edge.

Spend time outdoors in the weeks ahead.  In mid-June come to Peregrine Fledge Watches (to be announced) at Schenley Plaza, Downtown, Neville Island and the Westinghouse Bridge.  And on Sunday June 28 I’ll lead another walk in Schenley Park.

Check the schedule on my Events page for the latest updates.



(photo by Kate St. John)

Named For A Dogs’ Body Part

Houndstongue, Ohio's Lake Erie shore, 16 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
Cynoglossum officinale, Ohio’s Lake Erie shore, 16 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

And now for something completely different.  This morning I’m taking a break from peregrines to tell you about an unusual name.

I found this plant blooming on Lake Erie’s sandy shore at Magee Marsh, Ohio this month.  It took me a while to identify it because it’s non-native.

Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is native to Eurasia but was accidentally introduced to North America where it happily grows in waste places.  It’s been spreading for so long that Michigan declared it one of the worst weeds in the state more than 100 years ago.  This one was growing just across the lake from Michigan.  Perhaps it migrated to Ohio.

The plant is twice-named for a dog’s tongue: “houndstongue” and cyno (dog) glossum (tongue).  Theoretically, if you put a houndstongue leaf in your shoe no dogs will bite you, but that outcome is statistically likely even without the leaf.

If I’d crushed a leaf I would have noticed the plant smells bad — like “rats and mice” — which is one of its nicknames.  Nonetheless people have used it as a cure for baldness, hemorrhoids, respiratory problems, and madness.   There’s no proof that it heals but it will make you sick.  Houndstongue contains cancer-causing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, toxic to the liver and to livestock.

Be careful when you put that leaf in your shoe.


p.s.  This plant was part of the three witches’ Brew in Macbeth. Shakespeare called it “tongue of dog.”

(photo by Kate St. John)

Nestling News From Pitt

First indoor look at Dorothy and E2's 2015 chick (photo by Kate St. John)
First in-hand look at Dorothy and E2’s 2015 chick (photo by Kate St. John)

I filed a brief report yesterday on the peregrine chick banding at the Cathedral of Learning. Here’s news to fill in the gaps with a note about pronouns.  I’m using the pronouns “he” and “him” though we really don’t know his sex.

Yesterday the chick’s in-hand exam showed he has no deformities but has experienced delayed development.  Peregrine chicks develop so fast that biologists can age them by examining their behavior and measuring their legs and emerging feathers.  Because we have a webcam we know the chick hatched on May 10 making him 19 days old on Banding Day.  If we didn’t know when he hatched, his behavior and measurements say he’s 14 days old.

Here he waited and watched while the vet observed him quietly.

Pitt Peregrine chick (photo by Kate St. John)
Pitt Peregrine chick waits quietly (photo by Kate St. John)

The vet examined his skin and feathers and found parasites (insects) under his wings and in his feathers. Insects arrive at the nest on the bodies of newly killed bird(s) that parents feed to the chicks.  This transfer of insect pests happens so often to young peregrines that the banders always carry medicated powder to dust and debug the nestlings.  This chick was powdered yesterday and soon, or now, is bug-free.  The powder is long-lasting.  He will stay bug-free even if more bugs arrive at the nest.

The chick’s mouth was examined for trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection of the mouth, throat and jaw.  Fortunately he showed no sign of “trich.”

Disease and parasites consume a nestling’s energy and can delay development.  Delay can also result from a less nutritious yolk, a common occurrence in the eggs of older birds (Dorothy is 16).  If the yolk (food) is not nutritious, the embryo is malnourished.  We don’t know if that happened here.

Delayed development made it challenging to determine his sex.  At banding age, male peregrines weigh considerably less than females (2/3) so weight plus days-since-hatch indicate the sex.  How old is this nestling?  19 days on camera but 14 days in-hand.  Since his sex could not be determined he was given the larger size female band in case he/she grows into it.

The vet drew blood for a blood test that will take 10-14 days to complete.  (I’m not a vet and have no idea what they are testing.)  The preliminary result shows the chick is anemic — no surprise since parasites were sucking his blood.  Now that he’s bug-free he can absorb nutrition at a much higher rate.

By the end of the exam he was sitting up and squawking — a really good sign!

Sitting up (photo by Kate St. John)
Sitting up like a Buddha. Peregrines have very large feet (photo by Kate St. John)

With new “bling” on his legs he went back to his parents and spent lots of time sleeping off the excitement.

He’s had some challenges but he’s got great parents and stands a good chance of catching up.

Coming soon:

  • Peregrine nest area diagrams to show that this bird cannot jump/fall off the Cathedral of Learning — even if he wanted to.
  • News of other peregrine nests in Pittsburgh — Neville, Downtown, Westinghouse.


(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Someone asked if the fluffy leg feathers (“pants”) on Dorothy are a sign of parasites.  No, it’s just one of the many expressive ways birds hold their feathers.  In ravens it’s a way of showing power and superiority.  I don’t know what it means among peregrines.

He’s Staying With Mom

Peregrine chick at Cathedral of Learning, 29 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

This Cathedral of Learning peregrine chick is banded and he’s going back to Mom & Dad.

His sex is undetermined because he’s been slow in development – feathers and strength are at age 14 days, though actual age is 19 days – but he had no deformities and has a good chance of catching up.

He did have feather parasites so he was treated with medication to remove them & that problem is virtually gone.

If you’ve been watching on camera, you can see he’s back at the nest with new “bling” on his legs.

Happy Banding Day!


(photo by Kate St. John)

Stay Tuned

Pitt peregrine chick at Cathedral of Learning banding (photo by Kate St. John)
May 2010 Peregrine chick at Banding Day event

Please excuse this blue-tinted old photo from May 2010 but I’m using it as a reminder that today is Banding Day(*) in Pittsburgh.

Peregrine falcon chicks will be banded at two locations:

  • At the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning where there’s one famous nestling, and
  • At the Neville Island I-79 Bridge where there are two chicks.

Stay tuned here at Outside My Window for news.

NOTE! I will be at peregrine banding & research events all day. I will post news today but may not have time to answer your questions until tomorrow.


(photo from May 2010 by Kate St. John)

(*)  For my British readers (Hello, Derby watchers!), banding is the same as ringing … but you know that.  🙂

Props And Tarsi

Yesterday Dorothy and E2’s chick stayed upright all day long and began to walk around.

In the video above he tips backward but does not fall, perhaps because his tail feathers (called rectrices) grew long enough to act as a prop. One day earlier he used the wall as a prop and was mostly successful. During his week of toppling over (5/19 to 5/26/2015) he needed a prop but hadn’t found one.  Toppling is not normal.

Yesterday he walked and explored a bit.  In the short video below he walks on his tarsi (plural of tarsus, the leg section from toes to heel).  Peregrine chicks normally walk on their tarsi at first, then stand up on their toes.

Adult birds walk on their toes with their heels in the air.  Their legs look to us as if their knees are bent backward but the “knees” are actually their heels and the tarsi are the lower section of their legs.  We humans have tarsi, too — the many bones in our feet.  We walk on our tarsi all our lives.

It is very hard to tell whether the chick’s improvement is a leap forward or merely a compensation that masks his underlying weakness.

Meanwhile, he made KDKA news last night.  Click here to watch.

The chick will be examined thoroughly tomorrow, Banding Day.  Watch this blog for updates.


(videos captured from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh, streamed from

Reminder: Let’s Walk in Schenley Park, May 31

Fleabane (photo by Kate St. John)

Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird and nature walk on Sunday May 31, 8:30am in Schenley Park. Meet at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

Dress for the weather. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Click here for more information and for updates if the walk is canceled for bad weather.

I know we’ll find fleabane blooming.

See you soon.

(photo of fleabane by Kate St. John)

Up And Down And Up Again

Dorothy presents food to the upright chick as E2 exits the nest area (photo from the National Avairy snapshot camera)
Dorothy presents food as E2 exits the nest area (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

News of peregrine falcon activity at the Cathedral of Learning, 26 May 2015:

The chick was up, the chick was down, the chick came up again.  He is an active “Special Needs” nestling.

Don’t worry if you hear him ‘crying.’  All peregrine chicks cry or whine when they are hungry.  This is not a sign of distress, it’s a call of hunger.  Watch what Dorothy and E2 do when the chick cries.  They bring him food.  After he eats he stops crying and falls asleep with a full crop as shown below.

He's not dead, he's resting.  He just ate & is sleeping as he digests the lump of food in his crop (neck).  (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
He’s not dead, he’s resting. The chick just ate & is sleeping as he digests the lump of food in his crop (neck). (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine parents use food as a teaching tool.  For instance, they teach their youngsters to hunt by holding food just out of reach in the air so the youngsters will fly up to grab it.  You might see Dorothy or E2 holding food just out of reach when the chick is on his back.  They are working with him.

We can see on camera that the chick’s legs are wobbly (see end of video).  Yesterday he compensated by using the wall for support.  Grown up peregrine falcons roost standing up with their faces to the cliff wall. The chick showed good progress by roosting in the position shown below.

Chick is in the normal roosting position for young birds his age (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Chick is in the normal roosting position (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


Dorothy and E2 conferred on the chick’s condition.  They’re adapting to the situation and giving him extra special care, feeding him on his back and even helping him get up. I have never seen peregrines do that! I’m learning something new and gaining even more respect for Dorothy and E2 because we can see them on camera.

E2 examines the chick. He and Dorothy confer (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Dorothy and E2 examine the chick, 26 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Some aspects of the chick’s condition are visible on camera but we cannot diagnose from a distance.  The chick will be given a thorough health check on Banding Day this Friday.

NOTE! that the banding event is not open to the public.  I will be there and post an update as soon as possible afterward.  Stay tuned at this link — Outside My Window — for the latest updates.


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

Are You Better Now?

Dorothy appears to be asking the chick, "Are you better now?" (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pitsburgh)
Dorothy appears to be asking, “Are you better now?” (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pitsburgh)

Dorothy and E2’s chick caused lots of drama over the weekend. Sunday night he fell on his back again and couldn’t right himself.  Dorothy continued to feed him but some webcam viewers were upset.  Humans debated, waited, made phone calls, wept, and argued.  Some called for shutting off the cameras. Others for shutting off the chat.

Then 24 hours later Dorothy solved the problem and dragged him upright again.  Here’s the video as seen on

It is not normal for a chick to be on his back and unable to get up, but he’s eating well, looks healthy, and is certainly growing.  The chick is not in any danger, he’s just clumsy.

Chances are he’ll fall over again but now we know not to panic.  Dorothy will handle it when she decides it’s time to do so.

Later this week, he’ll receive a complete health examination on Banding Day.


(photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera. Video captured from from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

p.s. Because the chick now walks out of camera range the snapshot camera has been moved back so we can see him.

This Is Not Normal

Dorothy with chick on its back, 25 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Dorothy with chick on its back, 25 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


MAY 25, 2015

It’s now obvious to us humans that Dorothy and E2’s chick is not normal.  At 15 days old it should be walking around the nestbox and standing upright like a little Buddha.  Instead it falls suddenly on its back, kicks and jerks and cannot right itself.  It remains on its back for hours and Dorothy feeds it in this position. This is not normal.

It appears the chick has a birth defect which we humans could not see immediately.  Dorothy and E2 are very experienced parents who know what healthy chicks look like (Dorothy has raised 42 young), and their extra attentive behavior from the start indicates to me they knew this chick has issues.

At age 16 Dorothy is old for a peregrine and, just like older human mothers, her eggs are more likely to result in birth defects.  This is not new for Dorothy.  Two years ago one of her two chicks hatched with seizures and died within a week.   Unfortunate as it is, health problems are normal for a peregrine this old.

The Way of the Peregrine:

Peregrine falcons are precision flyers and hunters, the fastest animal on earth.  They hunt at speeds of more than 200 miles an hour and kill prey in the air by capturing it with their feet.  They must be in top physical condition to do this.

The goal of peregrine parents every year is to raise their offspring to become independent and leave home by the end of the summer. Peregrine youngsters are “weaned” from food deliveries as soon as they learn to hunt.  They are not allowed to hang around home for handouts.  That is the Way of the Peregrine.

This year’s chick is in poor condition for fulfilling its life goal of hunting on its own, leaving home, and eventually finding a mate. Dorothy and E2 have raised enough young that they know this.  However they are devoted parents.  Dorothy feeds the chick on its back (unusual!) and shelters it with her body even though it is too old for “baby” treatment.  This looks odd because the chick is so large. Dorothy is not smothering it. She is “mothering” it.

Human Reactions:

Sad as it is, this is a natural event. Our normal human reaction is to intervene, however humans are the peregrines’ mortal enemy.  For us to “steal” the chick, no matter how well-meaning we are, is very upsetting and a threat to Dorothy and E2.  We humans are not as good at taking care of baby peregrines as their parents are.

Peregrine falcons are endangered in Pennsylvania and protected from human intrusion. Only those with proper permits are allowed to handle peregrines. The chicks are still banded in Pennsylvania because they are endangered. Banding Day — which will be this week — is the one moment when humans intrude/intervene.  The chick will get a thorough health check at that time. [Note that an injured or diseased chick is given appropriate treatment. This chick may have an incurable birth defect.] We await the news on Banding Day.

Meanwhile if the chat, the camera, the news of this chick upsets you, I suggest with all due respect that you close your browser and give yourself a break.

Or switch to watching a peregrine nest with normal thriving chicks.  Three of Dorothy’s grandkids are growing up in Rochester, New York.  These are the nestlings of Beauty (Dorothy’s daughter) and her mate DotCa at RFalconcam. Click here or on their photo to watch.

Beaty & DotCa's 3 chicks (Dorothy's grandkids), 25May 2015 (photo from RFalconcam)
Beauty & DotCa’s 3 chicks — Dorothy’s grandkids — 25May 2015 (photo from RFalconcam)

You can also watch the peregrines’ nest in Harrisburg on the Rachel Carson Building –> click here.

Unfortunately, many people may think Dorothy’s situation is what happens at all peregrine nests.

No. This is not normal.


(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh and RFalconcam, Rochester, New York)

p.s. More cams to watch, suggested in the comments: