Below The Nest

The chick almost matches the nest, 8 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Peregrine chick gazes toward the sky, 8 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

10 June 2015

Some of you watching the Cathedral of Learning falconcam have worried that a chick is missing (sometimes) or that one will fall off the nest.  Here’s why neither of those things have happened and what you can expect in the future.

Peregrine falcon nestlings will not step off the edge until they are fully feathered and ready to learn to fly.  This inherited safeguard is hard-wired because all of today’s peregrines are descended from birds who would not step off the edge.

At 28 days peregrine nestlings move around the nest area but they’re speckled and hard to find.  If you don’t see them, they probably didn’t fall.

At 35+ days they’re fully feathered and ready for wing practice.   At this point they have to move to nearby ledges (off camera) or they’ll never learn to fly.

Stepping out can be dangerous at bridge sites.  Bridges have water below, no lower ledges, and the wind blows hard.  If a fledgling lands in the water he can swim, but not forever.  If he lands on the ground he may be killed by predators or vehicles.  Bridges have higher fledgling mortality than good cliffs.

None of these hazards apply to the Cathedral of Learning.  There is no river below, there are many ledges for landing, and it’s impossible for a young bird to fall directly from the nest to the street.

The nest box stands on a floor surrounded by walls. A chick that jumps or bumps to the floor cannot get to the street. The front wall is so tall that the parents use it to perch above the nest (above the camera).  You see them arrive and depart from that direction.  Here’s an overhead diagram of the site.

The Cathedral of Learning nest is surrounded by high and low walls (diagram by Kate St. John)
The Cathedral of Learning nest is surrounded by high and low walls (diagram by Kate St. John)

The box itself is elevated about 3 feet with room to explore underneath it.  If a chick reaches the floor, his mother teaches him to come back to the top by waiting for him to climb up on his own.  This is an important learning experience for the chick.  The explorer always resurfaces.

Nestbox looks like this if it stood alone (diagram by Kate St. John)
Nest box is elevated (diagram by Kate St. John)

Our most famous under-nest explorer was Green Boy in 2010.  One of five in an active crowded nest, his brother bumped him off the front perch.  Green Boy spent many hours exploring the gully and then came topside in this video footage.

Read all about his adventure and see additional footage here.

So, no worries about the gully.

The only First Flight hazard for a young peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning is this:  Curious People.

Curious people think “It won’t hurt if I sneak up close to take a look/picture.”  But it will.

Before a peregrine learns to fly it walks off the nest to nearby ledges and practices flapping its wings (off camera).  Adult peregrines teach their kids that humans are dangerous.  If a youngster sees a human near him while he’s ledge walking, he may try to fly away before he is able and crash below.

So, curb your curiosity.  Stay away from peregrine nests while youngsters are learning.

You don’t want to be the one who scared the chick and ended his life in a crash!

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh. Diagrams by Kate St. John)

p.s.  You cannot see the nest from inside the building nor can you see it from the street. To see the Pitt peregrines, come down to Schenley Plaza.

18 thoughts on “Below The Nest

  1. Thanks so much for this information, as I was wondering about when the chick would start hopping up on the edges of the nest box!

  2. Hi Kate! Thanks for all the great info! A bit worried abt Silver at the moment. Pls tell me he’s sleeping in the corner I can’t see, or somehow found his way to The Gully…

  3. And just in case their parents haven’t taught them to fear people there is always the memory of that hand that scoops you from the nest, sticks cold metal to your chest, and then attaches things to your feet. Yes little peregrene be affraid be very afraid.

  4. Thanks for all the great information Kate! Question for you about a behavior I’ve observed with lady D — I notice that sometimes she “hovers” over the chick (Silver) and gets way up into his personal space. 🙂 She doesn’t have any food for him and he starts to squawk, perhaps hoping for food. Any idea of what this behavior is?

    1. Jennifer, I’ve no idea. I guess she’s looking him over. I’ve seen him squawk at her & open his beak & she puts her beak near his to see if he’s hungry… but he’s not. In nest with multiple chicks, the nestlings hang close together like that. With only one nestling, Dorothy takes that role.

  5. Silver seems to be exercising his wings a lot today. Looks like he just bonked himself into the back wall. Nice to see his progress since banding.

  6. I was wondering the same thing. Thanks for all the great info Kate. I also loved the video of green boy. It is amazing to watch.

  7. great post. I have to missed a day here and so am encouraged by her progress.

    now i have less worries as she almost stepped up on left side , as we watch cam. thought better of it LOL

  8. Great description and diagrams. Silver has grown so quickly. Still seems awkward at times, like the wings and feet are just too big to handle. I hope the ledge walking phase goes well.

  9. Thanks for the information. So good to know this about the nest box area. She is growing so well now! Right now she is near the green rim just looking around. So curious and such a big girl now!

  10. Just saw Silver up *on* the grassy perch at the front of the box (10:48 am). Didn’t stay long, he/she kinda fell back off then retreated to the back of the next box.

  11. Silver is back up on the perch today. June 16 @2:30. Seems like he/she is getting pretty brave. Love it.

  12. Thank you for the info on the nest and features around and under it. Didn’t know how it was placed. It was really interesting to read. Silver has grown so much in the past 3 1/2 weeks. I know everyone is rooting for him.
    Where does the front of the nest face? Heinz Chapel, Fifth or Forbes Ave.?

    Saw the video of Green Boy. Enjoyed it Do you know how many of those chicks survived? And where are they?

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