Monthly Archives: November 2015

New Home!

bird house (photo from Wiimedia Commons)Welcome to my new blogging home.  🙂


You’ve found Outside My Window at my new address.


Click on the big blue type below and make a new bookmark. You’re ready to go!

New location!

p.s. Today (November 30) I’m taking it easy and leaving this notice in place while we all get used to my new location.  Stay tuned this week for: A vulture on the Tonight Show, Bald eagles on the hunt, and Pittsburgh peregrine nesting highlights in 2015.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

Crows With Red Beaks?

Red-billed choughs in Ireland (photo by Steve Valasek)

Some birds on other continents resemble our familiar backyard species.  Even if you don’t know their names you can make a good guess.

For instance, the black birds above look a lot like crows.  Indeed they are corvids though they’re not in the Corvus genus.

Red-billed choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) or simply “choughs” are native to Europe, Asia and north Africa and one of only two species in the Pyrrhocorax genus.  The other is the Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus).  Steve Valasek photographed these two in Ireland.

Choughs are a little smaller than American crows (Corvus brachyrhyncos) and would look the same except for their big curved red beaks and red legs. Here’s a side-by-side comparison using photos from Wikimedia Commons.

Red-billed chough in India, American crow in San Diego by Dick Daniels (photos from Wikimedia Commons)
Red-billed chough in India, American crow in San Diego by Dick Daniels (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

I think our crows would be amused by the choughs’ appearance but they never see them. There are no choughs in the wild in North America.

“Mr. Shuff(*), what kind of crow are you?”


(photo by Steve Valasek)

* Chough is pronounced “shuff.”

Anyone Home?

Anyone home? (photo by Kate St. John)
Hole in a sugar maple in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

When I see a hole like this I wonder if an animal is inside.

In the winter it could be sheltering chickadees or tufted titmice.  If it’s big enough it may hold a squirrel … or something even better.

When you’re in the woods on a cold sunny afternoon, look for tree holes.  You might see an owl peeking out of one.

Anyone home?


(photo by Kate St. John)

Buy A Stamp For The Birds

2015 U.S. Migratory Bird and Conservation Stamp (image linked from

Today, on Black Friday the biggest shopping day of the year, buy some habitat for the birds.

In Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s November eNewsletter I learned the back story about duck stamps.  They aren’t just for hunters and stamp collectors.  They’re for us birders, too.

One hundred years ago ducks were on their way to extinction in North America because of over-hunting and habitat loss.  New hunting laws stopped the slaughter but the birds still needed habitat so Ding Darling, chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, pushed for the Duck Stamp Act that requires waterfowl hunters to purchase and carry a duck stamp with their general game hunting license. Stamp-generated funds buy National Wildlife Refuge land.  Click here to read how ducks were saved by a stamp!

Cornell Lab gives us birders 8 great reasons to buy a duck stamp:  (I’ve paraphrased below.)

  1. It’s saving a lot of habitat.  Since 1934, over 6.5 million acres of wetland and grassland habitat have been saved as National Wildlife Refuges.
  2. It’s beautiful, collectible wildlife art.
  3. It’s a great use of funds. 98 cents of every dollar goes directly to land acquisition (and immediate related expenses) for the National Wildlife Refuge System.
  4. It’s more than just ducks. Refuge wetland habitat benefits shorebirds, herons, raptors, songbirds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, native plants, and more.
  5. It’s grasslands, too. NWR refuges also protect grasslands for declining prairie-nesting birds: bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, clay-colored sparrows, sedge wrens …
  6. A wildlife refuge where you go birding has benefited. Check the map here (scroll down).
  7. The annual stamp is your free pass to refuges that charge admission.
  8. Show that bird watchers care, too. We know that birds need habitat.  Let’s lend the birds a hand.

It’s easy to buy the 2015 stamp at many post offices, National Wildlife Refuge offices, and sporting-goods stores, as well as online from USPS and Amplex.

Buy a stamp for the birds!


(image of the 2015 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation stamp from the U.S. Postal Service, linked from Click on the image to see the original and read about 8 Great Reasons to buy one.)

Wild Turkeys Are Thankful

Wild turkey, displaying (from the PA Game Commission photo gallery)
Wild turkey, displaying (from the PA Game Commission photo gallery)

Today is Throw Back Thursday and Thanksgiving, all in one.

Here’s an article from 2008 that explains why wild turkeys are thankful their species is a popular food.   It doesn’t seem to make sense … but it does!  Click here to read why.


(photo of a male Wild Turkey in full display, courtesy of the PA Game Commission’s Photo Gallery in 2008)

Blog Moving On Sunday

Moving! (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Moving! (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This Sunday is going to be a big day for me, but if all goes well you won’t notice a thing.

The blog will look the same as usual and all nine+ years of posts and comments will be online.  The only difference on Sunday night will be my new address … but you’ll hardly notice.  The magic of the Internet will send you to the new location (via 301 redirects) if all goes well.

Here’s what I’m up to.

When I retired from WQED more than a year ago, I thought about moving my blog to my own address but I was not up for the challenge back then.  Life is calmer now so I’ve decided to go out on my own.

I’ve bought a new address and I’m packing my virtual boxes for Sunday afternoon’s move.  If all goes well, Outside My Window will be up and running at this new address by Sunday night, November 29:


Keep in mind that you don’t have to do anything.  I’m still at for the next few days, and after the move is final you’ll be automatically redirected to my new site.

Sit back and relax.   And stay tuned.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

Where’s The Roost?

Winter’s coming and the crows are back in Pittsburgh.

Last week at dusk I saw 3,000 flying over Shadyside heading directly west, but I don’t know where they were heading.

Four years ago they roosted above the Strip District near 21st Street and Liberty Ave where Sharon Leadbitter captured them in this video.  But there’s no guarantee that’s their favored place this year.

When crows become too annoying we humans apply just enough pressure to move them along.  Sometimes they move a little, sometimes a lot.   The year they quit the Strip District they chose an abandoned spot in the Hill District.

Where’s the crow roost this year?  Have you seen it?

We need to know before Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count on December 26 so we can count the crows. 🙂


(Youtube video by Sharon Leadbitter)

Weedless And Waiting

Weed-free at the Gulf Tower nest, 20 Nov 2015
Weed-free at the Gulf Tower nest, 20 Nov 2015

Remember how I said the Gulf Tower peregrine nest needs a makeover?  Well, the makeover has begun but this new look is only an interim step.

Because peregrines are still endangered in Pennsylvania, they and their nests are directly managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, often aided by local volunteer monitors (me + others) and local organizations that sponsor the nests (in urban Pittsburgh, the National Aviary).

The original plan was that Art McMorris (PGC) would arrive on Friday, November 20 with new gravel and supplies. Bob Mulvihill was going to help him dig out the old and put in the new, and I planned to provide indoor support.

Fortunately Art asked an important question early last week:  What is the condition of the nest box structure?

Uh Oh!  The structure is 24 years old!  The wood that holds the gravel will probably fall apart when the gravel is removed.

So Art changed the plan.  As soon as he can he’ll install a new nest box that will resemble this highly recommended model, favored by peregrines for many years.

Standard peregrine nest box (photo courtesy Art McMorris, PGC)
Standard peregrine nest box (photo courtesy Art McMorris, PA Game Commission)

In the meantime, Friday didn’t go to waste. The National Aviary’s Bob Mulvihill and Eric Fialkovich removed the weeds and used a garden claw to loosen the gravel so the peregrines don’t lose interest in the site.  (Peregrines like gravel or dust, not weeds and sticks!)

Here are before and after photos from Bob Mulvihill’s cell phone.  That’s Eric on the right.

Gulf Tower nest -- before and after weeding (photos by Bob Mulvihill)
Gulf Tower nest, before and after weeding (photos by Bob Mulvihill)


So now the old box is weedless and waiting.

Stay tuned for the next step.


(photo of the nest from the National Aviary’s falconcam at Gulf Tower. Photo of new nest box model courtesy of Art McMorris, PGC. Before and after photos of the Gulf nest weeding by Bob Mulvihill.)

p.s. I provide “indoor support” because I am too afraid of heights to go out on the ledge. (!)

One Of These Is Not Like The Others

At Lake Erie, a flock of gulls with an overseas visitor among them (photo by Steve Gosser)
At Lake Erie, a flock of gulls with an overseas visitor among them (photo by Steve Gosser)

All of these gulls are the same species … except one.

Steve Gosser posted this photo on Facebook last Wednesday and wrote, “One of these gulls is a little more special than the others, any guesses?”

His friends were quick to point out the odd gull and some even identified it, especially after Steve confirmed that it’s the one at the top right without white leading edges on his wings and without black wingtips.

What species is this special bird?

It’s pretty hard to tell with such a plain gray gull so Steve posted a second picture with the decisive clue.

A little gull flying with two Bonaparte's gulls (photo by Steve Gosser)
A little gull flying with two Bonaparte’s gulls (photo by Steve Gosser)

This gull has dark underwings!

He’s a little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus), a native of Eurasia and rare in North America.  All About Birds writes:

The smallest gull in the world, the Little Gull is common across Eurasia. A few pairs have been nesting in North America since the 1960s, and the species is now a rare, but regular, visitor to the East Coast and the Great Lakes.

Steve photographed this one at Lake Erie.

Thanks, Steve, showing us what to look for!


(photos by Steve Gosser)

Violets In November

Violets blooming on November 13 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)
Violets blooming on 13 November 2015 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)

Just over a week ago Fran Bungert was walking in South Park with her husband and dogs when she came upon some violets in bloom and sent me this picture from her cellphone.

November is a very odd time for violets (Viola sororia sororia).  They normally bloom from April to June.

Are they confused by our warm El Niño autumn?  Or have some violets always bloomed in November and I’ve just not paid attention?

What do you think?


(photo by Fran Bungert)