The Queen Is Dead, Long Live The Queen

This is not Dorothy (photo from the Cathedral of Learning snapshot camera) 1 Dec 2015
This female peregrine is not Dorothy (photo from the Cathedral of Learning snapshot camera), Dec 1, 2015

2 December 2015

This proclamation is made in monarchies when the old queen dies and a new one succeeds her. It’s a fitting announcement at the Cathedral of Learning today, for the old peregrine Queen Dorothy is gone and a new Queen is in her place, at least for now.

Late yesterday morning Peter Bell told me the Pitt snapshot camera was dead. Instead I found it very much alive with nearly a hundred motion detection images in less than two days. They were triggered by very frequent peregrine courtship at the nest:  three times on November 30 and eight times on December 1.

Such intense “getting to know you” is highly unusual at this time of year and unheard of with an old mated pair.  Based on behavior I knew at least one of them was new to the site. Many photos and archives later, I confirmed that E2 is still here, he is courting a new female, and Dorothy is gone.

The Queen is dead.”

Well actually, Dorothy simply disappeared but we know she won’t come back.   Art McMorris, PGC’s Peregrine Coordinator, affirmed that the presence of a new female at the nest means Dorothy is gone.

We never saw a fight, nor even a challenger.  Dorothy and E2 were both active in October and flew together on November 2 but the rest of November was quiet with only one peregrine on campus — or none — and no certainty that the one bird was Dorothy.

In any case, Dorothy’s disappearance is no surprise. Adult peregrines live about 12 years in the wild but Dorothy was 16.5 going on 17 — quite elderly.  Like an 85-90 year old grandmother, we loved her and will miss her but we’re not shocked that she’s gone.

Long live the Queen!”

The new Queen is a younger bird with a Black/Green coded band and a green USFWS band.  After I read her bands I enlisted Peter to examine them too(*).  Here are his two archive snapshots from Nov 30 with a blow-up of the bands.

New female at the Cathedral of Learning, Blk/Green 69/Z, nicnamed "Hope" (photo from the WildEarth archives)
Bands on new female at Pitt, Nov 30, 2015 (photo from the WildEarth archives)
Bands on new female at Pitt, Nov 30, 2015 (photo from the WildEarth archives)
Another shot of bands on new female at Pitt, Nov 30, 2015 (photo from the WildEarth archives)

Yes, these bands are 69/Z.  This bird is “Hope,” the resident female at the Tarentum Bridge since 2010 who hatched at the Benjamin Harrison Bridge in Hopewell, Virginia in 2008.

Why did Hope leave Tarentum? We don’t know but here are a few ideas:

  • When male peregrines are alone on territory they fly an advertisement that says “I’m looking for a mate.”  The Cathedral of Learning is so tall that Hope could have seen E2’s message from the skies of Tarentum.
  • Hope has not had great success in her six years at the Tarentum Bridge.  She raised 4 young — two in 2012 and two in 2014 — but half the time she’s been alone with no mate.  Last year a young male showed up, but they didn’t nest.
  • The Cathedral of Learning is one of the best peregrine nesting sites in Pittsburgh. We’ve seen another Pittsburgh “bridge bird” move to the other best site:  Dori left a bridge for the Gulf Tower.
  • I wonder if Hope got tired of bald eagles.  😉  Read Mary Ann Thomas’ TribLive article to see what I mean.

And yet, though Hope and E2 seem to be hitting it off she might not stay. Art McMorris says it’s too early to know if she’ll stick around for the nesting season.  Right now she’s getting to know E2 and the Cathedral of Learning but she has plenty of time to change her mind between now and next April.

So, Tarentum peregrine watchers, keep your eyes peeled.  Hope might come back.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning)

Footnotes and History:

Hope at Tarentum, 21 Nov 2015 (photo by Steve Gosser)
Hope at Tarentum, 21 Nov 2015 (photo by Steve Gosser)

35 thoughts on “The Queen Is Dead, Long Live The Queen

  1. Thank you Kate for the upbeat delivery of this news. It was inevitable, figured it would be this year, but sad none the less. I’d say she’s with Silver and all the rest, and even though it’s unconfirmed…may she rest in peace.

  2. Sad to see Dorothy go. Glad it was a quiet event and different than the male battles over the site.

    Happy to see Hope here. Excited for the possibility of a proper peregrine nest full of chicks like we haven’t had since 2011!

  3. Wow, I also lived in Tarentum and then moved to Oakland, smart bird. Maybe she’ll wind up in Albuquerque, then Portland Oregon and then Ireland and then wind up in Arizona too. ; )

  4. There was a small article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (nov 30th) saying that a new pair of eagles were on the Tarentum Bridge. i knew they usually ake over other nests so perhaps this is the female who was displaced.

    1. Interesting idea, Judith. Bald eagles might be in the same territory but they would not take over a peregrine nest. Peregrines don’t use sticks so their nests are totally unappealing to eagles. See
      On the other hand, peregrines really don’t like bald eagles so maybe their presence was a downside for peregrine nesting at Tarentum. But we will never know.

  5. my heart is pounding so quickly right now. i am so sad. this is the hard thing about having the privilege to watch it all.

    rest in peace dorothy. i hope you did not suffer.

  6. Wow, what news, Kate! Quite a story for a rainy Wednesday morning and it brings a real mix of sadness and anticipation. After reading Mary Ann’s story on the eagles I did wonder what that would mean for the peregrines on the Tarentum bridge. Time will tell and it will be wonderful to see if it’s Hope we’ll be watching on the Cathedral cam!

  7. Our dear Dorothy! One magnificent PEFA. While inevitable, I’m still sad but will watch the Pitt site with great interest to see if Hope and E2 become a pair. Also wouldn’t it be nice if Dori and Louie went back to Gulf!!

  8. Such mixed emotions. Dorothy was/is magnificent! I think it is easier for me to look forward to a new successful nest in the spring, than to watch Dorothy “try just one more time”. Bless her heart and thank you for all the years that she gave to us.

  9. Never a dull moment! Well, we knew it was coming but its still sad. Dorothy had contributed to peregrines future faithful and we saw the aging bird’s last baby not survive. Bye Dorothy!

    Wow, what a bang of a blog for the new space! LOL

  10. Very bittersweet news on a rainy day, Kate. I will miss Dorothy but am glad we didn’t have to witness her end – whatever it was. Hopefully Hope & E2 will decide to mate and better days will be in store for the Cathedral nesting site. Dorothy was such an amazing peregrine & mother. I hope she is soaring somewhere.

  11. I am so heartbroken, as I know you are, Kate. Dorothy will always be a favorite for me, and watching her raise her families all these years has been such a privilege, especially all the special care she took with Fuzzy/Silver this past spring. The rain today seems so appropriate. But I, too, am glad that the changeover went quietly for us, without a visible battle. I can hope that Dorothy went quietly, perhaps in her sleep. Glad though that she had a chance to soar with E2 this fall too. She will be missed by so many of us who learned much of our falcon knowledge from her, and from you. Great thanks to both of you! God Bless You, Dorothy.

  12. What is the link to the snapshot camera? I don’t seem to have it bookmarked and can’t find it.

    Although sad that Dorothy is gone, this is exciting news for this nest. I was having PEFA withdrawal and thinking how terribly long it seems until we could see activity at the nest. What a pleasant surprise to hear about Hope. Hope she stays!

  13. Dorothy’s death is sad for everyone who admired her parenting skills, but we should focus on the successful broods she raised and the joy and understanding of nature’s way that she brought to everyone who watched and learned from her. Here’s hoping that successful broods will once again be raised at the Cathedral nest.

    Kate, will the snapshot camera never again automatically update? Is it a flaw of the camera or a change in the software that monitors the camera? Sadly it’s the only way I could watch the nests since my company blocks streaming video. (Not cat videos, though, I can watch as many of those as I want 🙁 Just no live video.)

    1. Mary Ann, the heavy load of people watching the refresh snapshot almost crashed the server so it had to be turned off. I will look into whether it can be resumed using another method.

  14. TY Kate for being so passionate about the Peregrines in our area. Given Dorothys age it was only a matter of time that she would leave us. I am grateful she just left on her own and I do hope she is soaring high with Silver and her other offspring who did not survive. On the other hand it is a happy day that Hope may take over and continue to bring us love and joy and hopefully eggs in 2016!
    Do you have any info on the Peregrines that live under the Westinghouse Bridge that you can share with us? Merry Christmas Pittsburgh and Happy Holidays to everyone!!

  15. So you retired to become a detective.I saw that pic on what was “Dorothy and E2” on Twitter the other day and wondered. Thanks for the update.

  16. Sad that Dorothy is gone, but also not unexpected given her age. I also find it interesting that the former long-time female residents at both of Pittsburgh’s prime nest sites were replaced by birds named Hope (I think I remember you stating the “Dori” is the Romanian word for “Hope” as she won the GT site from Tasha and was given the name by the Make-a-Wish staff). Well, here’s Hope-ing for a successful 2016 nesting season and many more to follow at the Cathedral of Learning and hopefully at Gulf Tower too.

    BTW, what ever happened to the link to the pdf that showed that pair nesting history for the various sites around Pittsburgh. It used to be on the old site for the cameras but doesn’t seem to have reappeared on the new sites.

  17. Kate –
    Any idea how far a peregrine can see? Oakland to Tarentum…….

    Would the male in Tarentum take any measures to try to dissuade her from leaving or woo her back, or is it usually completely up to her to come and go unless E2 should enter the Tarentum area?

    1. Susan, I don’t know the answer. My hunch is that peregrines don’t travel around trying to get their mate to come back because their territory is more important than the other individual. That said, I’ve seen a pair come in and challenge an established pair to get the territory. So who knows? Just when I think I’ve figured them out, peregrines do something surprising.

  18. I’m happy for Dorothy…she lived out her wild life to the fullest and then some. What more could a peregrine ask for than such a great territory and that many babies? So many other peregrines don’t make it past being a chick, and if they were capable of knowing her life, they would be so jealous.

  19. Dorothy hatched and fledged in 1999 at the Firstar Center in Milwaukee, the daughter of the Midwest’s second-most productive female falcon Sibella and her mate Bill. Dorothy became as famous as her parents. It’s really sad to see the ‘old guard’ gone.

    Thanks for the report, Kate.

    I’m sure Dorothy and Erie are flying together again – he always came whenever she called.

  20. I’m sad that Dorothy is gone, but happy for the many years she had, and the great pleasure watching her brought me over the years. Her life brought awareness and appreciation of peregrines to so many people who would otherwise not have had an opportunity for that. I am also happier than ever she had the chance to mother one last chick in 2015.

    I found it ironic when we lost our Harrisburg Mom in 2010 that she lived her entire adult life with a worldwide audience in the hundreds of thousands, yet her end remains a mystery. No battle was witnessed, no body found, only the arrival of a new female on the ledge to confirm that she was gone. It seems the same fate has found Dorothy. I guess it doesn’t matter in the long run; they never cared if they were on camera or not. The urge to document their lives is all ours.

    Best wishes to the Cathedral falcons for a successful 2016/

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