Based On Behavior

Hope sitting on eggs, 19 March 2016, 7:43am, temperature 34 degrees F (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope sitting on eggs, 19 March 2016, 7:43am, temperature 34 degrees F (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

We humans have been speculating about the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning — about E2’s death and Hope’s future — but the only way to figure out what’s really going on is to watch the birds’ behavior and write down the facts without speculation.

Using the facts, we can match what we see to typical species behavior and arrive at a general answer.  Long-time observers may also match facts to years of observing the individual birds, providing a specific answer based on the individual’s “personality.”  However, additional data may contradict our conclusions.  We must remain open to changing our minds. That’s how we learn.

Today I’ll tell you what I’ve seen at the Cathedral of Learning and will do some matching based on 15 years of watching the peregrines at Pitt and 8.5 years of knowing E2 as an individual.  Keep in mind that conclusions are always speculation, even though educated by long experience.


  • E2’s death and activities surrounding it:
    • E2’s last appearance on camera was at 12:37pm on Tuesday March 15.
    • Hope laid her second egg at 5:08pm on Tuesday March 15.
    • E2 always visited each egg as it was laid.  He did not visit Hope’s second egg.
    • E2 always brought food to his mates at dawn.  He has not been present at dawn since Tuesday March 15.
    • E2’s body was found on Wednesday March 16, perhaps at 4:00pm–5:00pm.  It was retrieved around 6:00pm.
    • E2’s body has a broken right wing and broken right leg and blood in mouth.  Blood in mouth indicates internal injuries.
    • When E2’s body was retrieved his wings could be opened, therefore no rigor mortis. Rigor mortis is temporary.  I am awaiting further data but the Backyard Chickens website says it sets in half an hour to 4 hours after death and ends 24-48 hours after death.  (Thank you, Donna Memon, for this link.)
  • Hope’s activities since E2 disappeared:
    • She has stayed close to the nest and laid a third egg.
    • This morning’s temperature dropped to 34 degrees F.  Under these circumstances peregrines cover their eggs to keep them from getting too cold.
    • Hope covered the eggs last night.
    • Yesterday afternoon when Hope was not on camera she was not at the Cathedral of Learning.  (I did not see her fly.)
  • Is Hope alone? Is there a new male present?
    • A second peregrine has not been seen on camera since E2’s last appearance.  An intruder male would begin courting immediately. There has been no courting at all.
    • Yesterday afternoon I observed off and on for 90 minutes from the ground at the Cathedral of Learning.  I never saw two birds — only Hope.
    • Hope and E2 were loud when they were near each other, lots of ee-chupping and calling.  I have not reviewed all of the audio archives but from what I have heard… there has been no peregrine noise since E2 disappeared.  (This may need to be corrected if additional data contradicts it.)


  • Time of E2’s death: My conclusion, based on knowing him as an individual, is that he died on Tuesday afternoon before 5:00pm.
  • Cause of E2’s death: Based on description of his injuries, my conclusion is that he was hit broadside by something much larger than him.  These massive injuries cannot be inflicted by another bird.
  • Underlying cause of E2’s death: This is speculation on top of speculation!   My guess is that he was hit by a vehicle while swooping low over the road.  (I once saw him swoop low over Forbes Avenue. This 1 observation in 8.5 years merely means he was willing to swoop low over a road at one point.)
  • Did an intruder force E2 into a fight?  No. If an intruder had been involved, that intruder would be at the Cathedral of Learning and courting with Hope by now.
  • Is Hope incubating?  I don’t know Hope’s ways like I knew Dorothy’s so I don’t know.  I would have answered that question based on her continuous time on the eggs but Hope cannot incubate continuously because she must hunt for herself.
  • Is Hope hunting for her own food?  I don’t know.  I have not observed long enough on the ground.
  • Is there a new male at the site yet?   Not that we know of.

As I said above, conclusions are always speculation.

Keep watching and learning.


(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

38 thoughts on “Based On Behavior

  1. Thank you for the blog Kate. I agree with you, I don’t think there is a new male either, was hoping for one but given the time of year with hormones high – he’d have been all over that nest box by now.

  2. I saw a small raptor, I assume peregrine, flying inbound on Forbes between Hillman and WPU yesterday at 5pm. Too small to be one of the red-tailed hawks.

    1. If I recall correctly, there were no tail bands, also I never saw the tail fanned out. Wing tips were midline, not back swept during a glide.

      Flight pattern similar to a common nighthawk, erratic with a few flaps to gain or make course adjustments. No signature nighthawk ‘preet’ though. Also more linear flight than dwelling and too early in the evening.

    2. No bands when viewed from the back, I should say. I saw it in a turn. Solid drab/grey back.

    3. Don’t know what bird it was but my guess is Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. They can look like that from the top/back where tail bands are less obvious.

    1. Janet, yes Hope will find another mate sooner or later. No one knows peregrine psychology but based on behavior experts have told me they do not grieve. Hope is subdued now because she has eggs and her hormones are telling her she has to sit still a lot.

  3. Thank you Kate. She seems to have had other problems with mates, and when I look at her, she can be so animated when she is looking at the camera, my heart grieves.

  4. Kate, I was wondering how old Hope is, and I also wanted to thank you for all the information you provide about other birds and nature. I have never liked birds and have always been afraid of them. You have provided me with a whole new experience, and now I don’t know what I would do witout these beautiful creatures in my life. THANK YOU!

    1. Janet, Hope was born in 2008 in Hopewell, VA so that makes her 8 years old. She’s in her prime.

  5. Just saw Hope come of her eggs and sit on the edge of her nest for about 10 minutes, then return to the eggs. She was searching the skies – possibly for a food delivery. Poor dear.

  6. I have watching Hope she seems to listening for E2 perhaps it would have have been a good idea to show her what happened…just like humans its best to see your love ones

    1. Ingrid, she never nested in 2015 with her previous mate. He was too young and he was never identified so we would not be able to recognize him here, there or anywhere. As of today, she is still alone and there is no male “in the picture.”

  7. Thank you so much Kate for your insight and updates. I’m sure we all are more upset than Hope, as I know birds, animals don’t experience human emotions.

  8. Thanks for the update. Trying to stay positive that Hope will attract a mate soon. FYI – when she returned to the nest at about 5:10 pm, she chirped a little bit. I was on another screen and heard it, alerting me that she was there.

    Kate, when you observed her flying, were you able to tell if she was displaying her availability? I imagine there is a difference in flight between showing off for a potential suitor and hunting for supper. Just curious for your point of view. Thank you.

  9. Thank you so much for all the information. Has Hope ever had a clutch before or is this the first? I hope for “Hope” she finds a mate and pray this will end well. It breaks my
    heart to watch her, but I can’t stop, just waiting for a good outcome. Thank You, again.

  10. Hi Kate, I was wondering if you have seen another male in the area with Hope, and I was also wondering if you think Hope will abandon the nest if the eggs are not viable?

    1. Janet, I have not been able to observe from the ground since Friday. Add for your second question, I don’t know what Hope will do.

  11. Kate, iam sorry, but one more question, do you know if she has made any advertisement that she needs a mate or is she more concerned with the eggs right now? Thanks

    1. I have not been able to observe from the ground since Friday so I do not know if she has advertised for a mate. Those actions can only be seen from the ground, not on camera.

    1. Bethany, we on the ground will see 2 peregrines flying together. Later we will see 2 peregrines on camera.

    1. Bethany, if she gives up you will know it because she won’t be there for many, many days.

  12. If Hope does leave the nest in search of food, could her eggs be retrieved and saved?

    Again, if she leaves in search of food, could food be put in the nest w/o disturbing her
    trying to hatch the eggs. AND a third egg, that is great.

    We are all wishing her luck.

    TXS for the updates.


    1. Donald McCormick,
      Retrieving eggs: It won’t be done for a variety of reasons which I will write about tomorrow.

      Offering food: When peregrines were endangered through the U.S. and Canada, they were so rare that wildlife officials tried to offer supplemental food to widowed females. It doesn’t work. Peregrines are not scavengers and humans are their #1 enemy. Wild peregrines will not eat food left by humans.

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