Bewildering Birth And Death

Terzo arrives at 3:02pm as Hope shelters the first chick and two eggs (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo arrives at 3:02pm; Hope shelters Chick#1 and two eggs (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday morning we were excited that the first peregrine egg hatched at Pitt and looked forward to a second hatching later in the day.

At around 2:15pm the second egg hatched. Hope manipulated it, killed it, and fed it to the first chick.

This is not normal peregrine behavior.

Viewers were shocked and bewildered.  Many of you had questions but I was out of cell range for most of the day, unaware that it happened.

I have never seen this behavior before and don’t know why it occurred.  Here’s what we do know: Peregrines’ lives are very different from ours. Using our human yardstick to understand them — anthropomorphizing — really leads us astray.

I asked Art McMorris, the PA Game Commission’s Peregrine Coordinator, who viewed the archived footage and said the chick was alive but might not have been normal.  In all his years of dealing with peregrines, Art has never seen this before either.

Hope’s behavior was so unusual that there is no information on it.  Many of you speculated about it and asked “Is this why she did it?”  In almost every case my answer is “I don’t know.”

A line from The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot comes to mind: “But there was no information, and so we continued.”   The rest of the poem applies, too.

And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different …
— excerpt from The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot


We are learning a lot this year about unusual peregrine behavior.

And a reminder: If watching the nestcam upsets you, turn it off. Give yourself a rest. I do.


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

58 thoughts on “Bewildering Birth And Death

  1. The way of nature. Perhaps Hope knew more about the 2nd chicks condition then we did. Was shocked when I heard the Colorado eagles who lost their 3 little ones in storms because they were not able to keep them sheltered from rain and snow ate them. No food goes to waste. Hopefully 3 and 4 will hatch and it will be a fun year watching them. Thanks for your knowledge.

  2. Thank you so much for putting this surprising event into context for us cam watchers, Kate. Your thoughtful posts on all things peregrine are always so helpful.

  3. Kate, thank you so much for all you do. I continue to watch and learn from Hope and Terzo. It really upset me yesterday to watch that, but then I look at the way she is with C1 and I figure maybe she knew something we didn’t know. Thanks again kate.

  4. Thank you for the beautiful application of the TS Elliot poem. I’ll think about those last two lines all day. So true

  5. Thank you, Carrie, for the link. I was wondering if a female peregrine had ever been observed killing a nestling.
    Thank you, Kate, for injecting peace and acceptance into the discussion.

  6. Thanks Kate. You are spot on. There is so much we don’t know and will never know. When we observe it has to be as an interested but emotionally un-involved stance. That’s hard at times and so I’ve been off camera, following your blogs.

    Thanks for the Poetry!

  7. I was wondering…is Terzo a first time father? I feel the chic was abnormal and as I was watching, it didn’t seem that Terzo was bringing typical prey to the nest. Hope would chatter and look to the sky…but no food. He’d fly in without anything and Hope would fly off, they’d repeat this…but no prey. Then she fed C-2 to C-1.

    This is a far out theory (based on being an observant child growing up on a working farm)…but perhaps Hope’s instinct to feed C1 took over and vicariously, she taught Terzo his role???

    We’ll never know. All I know is that I trust Nature more than human beings rationalization of Nature. 🙂

  8. Kate, I know from watching other eagle cams that they say the parents never help the egg to hatch because it’s too dangerous that the chick may be harmed by their beaks. Yesterday, with both eggs, Hope picked them up and carried them around and seemed to be breaking off little bits of the shell to aid in the hatching. I’ve never seen a falcon egg hatch before, so I was just wondering if falcons normally do that to aid in the hatching process.

    Also I totally agree with you. If it gets to be too much for me I just turn it off.

    Thank you.

    1. Carol, I have never seen a peregrine carry a hatching egg before. I don’t think it happens often.

  9. Was very disturbing to watch for sure. Maybe it was e2 offspring and she was suffering from post partum depression. Lol. Again putting stupid human emotions into the why of it happening.

  10. Nature cares about the survival of the species and survival is strong in this species. I trust their knowledge. Hope knew something we didn’t.

  11. On a happier note: Chesapeake peregrine has 3 new babies and Rochester peregrine eggs may start hatching today. These wonderful falcon cams give us an intimate look into an amazing bird’s life. As excited viewers we are so thankful for these resources.

  12. Kate, I have a question which I hope you can answer. Is it true that the female “asks” for the male to bring her food? At another site, I had commented on not having seen Hope eat for many hours yesterday, and a moderator wrote that she hadn’t asked Terzo to bring her a meal. Is this the way it goes, that unless the female requests food the male won’t bring it? Seems kind of odd to me.

    Just my observation, yesterday it looked as if Hope was hungry, the way she was trying to get to the second eyas by opening it up, followed by what she did to it. I saw that prey was delivered this morning, a great sign for a better day.

    Thank you, Kate, for reminding us about the uncertainty of nature. Guess we’ll never know for sure what caused yesterday to happen.

    1. “a moderator wrote that she [Hope] hadn’t asked Terzo to bring her a meal.”
      Pa Gal, sorry but no one could know if this happened. Peregrines communicate vocally and with silent eye-to-eye communication. No human could have heard and seen every communication and known what it meant. None of us can see all of the peregrines’ eye-to-eye contact because we cannot see Terzo when he is perched above the camera looking at Hope.

      I have read that male peregrines almost automatically bring food when the chicks hatch — it’s kind of hard-wired.

  13. Kate, I just wanted to say that through all the ups and downs with Hope, Terzo, E2, Dorothy, Chicks and eggs, I still would not trade one second of getting to know these wonderful birds. I have learned so much from you and them. I feel like my life is a whole lot richer becuse of it. Thanks

  14. Kate, or anyone else who can answer this question: our family is very new to watching the nest cams, and rather than scouring through searching for the answer, can you please tell us (or link to the answer) the main visual identifiers to distinguish between Hope and Terzo? Thanks!

  15. Marc, it’s best to check out Kate’s peregrine FAQs. No need to scour through, and it is a great resource for new watchers.

  16. The second hatchling seemed healthy and vigorous, it certainly fought its impending death. After watching Dorothy go the extra mile for her developmentally-compromised chick, I would have to lend greater weight to external factors – food not being brought by Hope’s mate, the wet weather, possible competitor peregrine fly-bys, a very hungry first chick – as a perfect storm of factors, which switched off her maternal instincts and switched on the survival ones.

    Certainly, as an experienced father, E2 would have known what to do to avoid this fate, but 3 year old Terzo is very likely a first time Dad, and, like most first time Dad’s, utterly clueless. Hopefully, Hope’s desperate measures are teaching him his provider role, albeit, the hard way.

    We also don’t know what issues Hope faced at her previous bridge site, but we do know she had trouble finding and keeping a mate, and only intermittent breeding success there.

    I would like to thank Carrie Lingle for posting a paper on the behavior of peregrines which may help shed some light into their actions. This event is a very good reminder that nature has its own reasons, which are not human reasons.

  17. My body is still processing the surge of adrenaline upon watching yesterday’s second hatching. I think a schoolteacher who commented on her childrens’ reactions expressed it best, a combination of horror and fascination. Difficult to watch, but difficult not to stay glued. Its like watching National Geographic, with the difference that we get more personally attached to these birds we watch every day.

  18. I don’t mean to be morbid by asking, but how long after the second baby hatched was it killed? Immediately?
    It’s a privilege to be able to watch nature like this. Thank you for all of your insight Kate.

  19. Ick. I thought that’s what I saw yesterday when I checked the cam, but hoped that I was seeing something different.

    Infanticide sometimes happens in mammals in cases where the father of the young is another male. But it is the male that does the killing of the step-children, not the female.

  20. Kate, after many years I spent watching Peregrine Falcons, I saw things hard to understand for human minds.
    At times mothers get rid of some eggs or even eat them and they know why, we don’t.
    Several years ago (in 2006) Mariah&Kaver, the legendary pair in Rochester, let starve two eyases, then fed them to the remaining three.
    It was shocking, but that so great falcon and tender mom had a foot badly wounded and Kaver couldn’t hunt enough for six. They chose that way on purpose. It was heartbreaking, but a lesson worthy to learn.
    I believe Hope knew something we don’t.
    Thanks for recalling the beautiful lines by T. S. Eliot – a poet I much love -, they perfectly fit.
    And for telling us once again “Peregrines’ lives are very different from ours. Using our human yardstick to understand them — anthropomorphizing — really leads us astray.” If we can’t understand this, we don’t really love them.

    1. Janet, I have no thoughts about the remaining eggs. Yes, Terzo is a first-time father and is learning as he goes. He is also completely new to the territory so he does know where the best hunting grounds are … yet.

  21. Cindy, when C2 hatched, Hope began handling it roughly right away but it took a minute or so I think before she killed it.

  22. Wow. Just tuned into all of this. Again, Wow. I can’t believe it. Thanks Kate for explaining it. I understand that the bird world is not like the human world. I have made the choice to continue watching as I would love to continue to learn the behaviors of these beautiful creatures. Thanks again Kate for your informative updates. What a crazy ride this has been at the pitt nest.

  23. Two theories: 1) As Kate mentioned, maybe something was wrong with the chick, and 2) there was a lack of food. I’m leaning towards theory number 2, as Terzo is new to the territory & young.

  24. I’ve been wondering about Hope’s history. I’ve seen mention of her being in the area for a few years but never anything about her having established a nest site with a male peregrine and successfully raising young. Do peregrine usually manage to mate as soon as they’re sexually mature? Was she still just too young in previous years? Do we just not know if she’s successfully raised offspring previously? If this has been covered in an earlier post, could you point me to the information? I tried to find it a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t succeed.

  25. I’ll preface this by saying these are just my two cents. I know something about peregrines but am certainly not that familiar with Hope, Terzo or the history of the Pitt peregrines.

    We had a somewhat similar situation in Manitoba a few years ago. One of our urban pairs nested in a not so safe location and laid four eggs. Two eggs were damaged beyond saving before we could get a temporary nest tray under them and her. The other two eggs looked fine but when hatch day arrived, the first chick hatched and was fine but the second was not, though we could not see what the problem was via the camera installed at the nest. I managed to get a closer look in person a bit later without unduly disturbing mom and the second chick had a deformed beak and what looked like an serious herniation. The beak deformities were enough to ensure the chick wouldn’t survive. It was likely that before the nest tray could be installed, the egg had had a bit of trauma rolling around, not enough to damage it like the other two, but enough to affect the chick’s physical development inside. Mom kept her healthy chick tucked underneath her but left the other chick uncovered about 6-8 inches in front of her. It didn’t take long for the second chick to die, but it was a quick death on a warm day in a quiet nestbox. We observed mom removing the chick from the nestbox during the night. Not quite the same scenario, but watching the video of Hope, I was reminded of the calm way our female peregrine put aside her (very) maternal instincts with this one chick of hers. It was the only chick of hers that ever died before fledging. And it is important to know that infanticide as a means of ensuring the survival of an older chick is not the peregrine way as it is with some other raptor species. Nor is siblicide.

    I understand that there has also been some speculation about Terzo’s lack of experience as a provider – remember he’s really just feeding her at this point and he has been doing that throughout their courtship, so he does know what he’s suppose to do and has, so far, done it well enough that she accepted him. Doesn’t automatically make him a great provider but he does understand that that is his role. The test will be when the next chick hatches. If all is well, then it is reasonable to assume that the second chick had an underlying health issue. If there is a repeat and Terzo has been bring food, then health issues are still probably the most likely cause in my opinion. If there is a repeat and Hope hasn’t left and Terzo hasn’t been by with food, then Hope and her chick(s) may have a more serious problem.

    Again, this is just my two cents, for what they are worth. Best of luck to Hope & Terzo & their family. Keep up the great work Kate!

    Project Coordinator
    Manitoba Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project

  26. Hope looks like she’s eating another eggshell now – did anybody see what happened? I know people were thinking Egg #3 might be a ‘dud’ or otherwise non-viable; did that turn out to be the case?

  27. Hopefully things will improve if these two stay paired. But not all animals are successful as parents. I was involved with horses for over 20 years, and I know of several cases where a mare refused to care for her foal, and the foal had to be raised as an orphan. A friend of mine had a young pregnant cat start hanging around her barn. The cat was terrified when she started to give birth. She ran wildly around the barn the whole time. My friend gathered up the kittens that survived and managed to save 2 or 3 of them.

    Most things in life follow a bell curve…statistically some individuals will be out on the ends of the curve and their behavior will be outside of the norm. So it could be that one or both of the pair’s parenting behavior is not optimal. But at this point that may be due to their lack of familiarity with each other and/or the local food supply.

    I see there is another Mary Ann(e) leaving comments…she has an “e” and I don’t, though. It was a pretty popular name when I was young.

  28. Stacyj… i thought i saw the same thing occur…survival is a strange and complicated thing it seems in all worlds..

  29. Just a question… What is the white thing at the left front of screen? Is it possibly what is left of the baby she killed??

  30. Hope knows the 3 eggs are a from dead Dad. She cared for first born. Her new mate came and helped (even only 0ne of four egg his)
    Hope is a good mother. I believe something very wrong. Hope knew.
    Hope killed for no reason. ? Never.
    Better to feed hungry newborn.
    Terzo young,food for her. Sometimes sat on all 4 eggs . Does Terzo know how to be a good D ad to his own egg ?

    “Mom knows best ” ‘ )

  31. Gm Kate we have a 2nd chick hatched around 9:39/ cam time 12:35, unable to bring it up in archives, Have picture of 2 chicks this morning

  32. Carrie Lingle – thank you for the link to that paper, definitely worth a read. I have never been able to find anything on the topic before.

    And Kate as always, thank you for the blog. I must say the ‘event’ freaked me out to say the least.

  33. I find it an interesting study in human behavior to see that many folks feel there must have been something wrong with the chick (C2). Franke et al. (2011) documented a similar event that involved more than two-week old peregrine falcon chicks. Bortolotti et al. (1989) suggests food stress may have been a factor when this behavior was observed in kestrels. What I saw on cam was a fully formed chick whose down had not yet dried. I did not see a beak deformity or a hernia, or any other indication of a problem. My questions to you, Kate, are what evidence was there that this chick had some sort of problem? Did you see any evidence of this? Did Art McMorris have details to support the comment that the chick “might not have been normal”, or is this just speculation as to why these events might have occurred? I am just trying to understand facts and keep speculation separate. Thank you Kate, I appreciate your time and effort that goes into keeping us all informed!

  34. ok Kate, thank you! Seemed like some are thinking that a developmental disorder of some sort was fact, I just wanted to be sure I didn’t miss something! Thanks again for helping everyone understand!

  35. Kate – Thanks to your pointers to the information about Hope. I’m curious, though, why she ended up without a mate so much of the time. Is she difficult (in peregrine terms, of course!) so that she and the father of her two broods didn’t stay together? I thought peregrines pretty much mated for life, but apparently in her case that isn’t what happened. Thanks for all that you do to keep us informed.

    1. Mary Anne, peregrines nest at the best sites they can get. In Pittsburgh there are at least 2 bridge sites that have had resident females without males. (61st Street & Tarentum) The males are apparently opting for better locations. When Hope got the chance to move up to a better site she left Tarentum.

  36. Thanks, Kate. The Cathedral nest site has really provided so much information about peregrine behavior over the years.

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