Very Abnormal Behavior

Hope with her remaining chick, 6 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope with her remaining chick, 6 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This afternoon as Hope and Terzo’s last egg began to hatch, Hope picked the new chick out of its shell, ate part of it, and fed the rest to her only remaining chick, C1.

All four of Hope’s eggs hatched but there is only one chick to show for it. On April 29 she killed and ate the second chick (C2) feeding part of it to C1. C3 hatched on April 30 but he never thrived. (Some of you speculated that she didn’t fed him adequately even though there is plenty of food.)

Hours after C3 died Hope fed him to C1. And now she has killed and eaten C4, again feeding him to C1.

We don’t know why Hope is doing this. Perhaps her situation will prompt biologists to study her case. In the meantime we can only wonder.

Needless to say her actions are distressing, so turn off the nestcam if it upsets you.

This is very abnormal behavior!!


p.s. I have no predictions on what she’ll do next. I have no idea how the season will end.

117 thoughts on “Very Abnormal Behavior

    1. I think she has a hormonal problem or other mental condition. Did she raise multiple chicks on the
      Tarentum bridge. Would love some fact on her past clutches.

  1. @Laura, my mother always told me “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it.” Maybe Hope is taking that literally.

  2. If I were C1, I would sleep with one eye open. Perhaps she feels this is the only recourse she has to ensure one chick survives. Sad watching many other peregrine nests where both parents are feeding and protecting their newly hatched babies. This nesting site is cream of the crop but wish outcome were different. Goodbye C2,3,4.

  3. When an egg starts to hatch, the male and female communicate. E2 always seemed to enthusiastically support the young, but perhaps Terzo has given Hope different signals. Today there was a lot of clucking between Hope and Terzo when C4’s egg was pipped. I am wondering if these communications between Hope and Terzo somehow influence Hope’s subsequent behavior?

  4. Such a dichotomy from one year to the next…last year Dorothy was desperately trying to save a chick with abnormalities, and Hope is killing and eating viable (as far as we know) chicks. And Dorothy never ate any of her chicks that died. As I said in a previous post, individuals generally fit on a bell curve and Hope may just not be good maternal material, as happened with the horses and cats I mentioned before. Unless there is some external factor that we don’t know about or understand, causing her to kill and eat the chicks this particular year. However, it doesn’t seem like Hope was a very successful mother at Tarentum, either, so maybe it is a problem with her.

  5. I think it was a very stressful time for her. Lost 2 mates- new location for nesting-very noisy. Her new mate was last minute of courtship and new to fatherhood. I don’t ever see him bring food to her or the babies. Maybe next year will be better as they spend more time together and the eggs will be their’s after a long courtship. So sad but hopefully we can learn something from this tragedy… I am wondering also if they will stay together. It was not a normal relationship even for them. He had females coming to him even while he was watching over the eggs and he left them unguarded. I wouldn’t think that to be normal…but then again it is a bird’s world.. Thank you for sharing. It is such a good view to observe their behavior.

  6. I thought C4 was Terzo’s but with all the challenges they’ve faced this year, who knows? I really hope biologists and animal behaviorists study this case.

    There would have been a week’s age difference between C1 and C4.

  7. Yikes. These recent developments read like some sort of dark storyline in a horror movie. It’s really creepy. Hope is clearly doing her best to NOT live up to her name.

    I’m wondering, as E. Taylor mentioned, whether this is something to do with killing off E2’s bloodline — akin to what male lions do when they overthrow another males pride by killing all of the previous male’s cubs. Fascinating stuff. -C.

  8. By “normal behavior” I take it you mean what is usually observed in the nest cams in the nest boxes on urban buildings, where it is easy to set up and watch. But, how much behavior has been documented on the bridges and in the wild on the cliffs? What is the norm when a female loses a mate after laying eggs and then finds a new mate? How does that differ from the norm when a male loses a mate and finds a new mate? Is there enough documentation on such situations to define a norm?

    1. I was thinking the same thing! We have nothing to reference other than urban nests with cameras, which is very little to go on when you consider how many other nesting situations there are (urban no cam, wild with no cam, wild no one even knows about, etc.) This could very well happen more often in other settings.

  9. Not happy with what has gone on, but all Mom’s have the instinct to tell them that something isn’t right……perhaps those three chicks just weren’t going to survive for some reason and she knew it………don’t know for sure, just shear speculation……nature has a way of keeping things balanced.

  10. I am just thinking that if Dorothy and E2 were the norm, that the peregrines would be well recovered by now.

  11. The other females we are familiar with, Dorothy,Dori, Beauty(Rochester), have the same mate for life, unless they are challenged by a stronger female, or the male dies. Hope has had multiple mates and while she has raised offspring in the past, is something ‘not right’ with her that she has had so many mates, but none for very long. I wonder if her other mates have died like E2 or if she exhibited this behavior before and they chose another mate.

  12. Hope had one egg with Terzo and one chick is what remains. Perhaps Terzo can count chicks better than he can count days?

    1. Sue, this has nothing to do with paternity. Hope apparently mistakes her chicks for food.

    2. I think she new she couldn’t count on the Male to feed all 4 babies. For any to survive she had to do something. With the stress of losing E2 it was to much. She obviously raised other’s.

  13. Oh dear. This is just terrible to read about. I’m so grateful that I was not on the website this afternoon to witness Hope’s bizarre behavior. This latest episode sounds quite similar to what she did with C2 – helping the chick to hatch and then devouring it. How terrible!

    I sure hope that things at the Cathedral settle down and we see C1 flourish. Kind of afraid to tune in, though, under the circumstances. Dorothy and E2 – man, do I miss you!

  14. Catch Hope and put her in a zoo.
    She shd NOT breed.
    I do seriously wonder if falcon DNA is breaking down as related birds inter-breed

  15. Lauren, I wondered that as well. There must be something wrong with Hope.

    I also wonder if she has done this before since I believe she hasn’t had a lot of success previously. Now it may make sense why. I don’t understand why she incumbents the eggs full term though.

  16. I wonder, too, if the three Hope did that to were the first three eggs she laid. Would be interesting to know, but like you say such unusual behavior. Hope they study this and can somehow explain this to us.

  17. I was wondering, too, if the fact that E2, and possibly other mates, went out for food and never came back has left her traumatized.

  18. Something is triggering Hope’s abnormal responses. If Hope and Terzo hold the territory next year and have a normal clutch of eggs, then she should respond like a normal falcon, if that “something” was external. If she responds like she did this year, then we know that something is wrong in her head.

  19. I know its not politically correct to say this, but she could just be retarded. Maybe her dad stepped on her head when she was a nestling.

  20. Perhaps those were all E2s eggs and each had a problem when she had to be on her own leaving the eggs unattended while she found food for herself. It did get cold during this 3 wk period and maybe they didn’t developed fully.

  21. Just wondering out loud as to what affect this behavior would or will have on Terzo. As it is believed that this is his first nest maybe it won’t have any affect on him. But I also wonder how an experienced male peregrine would react to this situation. Kate, in your experience do you know are there any particular reasons that would make a male abandon the female and the territory? Also, would a male peregrine push out his female partner from the nesting territory and vise versa? Is this something that peregrines do?

  22. I keep thinking about that Montana falcon who ate her young and the chemicals that were found in her system.

  23. Either something was developmentally wrong with all three, which I don’t think is likely, or, I suppose in any population, animal or human, there is a certain segment who is harmful to others in the population, even to their own offspring. This is probably just the first time it’s been caught on camera with falcons and can be witnessed. Very unsettling, that’s for sure.

  24. I turn to the Audubon’s Hays and Harmar Eagle cams at times like this. Theirs are happy and successful nests this year so far.

  25. This is text from a human behavior model, but it makes sense, and I’m just trying to make some sense of it all: individuals inherit traits from multiple genes and they have tendencies to express certain traits and behaviors which may then be activated under conditions of stress, i.e. each inherited tendency is a condition that makes one vulnerable to developing a disorder. So when, a stressor comes along the disorder develops.

  26. Kate, Has she raised chicks before? At first I asked why C2? Now I question why does she nurture C1?

    1. Victoria, info answered in comments below (sorry not retyping… pressed for time)

  27. Take a break with another nest cam. I have been thoroughly enjoying the bald eagles’ nest at the National Arboretum in DC: Unfortunately this nest cam does not have sound, the nest cam makes up for it though with live pictures of two beautiful & healthy eaglets and of course mom and dad. (The eaglets won’t get the “bald” white head until their are ~4 years old. Right now they look like golden eagles, but they are “bald” eagles.)

    Also the Cornell nest cams are great too. The GHOs in Savannah Georgia were a joy to watch; Mom & Dad successfully fledged two healthy owlets. Now, two osprey have been checking out the location.

  28. Hope may be very high strung and over-reacts to stressors in her environment. She may get agitated when C1 is calling for food and it doesn’t come right away, so she just “snaps” and exhibits totally inappropriate and harmful behavior. Ironically, an experienced parent like E2 would likely have been a better mate for her, since he was very attentive, and knew to bring food ASAP. I wonder if they make falcon Prozac?

  29. Hope has to be stressed, there is food – plenty of city chicken in Pittsburgh. Her reputation wasn’t stellar at the bridge. Could it be possible that the males’ felt her unfit? I have a feeling that this spot will be fought for next year..

  30. I always wondered how a “hacked” bird like Hope fares as an adult, vs a bird who fledged in the wild and was cared for by its parents.

    I did try to look up the statistics on hacked vs wild-fledged, but they were mostly about survival rates, not about behavior as an adult, including nesting and breeding. Hacking may have resulted in more young falcons living to adulthood …..but maybe without her parents, Hope never learned how to be a peregrine?

    And no wonder Hope hasn’t been able to keep a mate for long — she probably ATE them!

    1. The comment about the behavior of a hacked bird is an interesting one. Perhaps birds that are not brought up by their parents don’t know how to behave like birds, or at least not completely.

    2. Mary Ann Pike, all of the original pretending in the recovery program were hacked birds. Hacking did not affect them. Something else is going on with Hope that makes her appear to mistake her chicks for food.

  31. Kate, I just wanted to take a moment and give you a great big THANK YOU for all you time, patience and information that you have provided and continue to provide about the CL nest. It is very greatly appreciated. Thanks again Janet

  32. I’m wondering what effect this is going to have on C1 watching his Mom kill the other chicks and then being forced to eat them.

  33. Ditto to Janet L’s comment! I marvel at your patience with us armchair ornithologists/psychologists/behaviorists! Long-distance thanks!

  34. On a positive note, I’m watching the cam now. About 11:09 am on Saturday May 7th. Terzo just brought in a meal for Hope and C1. Hope is feeding C1 as I write this. Lots of vocalizing as she feeds this young one. After the feeding Hope just left and the little one is laying face down in the nest with legs outstretched. Almost looks like she or he is laying at the beach working on their tan, heh.

    Also, if you don’t mind Kate, can you tell us about C1’s progress. Does C1 seem to be developing normally? Hope certainly seems to be doing the motherly peregrine things for C1. Feeding, sheltering, protecting, vocalizing to the little one. Thanks.

  35. I have a theory; the 3 dead chicks are via E2 DNA and Hope decided that she did not want any chicks from him. No idea why. Could be emotional, could be there were defects, could be “instinct” reprogramming, and etc.

    The surviving chick may contain Terzo’s DNA.

    I’ve never heard or seen this kind of behavior in nature. However, this kind of scenario whereas there’s stress of new mate, that mate dies, and then find another mate while producing eggs from both may not always happen in nature. And even rarer, we humans watch this kind of scenario. So it may be difficult to determine that this kind of behavior can or will happen with this kind of scenario. However, I thought the instinct of these birds would take on and care for any chicks no matter what.

    I think a behaviorist may be interested in studying this falcon pair and particularly Hope. There could be something in the environment that is or has changed that is forcing Hope to go against nature and act in this manner. Maybe Terzo has requested this act and she accepted. Almost seems like new “instinct” programming. Regardless, I know I don’t like it and it is rough to watch or even know about this kind of behavior.

    1. Chrissie, it’s an interesting theory but C1 hatched 28 days after Terzo’s egg was laid. This is too little time for it to mature and hatch. C4, the last (late) egg, was Terzo’s

  36. Except that C1 is E2’s, Chrissie, not Terzo’s.

    Although I have mused, as an alternative explanation to just being Crazy Mamma, that perhaps Hope and Terzo can count to 4 but they can’t count to 33.

    Could it be THEY don’t know whose chick is who’s? They don’t have the sense of smell that dogs do so they can’t smell whose chick is whose, and they all look the same.

    Horses can understand the exact amount of small numbers (like the number of eggs) as opposed to the exact amount of large numbers (like the days they have to breed the eggs).

    Terzo saw 3 eggs upon his arrival and then he made one more. Perhaps by leaving one chick to “represent” him, Hope is hoping to cement their pair bond.

    I know its a stretch, and until I see evidence to the contrary, her new name for me is Crazy Mamma.

  37. Yes, Rob, but how many eggs and eyases did she start off with in 2012 and 2014? And how many years did she have a mate and no eyases?

  38. Is this chick behaving normally for one it’s age? It doesn’t seem to be that vigorous compared to the young eagle chicks. I realize this is a different species but I’m concerned about it’s apparent lack of vitality. Do YOU feel it’s being well taken care of?

  39. Kate, do you think she is really mistaking her chicks for food? Or is it a brood reduction, whether intentional or stress induced?

    1. Robin, I really don’t know what’s motivating Hope. I changed the text of that comment to say “appears to”

  40. Kate, thank you for you patience with my unending questions. Your knowledge is invaluable and I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to share it with those of us who are so concerned but have little experience.

  41. I feel sad about C2-4. I don’t like it but that is my human reaction. Intellectually, if we can overcome our human emotions, it seems to me a great opportunity to learn more about these birds. Whether the current behavior is instinctive or is actually abnormal is unknown to us at this time. Perhaps over time, if we can continue to observe we will learn. At least we will expand our horizons to appreciate more fully the challenges and the lives of these amazing birds. I hope they (and we) will be resilient enough to continue.

  42. An uneventful day for this nesting site is appreciated. C1 has had a good day with parents feeding and sheltering. Cautiously we will continue to watch and hope this little chick survives to fledge. Everyone’s comments express our frustration with wanting an explanation on what happened. Kate brings us back to reality about what can’t be explained. So appreciate her perspective and knowledge.

  43. Robin, There is no point speculating about Hope’s eyases in 2012 & 2014 since there is no camera & no way to know, but she obviously has the ability to raise at least 2 to fledge. She was alone in 2011, which was probably her first year of fertility; in 2013, 1 abandoned egg was found; in 2015, she was paired with an immature male, and not surprisingly, had no nest. (for Kate’s summary of nesting PEFA near Pittsburgh, see page 9 of this document:

  44. this behavior has nothing to do with hacked birds. Our biologist has hacked birds on the pembina river for last 34 years. One of the male is at a site and is a very good male.
    how do we think the falcons were brought back from near extinction. they were hacked.

    We know not why this happened and cannot say Hope is not a good female. Maybe something was wrong with the chicks. Maybe the previous one wa sstuck to the shell,. I personally, after watching falcons for years and volunteering , think this is stress related . she has a very rough year. She was so tender with the chick that was deceased.
    I will be addressing this with our biologist but just becasue we have not seen this before, does not mean it does not happen. We only see a fraction of what really happens in nature.

    I hope this wee one will fledge successfully, but she cannot be that bad as she has successfully fledged chicks before. so many chicks are dying at nests this year. WE know not why.
    I go thru the archives at night and watch the feeds. This one always has a bulging crop so if it does not survive, it is not for lack of food.
    open minds are a great thing and so is benefit of the doubt.

  45. I love this nest! Yes it’s been tragic and shocking and horrific in all kinds of ways this year but it brings to mind the Tolstoy quite from Anna Karenina
    “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
    So many nests, with webcams, all over the country and newly hatched chicks with moms and dad caring and feeding. Beautiful to watch nature at work.
    But this nest! My goodness – it is compelling. How is it going to end? I can’t stop watching.
    Am so very grateful to the organizations and people who keep the webcams in operation, and beyond words grateful to you Kate for your words of wisdom, guidance and calm. We are so very lucky.

  46. I’ve read all the comments and waited to reply, love these birds and this nest, but took a break for awhile. Hope sure has thrown us a curve ball this year. Banding day may prove to be very interesting with this couple. Again Kate, thank you, you are very dear to all of us that follow you and look to you to give us honest, straightforward answers we can understand. Even when there are no answers.

  47. Well, C1 appears to be thriving. Love the Buddha pose. This morning he’s screaming up a storm when Hope tries to brood him. GET OFF ME MOM!. Isn’t he old enough now to regulate his body temp?

  48. This article discusses egg eating. It may not be “abnormal” – it may be a normal coping behavior, albeit distressing to humans. Do people get upset when falcons kill other animals? They have “families” too.
    British Birds, Vol 51, No 1, Jan. 1, 1958, pages 23-26 BROKEN EGGS IN PEREGRINE EYRIES By D. A. Ratcliffe

    Kate, you have a beautiful blog. I wish I lived close enough to go on your walks.

  49. Good Afternoon,
    C1 was near the perch area of the scrape, and just watched (I think) Hope,
    pick the chick up by the neck with her beak and drag C1 back to the nest bowl.

    Is this normal behavior? Thanks.

    1. Deb, I’ve never seen it before but maybe other peregrines do it. I don’t know.

    2. Her one set of eyases on the bridge had the opening to their scrape out over open water. Didn’t the game commission design a new nest box because of that? I often think Hope’s reactions are due to the more precarious nature of bridge nesting. Maybe she will relax as she gets used to the cathedral site.

    3. Robin, interesting insight about the bridge (water) versus Cathedral (safe building) sites. Perhaps that’s it. … Thehe Game Commission provided a nest box at the bridge in 2015 but Hope didn’t use it — she apparently did not nest that year.

    4. I did not see what Hope did to C1 but there is a utube video – want to see a falcon chick get punished? Campbell Ewald. Could this be the same behavior?

  50. Thanks again, Kate, for your time and insight. Praying C1 thrives
    and survives. Will continue to watch and hope all will go well for
    this nest.

  51. Kate, I will continue to watch regardless of what happens. It is nature at it’s bests and worst. It is all good. Just keep doing what you do. You are the best!!

  52. I am so glad that I haven’t had time to follow the peregrines this year. The loss of Silver and then Dorothy, who was such a wonderful mother to so many, was sad enough now a chick eating “Mother” takes her place? No thanks….

  53. Good morning Kate, I just watched the videomark of Hope grabbing C1 and pulling him back to the scrape. I can’t remember ever seeing that in any of the nests I have watched. I’m very inexperienced but even Dorothy didn’t just pick up her little guy with her beak last year when he was upside. down.
    Thanks so much for all the time and knowledge you share with us!

  54. I enjoyed reading that article posted by Suzanne above about peregrine falcons observed eating their eggs. It is often the outliers in a population that can teach those observing these birds a new understanding about them.

  55. Just read recent post from Beth, and this really does ring true to me. During the time when the two “hatching” eggs got cannibalized, it did seem like Terzo was taking such very long breaks before returning with food. When C3 got stepped on, it probably was accidental, and since it did not survive, it became food. Seems like in retrospect, Hope could be one of the best mothers ever, and now perhaps next year, Terzo will do better as well. Looks like they are doing just fine keeping this one little one well fed and thriving.

  56. First, thank you Kate for persevering through the extreme challenges here this year. I, personally, had to stop watching.

    My main scrape in Rochester, NY is home to Dorothy’s daughter, Beauty, so I do need to check in once in a while through the comment threads. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

    I did want to note that we have seen the peregrines pick up and move a wayward eyas by the back of the neck on several occasions over the years. In fact we’ve had one instance so far this year when 1 of the 4 tumbled out of the scrape-bowl. tried to nudge it back without success, so Beauty resorted to picking it up and moving it. It was even caught on the still cams!

  57. Don’t believe birds or other wild animals think like humans or have a culture like humans, if you want to understand them and the world they live in. Terms like “punished” don’t help. They are coping as their environment and nature compels them to without a sense of right and wrong.

  58. Any day without drama or tragedy is a blessing at this nest. C1 growing and looks very healthy. Not looking forward to the banding procedure for the little guy/girl. Don’t want Hope to be too stressed. Would be nice to see this chick fledge and someday have chicks.

  59. Wow, I’m late to this latest drama and in shock. For many years I looked forward to the bird count and fledgling but lately its been one mystery after another. Be still my heart! Now, curious minds will be watching, waiting and wondering why this has happened to this pair of young peregrines.

  60. Have been watching C1 for past few minutes. Really fighting to keep from being smothered all the time. Getting concerned about how rough Hope is becoming with chick. He/she just wants to stand up and so far all his efforts are really being met with tough resistance. Maybe this is normal but chick is not happy and voicing major complaints. So sad to watch chick go through this.

  61. I just think the stress from her first mate dying, and the second mate not helping that much has put her in this situation and during the time before the second mate she wasn’t at the nest that much and they were subjected to the weather. Hope this chick survives

  62. No matter our varying views and opinions about Hope recent behaviors, everyone commenting seems to share a passion and sense of caring and concern about these birds. It’s like we are all going through this struggle to understand and learn and cope and yes even vent together. On the other side of that is hopefully more understanding, awe, and respect for these wonderful birds.

  63. I guess I am not viewing at the right times, but I have yet to see the chick being fed. I did just see it out from under Hope and it did not look well to me, not compared to other nests. I will confess that I am no expert, but I have followed quite a few nests for several years now and have never seen this. I have seen where one chick remained and the parents always cared for it. Very strange behavior, indeed.

  64. Not to change direction (!) but have there been any sightings of the Gulf Tower/Downtown falcons?

  65. As disturbing as it has been to witness this peculiar behavior, and as sincerely as I hope that next year will be more normal, since it has happened it cannot be denied that this is an opportunity to add to our understanding of falcon behavior. The boundaries of normal behavior can only be defined through the identification of the range of abnormal behaviors. Clearly this is abnormal. Therefore everything about this nesting season is now valuable data that can contribute to our knowledge of falcons. Wishing C1 a successful fledge and long life. Wishing many boringly normal seasons to follow this oddball at the Cathedral site. And definitely hoping that through this distressing drama, we can learn more about the magnificent birds we love so much. Thanks, Kate for your great coverage of this site!

  66. Robin – It reminds me of the difference between my parents and my husband’s parents. My parents lived in one house for close to thirty years, then moved to a different state. My dad is deceased now, but my mother is still in their second house and has been there for over thirty years. Very different with my in-laws. Prior to my father-in-law’s death and then my mother-in-law going into nursing care, they changed their house or apartment so many times that I lost count ages ago. Maybe the downtown peregrines are like my in-laws, always determined to find housing that is “perfect” and so always trying new locations. Or maybe they just like a change of scenery fairly often. So interesting to see the differences.

  67. It has gotten really interesting watching C1 lately as s/he has gotten rather active (also rather big in the few days I have been unable to check). I checked the cam at one moment and was perplexed that I was not seeing Hope, Terzo, or C1 anywehre. I then realized that C1 has started exploring the scrape and was in a corner that could not be seen within view from the camera I was watching. C1 was even trying to eat the fake grass!

    Hopefully all this movement and activity is a good sign that C1 will be rather healthy. Looking forward to watch C1 grow even further!

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