Sad But Not Surprised

Hope has killed Chick #3, 24 April 2019, 5:53pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday evening Hope, the mother peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, killed and ate one of her chicks as it was hatching (see details at Bad News Again, Hope Kills Chick 3). Those of us who watch her year after year are sad but not surprised.

This is the fourth year Hope has nested on camera. It’s the fourth year we have seen her kill and eat some of her young. It’s the fourth year I have written about her abnormal behavior.

I cannot stress enough that Hope’s behavior is not normal for peregrines or any bird of prey. Here’s what I’ve written about it in prior years. It still applies.

Why does Hope kill and eat her young?

We don’t know.  This is such a rare occurrence that there’s no guidance from other peregrine nests — they just don’t do this.  Meanwhile every idea we come up with is a guess.  I prefer not to wade into the guessing.

Unusual behaviors:

Yes, Hope kills and eats her chicks but there are two unusual habits that accompany it:

  • Hope opens the egg.  The hatching rule for all birds is this: Chicks must open the eggs themselves. At other peregrine falconcams, notice that the mother watches but does not touch the shell until the chick has forced open the two halves.  Later the mother eats the shell (which is normal). Raptors beaks are sharp and could damage the chick. Normal mother raptors do not use their beaks on the eggs.
  • Hope picks up and carries the chick.  Normal peregrines don’t pick up their hatchlings. When a chick is accidentally outside the scrape (nest bowl) the mother uses the underside of her closed beak to pull the chick back to her.  Hope uses her closed beak to arrange the eggs but she breaks that rule when they hatch.

Why doesn’t Terzo stay at the nest and prevent this from happening?

The rule at peregrine nests is that the mother bird is totally in charge, especially at hatching time.  She calls the shots, including the timing of the first feeding. The father bird defers to her.

The father bird may communicate that he wants something to be different but it’s her decision.  When Hope tells Terzo, “It’s my turn to be on the nest!” he has to leave.

What next?

We don’t know what Hope will do with the last two eggs but we do know that when hatching is over she’s a good mother. At that point it will be safe to watch again. Meanwhile, these cautions apply.

A Caution to Viewers: Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

A Caution to Commenters: If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.  So … If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

I’ll keep you posted and let you know when the coast is clear.


18 thoughts on “Sad But Not Surprised

  1. Oh dear. Guess it’s not surprising but consistent with her behavior in the past, but it’s still a shock. And very sad. Thanks for keeping us apprised of what’s happening at the nest. Two more eggs, who knows what will come of them…..

  2. Thanks for the updates Kate. I’m curious if any of Hope’s offspring will have this unusual behavior? I hope not, but guess we won’t know.

    1. Hello Debra,
      Yes, I’m wondering the same thing. If Hope’s weird quirk is in her DNA, it’ll be fascinating to see if her female young inherit the same trait and do the same when they reach maturity.
      -C.

    2. Debra, the only way we’ll find out if this behavior is passed down to the next generation is if one of her banded female offspring nests somewhere with a camera.

  3. So sad to hear, but not surprised. Also Hope is usually a good housekeeper and today the scrape is pretty messy. At least the first two chicks seem to be doing well so far. Thanks again for the updates.

  4. I’m curious about the remaining two eggs. What is the longest time span you have observed between the first hatching and the last? Mainly, what I’ve seen is usually all the eggs hatch between one and two days of the first. Is it possible that the two remaining ones are not viable/ fertilized?

    1. Donia, it’s hard to know if the other eggs will hatch until they don’t. I was surprised that there was such a lag between the first 2 hatches and the third. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  5. I recently read an article about other birds doing the same thing as Hope . I am sorry I can’t recall where I read it, but the Author thought it gave the surviving birds a better chance in live. Only Hope knows what makes her do it. Sorry for the loss , but I still love Hope. Nature works in mysterious ways.

    1. I never thought of that as a possible cause of Hopes behavior… does anyone know if Hopes mother is still alive and if shes available to study for this behavior?

      And, while this may seem crazy with what I’m about to say, it is happening more and more… do we have any sort of confirmation that hope is a purebred Perguine? Maybe somewhere in her line could be of a crossbreed? Not at all saying this is true, but if it’s never been documented before this could be another scenario …

    2. Diana, Hope’s natal nest was monitored and her parents are known. She is a pure bred peregrine. Regarding studying her mother — it’s unlikely at this point. Hope is 11 yrs old. I believe her mother is dead (very old at this point if alive at all).

  6. Its a very strange year.
    The male falcon vanished at Baltimore Chesapeak
    Two male falcon mates vanished at Kentucky
    Snowstorm hurt eagle eggs in Iowa
    Owl in Calif laid 2 eggs – neither hatched
    other stories from other nests

  7. This is pure speculation, but I wonder if this behavior was a more common trait prior to the population decimation in the mid-1900s? Given that their genetic variability was extremely reduced, and their recovery was at least partially thanks to captive breeding programs, perhaps through either luck or selection there simply aren’t that many birds left with this behavioral trait. Obviously this is just an untestable thought. But it’s interesting to at least consider the chance that this behavior may have been more “normal” in the peregrine’s evolutionary history.

  8. Good morning Kate,
    Ive enjoyed your blog for years. Ive learned from the very first time Hope killed her chick to not watch. Its just beautiful mother nature at her absolute worse. Ive been pondering her behavior over the years, maybe she can only handle 2 chicks at a time and that is why she kills the others. Or perhaps she senses something is wrong with the chick? But my main thing is how she picks and chooses who lives? Why let chick #1 & 2 live then kill the next chick? Its truly mind boggling. What makes her kill one but let another live? When they pip, how does she know? I guess we will never know. Thank you for all your hard work.

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