All posts by Kate St. John

Comparing Male and Female Peregrines

This comparison of and Beauty at their nest in Rochester, NY shows that male and female peregrine falcons are very different sizes. The male is 1/3 smaller than the female.

You can’t tell them apart by color but you can tell them apart by size if they stand near each other. Here’s a second comparison:

If you watch the peregrines every day on camera you’ll eventually notice that their faces are different. This takes a lot of practice!

(embedded tweets from @Rfalconcam)

Two Fledge Watches + A Bird Walk, June 1-12

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

The first two weeks of June are jam-packed with outdoor opportunities. Join me at one of these upcoming events:

  • Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, June 1-5
  • Phipps Bio-Blitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, June 2
  • Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch, June 7 and 10, 11, 12.

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, June 1-5, 11a – 1p

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is a fluid drop-in event to swap peregrine stories and watch the young Pitt peregrines learn to fly. Come when you can. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Be sure to check the blog for updates in case of weather cancellation.
Where: Schenley Plaza near the tent, shown above.
When: 1-5 June 2019, 11a-1p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder.
Who: I’ll be there with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group and lots of peregrine fans. (Note on June 1: John English will start the watch at 11a; I’ll arrive at noon.)
Parking: Pay-parking is available around Schenley Plaza (on-street parking is free on Sundays!) and at Carnegie Museum.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, Sun June 2, 8:30a – 10:30a

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with Cathedral of Learning in the distance (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday June 2, the fourth annual Phipps BioBlitz Festival will bring together families, students, local scientists, naturalists, and teachers to conduct biological surveys of living species in Schenley Park. The event is free with no advance registration required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.
Where: Meet me at the back of the Event Tent on Phipps’ front lawn. You’ll see a sign for my walk.
When: Sunday June 2, 8:30a-10:30a
Parking: Free on Sundays!
Note: As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza to look for peregrines.

Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch, Third Avenue, June 7, 10, 11, 12 … 11a-1p

Fledge watchers Downtown at Third Ave, 7 June 2016 (photo by John English)
Downtown Fledge Watch, June 2016 (photo by John English)

During the second week of June — perhaps earlier — the peregrine nestlings on Third Avenue will make their first flight. Because their nest is low they may need our help. In the first 24 hours of flight, fledgling peregrines lack the wing strength to take off from the ground and have to be put up high to start over. The PA Game Commission (PGC) will send an officer to rescue the bird. Call PGC at 724-238-9523.

The #1 purpose of Downtown Fledge Watch is to educate the public so lots of people know to call the Game Commission if they find a downed peregrine. We’d love to believe trained volunteers can find every bird but the reality in Downtown Pittsburgh is that peregrines in trouble are found by people who’ve never seen a peregrine.  People often tell building security guards about the birds so I’ve notified nearby Point Park University (site of the rescue porch).

Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch is a drop-in event to watch the young Downtown peregrines, educate the public about peregrines, and alert the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 if a fledgling needs to be rescued from the ground.

Come when you can. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Be sure to check the blog for updates in case of weather cancellation.

Where: 3rd Avenue between Wood and Smithfield in Downtown Pittsburgh. (click the link for a map)
When: On weekdays, Fri June 7, Mon-Wed June 10-12. Time: 11a-1p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder.
Who: I’ll be there (except June 12) with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group.
Notes: There is no official Fledge Watch on June 8-9 weekend but John and/or I may be there. On-street parking is free on Sundays.

(photo credits: Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John, Phipps Conservatory from Wikimedia Commons, Downtown Fledge Watch by John English)

First Step Off The Gravel

  • Flapping!

Yesterday at 30 days old the Pitt peregrine chicks reached an important milestone. They both jumped up to the front perch. It’s their first step off the gravel, the first step toward ledge walking and eventual flight.

Perhaps their parents encouraged them. At lunchtime Hope and Terzo flew circles around the Cathedral of Learning, lazily gliding past the nest and wingtip-flapping like a juvenile peregrine who’s just learned to fly. It looked like they were saying, “Here’s how you do it, kids.”

Just before 6pm the chicks were wound up. One flapped wildly, eyed the perch and up he went. (Notice the red tape on right leg band). He examined the gully for the first time, partially hiding his brother from the camera’s eye.

Then his brother (yellow tape) got into the act, flapped and jumped. Both on the perch! When the novelty wore off they went back to the gravel.

In a week to 10 days these two will start to fly. Before that happens they’ll walk away from the nest and out of the camera view.

When they’re no longer on camera, come down to Fledge Watch to see them in person. I’ll post the Fledge Watch schedule tomorrow for Pitt and Downtown.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

When Peregrines Get Agitated

Female peregrine, Hope, agitated during banding at Cathedral of Learning, May 2016 (photo by Peter Bell)

Peregrine falcons are such top predators that adults have few enemies but their young are vulnerable. The parents protect them loudly and vigorously. When peregrines are agitated, everyone knows it.

During the nesting season peregrines monitor for threats and chase them away. They escalate their actions to match the threat level — from a visual show of strength, to shouting and swooping, to direct attacks.

Shouting is important. Peregrines intentionally create a ruckus because the noise calls their mate for assistance, warns their young to lay low, and worries their enemies.

Who is the top threat for peregrine falcons that nest in cities? Humans! When we hear them shouting we get worried. Of course, that’s what peregrines want.

The peregrines that nest in Downtown Pittsburgh — Dori and (not confirmed) Louie — have chosen a site on Third Avenue that’s inevitably surrounded by humans. The birds have a comfort zone that narrows as their chicks grow up. A couple of months ago a human on a roof four stories below them was no big deal. At this point it’s too close.

On Monday a roofer (that we humans couldn’t see from the ground) made repairs on a building several stories below the peregrines. He wasn’t a threat to the birds but they decided otherwise. They flew around, they perched and shouted. Lori Maggio’s photos below show them shouting from Lawrence Hall and from the nest opening. This went on as long as the roofer was up there — until quitting time around 3p.

The photos above are silent but here’s a sample of what they sounded like. The Downtown peregrines were so loud that people heard them from indoors 2-3 blocks away (see this comment from Sandi).

Agitated peregrine falcons, alarm calls (XC421684 on Xeno Canto)

So what happened next? The workman finished and left the roof. The peregrines stopped shouting. Dori joined the chicks at the nest and Lori Maggio got a rare photograph of this year’s chicks, as seen from the Smithfield Street Bridge.

The coast is clear. Dori with 3 chicks, 20 May 2019, 4p (photo by Lori Maggio)

In the end, Dori and Louie probably felt victorious since their shouting appears to have chased off the human. Their chicks learned a valuable peregrine falcon lesson: Humans are dangerous. Keep away!

p.s. Using the chicks’ photo, Art McMorris estimates they were 18 days old on Monday, so they hatched on May 2 and will fledge the 2nd week of June. My prediction is they’ll be completely gone from Third Avenue by June 15.

(photos by Peter Bell and Lori Maggio)

A Beautiful Success Story

Kentucky yellowwood flowers, Schenley Park, 20 May 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This flowering tree is a native North American but was so rare that few people ever saw it until botanists fell in love with it.

Originally found in small patches from Arkansas to Kentucky and Tennessee, the Kentucky yellowwood’s (Cladrastis kentukea) beautiful flowers, mid-story height, and tolerance for full sun in urban settings makes it the perfect ornamental.

Original range of the Kentucky yellowwood tree (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Planted in eastern North America for over 200 years, it became naturalized in scattered locations from Ohio to Massachusetts. Allegheny County is one of the few new places where Kentucky yellowwood grows wild.

On Sunday in Schenley Park, our group was awed by the profusion of vanilla-scented flowers at the Visitors Center. We didn’t recognize the species so I went exploring yesterday and found it both cultivated and wild.

Kentucky yellowwood at the Schenley Park Visitors Center, 20 May 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are some other cool facts about Kentucky yellowwood:

  • It’s called yellowwood because “a clear yellow dye is obtained from the heartwood.”
  • It is the only Cladrastis native to North America.
  • The flowers are attractive to bees. Narratives say the tree is attractive to birds.
  • Flowering varies from year to year with heavy blooming every 2-3 years, particularly after a long hot summer. 2019 is a big year for Kentucky yellowwood in Pittsburgh.
  • Every description says the tree flowers in June, but blooming started here in mid May — two+ weeks early, probably due to climate change.

Once I started looking I found the tree in many out of the way places in Schenley Park, probably growing wild. Kentucky yellowwood is a beautiful success story in Pittsburgh.

Watch These Bridges

Peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 10 May 2018 (photo by April Sperfslage, PGC)

Peregrine season is in full swing in Pittsburgh. We have peregrine families at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, at Third Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh, and on 7 or more bridges. Are the bridge nests successful? Help us find out. Watch these bridges.

Top Priority

Art McMorris, PGC’s peregrine coordinator, has news from some bridges but needs updates from four sites. Watch to see if peregrines bring food to the sites listed below. If they do, there are chicks in the nest. If they don’t, keep watching. Report your findings (yes or no) in a comment here. If you visit regularly I’ll send you Art’s contact information.

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (also called the Glenfield Bridge), Ohio River

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)
Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

We know that peregrines are nesting on the Neville Island I-79 Bridge but we don’t know if their eggs have hatched. Stop by the best viewing area at the Fairfield Inn parking lot on Neville Island.

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge, Ohio River

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge (image and map from Wikimedia Commons)

One or two peregrines have been at the Ambridge Bridge since last winter but only one has been seen in the past month. Are they incubating eggs? Stop by the Ambridge side of the river to view the bridge.

Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge -or- Monaca-East Rochester Bridge, Ohio River

Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge and Monaca-East Rochester Bridge (photos by Kate St. John and PGC’s Steve Leiendecker)

A pair of peregrines usually nests in the Beaver, PA area but few people look for them. Check for peregrines on these two bridges: the Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge and the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge.

Route 422 Graff Bridge at Kittanning, Allegheny River

Peregrine falcon at the Graff Bridge, Kittanning, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)
Peregrine falcon at the Graff Bridge, Kittanning, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Peregrines have nested under the Route 422 Graff Bridge near Kittanning for many years but news is hard to come by. Stop by the best viewing area — under the bridge on the Armstrong Bike Trail — to check on their status.

Good News from Other Bridges

McKees Rocks Bridge, Ohio River

McKees Rocks Bridge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After the Pitt peregrine banding on 14 May 2019, PGC’s Dan Brauning and Sam Ruano stopped by the McKees Rocks Bridge to check for a nest and found 4 chicks too young to band. Dan estimates they were 12 days old so we expect them to fledge during the second week of June.

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River

View of Tarentum Bridge nestbox area, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)
Tarentum Bridge with nestbox, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)

This is the second year that an unbanded female peregrine with a dotted breast and a male peregrine banded black/green 48/BR have used the nestbox on the Tarentum Bridge. Susan Krouse saw the first food delivery on May 7 or 8. Tony Bruno reports noisy whining yesterday, May 19, by the mother bird (photo below). The chicks will probably fledge in mid-June. Watch them from the Tarentum boat ramp.

Mother peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 19 May 2019 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Westinghouse Bridge, Turtle Creek

Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Joseph Elliott, Library of Congress)
Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Joseph Elliott, Library of Congress)

John English reports that though he saw no peregrines at the Westinghouse Bridge yesterday, he certainly heard them! Begging calls from young and an adult whining. Stop by the bridge and you may be the first to see them.

No News from …

The remaining two bridges are unlikely to have nesting peregrines: Elizabeth Bridge over the Monongahela River (PennDOT covered the access holes) and the Hulton Bridge over the Allegheny River. Have you seen any recent peregrine activity at these sites? Let me know.

(see photo captions for the credits)

Today in Schenley Park: Canada Warbler!

Canada warbler in Schenley Park, 19 May 2019 (photo by Peter Bell)

This morning 14 of us met at the Visitors’ Center for a bird walk in Schenley Park. We started with a view of the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning and ended with Best Bird in a tree near the Visitors’ Center — a Canada warbler!

Schenley Park outing, 19 May 2019 (photo taken by Margaret Laske)

Highlights in between included the sound of Tennessee warblers, scarlet tanagers, a yellow warbler, and an Acadian flycatcher, plus the sight of two ruby-throated hummingbirds, a wood thrush building her nest, a blue jay feeding nestlings, and a bay-breasted warbler in the tree canopy.

There were a heck of a lot of bullfrog tadpoles in Panther Hollow Lake. Why so many? They were almost gross.

After the walk we were milling about when Peter Bell took the photo at top and asked what it was. A Canada warbler! Several of us stayed 20-30 minutes to re-find it with some really great looks.

In all we saw and/or heard 32 species.  The complete checklist is at

(photo of Canada warbler by Peter Bell, group photo taken by Margaret Laske using Kate St. John’s phone)

Andean Condors Nest on Camera

Andean condor, Lianni, on her nest at the National Aviary (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

Andean condors usually nest on inaccessible cliffs 16,000 feet above sea level so it’s a real treat to see a pair nesting on camera at the National Aviary. The condor pair, Lianni and Lurch, expect their egg to hatch June 6-9.

Native to the Andes and nearby Pacific coast, Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) are the world’s largest flying bird. Their 10+ foot wingspan allows them to ride thermals in search of the carcasses of large animals that they scavenge. The condors are so majestic that they’re the national bird of Bolivia, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador and a national symbol throughout the Andean states.

Range (yellow) of Andean condor (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Because the adults have no natural predators Andean condors have evolved to live long a long time (more than 70 years!) and reproduce slowly (only one egg every 1.5 to 2 years).

Unfortunately, due to habitat loss and secondary poisoning from hunted animals, the species is threatened in the wild and critically endangered in Ecuador. Zoos worldwide are participating in an Andean condor breeding program. Lianni and Lurch’s chick will increase the wild condor population.

Watch the condors’ nest on the National Aviary Condor Cam. The link includes a video of Lianni laying her egg.

Stay tuned June 6-9 when the condors’ egg is due to hatch.

(photo courtesy the National Aviary)

Where Are Their Parents?

Two peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 17 May 2019, 2pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Saturday, 18 May 2019

If you watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam every day, you’ve noticed a change in the peregrine family’s behavior. For at least a week now the chicks are often alone on camera. Where are their parents?

When peregrine chicks become mobile and start to grow feathers (2-3 weeks old) their parents give them space to walk around and test their wings. The older the chicks become, the more space their parents give them. You’ve probably noticed that Hope now perches at the front of the nest, not on the nest surface. This give the chicks maximum room to walk around.

Hope perches at the front of the nest now that the chicks are older, 17 May 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The parents also perch nearby on the Cathedral of Learning within eyesight of their chicks. You can see Hope and Terzo with binoculars from Schenley Plaza but you can’t see them on your computer. The falconcam is below the parents’ perches because it’s the only place to put it in such a small area(*).

Yesterday, 17 May, the chicks were alone on camera for more than 82% of the daylight hours. But they weren’t alone.

If you watch the chicks’ behavior you can tell their parents are nearby. In the photos at top and below, the chicks are looking up and one is whining. He is whining at his parent.

Two peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 17 May 2019, 2pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

We didn’t know which parent was being nagged until Terzo came down to feed them.

Terzo feeding the chicks, 17 May 2019, 2:23pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday Wendy asked if anyone has seen Terzo lately. Here he is. (As a rule among peregrines, the mother is the one who feeds the young most often.)

Don’t worry about Hope and Terzo. They are very close by. You can’t see them but the chicks can.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

(*) p.s. If you watch the Hays eaglecam you can see the entire nest, nearby trees, and a long view across the river in winter. The eaglecam is attached to a taller/higher tree than the eagles’ nest. At peregrine nests, especially at the Cathedral of Learning, there is nothing across the way that is taller than the nest itself. That’s how peregrines like it.