If you follow the Hays bald eagle family you know the female is incubating three eggs while her mate guards her overnight. The male has good cause to stay close. A great horned owl has been harassing them!
Almost two weeks ago, on Sunday 21 Feb 2021 at 9:26pm, a great horned owl knocked the male bald eagle off the “woods perch.”
Things seemed to calm down for a week. Then on the night of Tuesday 2 March 2021 the great horned owl came back twice.
It returned an hour later to knock the male off a branch close to the nest, shown in the video below.
The Hays bald eagles are probably feeling murderous about that owl right now so I’m sure they’ll like this trail cam video from Washington state in which a great horned owl is attacked by three species in a row!
As nesting time approaches female birds roost near their intended nest in anticipation of egg laying. In a positive development at the Pitt peregrine nest, Morela spent much of last night perched at the front of the nestbox.
Morela’s nighttime sojourn began when she and Ecco bowed at 6pm.
Then Morela fell asleep on the green perch for six hours.
I’ll bet no one was watching when she woke up just before midnight and left the camera view. She returned at 5:30am and stayed until the sky began to lighten at 6:17a, the start of civil twilight.
I learned all this by watching the 24-hour timelapse below which compresses 24 hours into two minutes (7am March 3rd – 7am March 4th). In it Ecco and Morela go back and forth to the nest, first Ecco then Morela. They mirror each other’s movements. Ecco even preens on the green perch. Can you tell who is who?
Tomorrow it will be a month since Terzo was last seen on camera. Today Ecco and Morela are still the only two peregrines at Pitt and they are getting closer to nesting. Watch them on the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.
The European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) we love to hate in North America are just one of 123 species in the Starling family (Sturnidae). In Europe their English name is “common starling.” Here are seven of their uncommon looking relatives.
Spotless starling (Sturnis unicolor): The common starling’s nearest relative is a non-migratory resident of Spain, Portugal, northwest Africa, and nearby areas. Shown above, he is indeed spotless.
Rosy starling (Pastor roseus): Looks uncommon to us but is common in India in winter.
Violet-backed starling (Cinnyricinclus leucogaster): Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the male is beautiful amethyst, the female is boring brown.
Superb starling (Lamprotornis superbus): Lives in Africa. Definitely superb. Imagine seeing more than one!
Greater blue-eared starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus): A very common bird of open woodlands in the Sahel and the eastern half of Africa.
Mysterious starling (Aplonis mavornata): There is no photo of the mysterious starling because cameras had not been invented when he was found in Polynesia in 1825. Ornithologists went looking for him in 1975 but he was already extinct. Due to the mystery of his origin, there are probably two extinct species of mysterious starlings. Read more here.
Our European starlings certainly look common compared to these.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Native from Florida to Argentina, the snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) is a gregarious bird of prey that eats only one thing: freshwater snails in the genus Pomacea. Its beak is specially shaped to do so.
The Snail Kite’s slender, deeply hooked, sharp-tipped upper mandible permits it to cut the columellar muscle of Pomacea snails and remove soft tissues from the shells. The arc of the upper mandible approximates the inner spiral of the snail’s shell.
In the old days before humans took over Florida’s landscape, snail kites ranged over half the state, but we drained and diverted more than 50% of Florida’s wetlands, the snail kite population crashed and was listed as Endangered in 1967. Twenty years ago, from 2000-2007, their population dipped so low that scientists feared they would go extinct in the U.S. Then a curious thing happened. Their food supply changed and the kites changed so they could eat it.
Before this century the snail kite’s main food was the native Florida apple snail (Pomacea paludosa) but an invasive species, the island apple snail (Pomacea maculata), arrived in 2000 and began to spread in Florida’s lakes and water management areas.
When the island apple snail first arrived in Florida the snail kite population dropped but less than a decade later the population began increasing. Did the birds initially have a tool problem? Were their beaks too short to get at the snail inside the larger shell? A recent study from the University of Florida indicates this was probably the case. Since 2007…
Researchers found that the birds with bigger bills were surviving, and their offspring were inheriting the bigger bills. …
“We found that beak size had a large amount of genetic variance and that more variance happened post-invasion of the island apple snail. This indicates that genetic variations may spur rapid evolution under environmental change,” Fletcher said.
Grackle Day is coming this week. For some it’s already here.
The arrival of migrating blackbirds and grackles is one of the earliest signs of spring. Common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) leave the East End of Pittsburgh during fall migration and don’t return until early March, usually around the 5th. I haven’t seen a grackle yet but I found a red-winged blackbird — just one — in Schenley Park on Friday 26 Feb, my First of Year.
Friends in Beaver County reported small flocks of grackles at their feeders on Saturday 27 February. I’m disappointed the birds bypassed Pittsburgh but am keeping my eyes open for their arrival here.
Sometimes I hear their “chucking” sound before I see them. Listen for …
Then they point their bills up, strut and puff and “skriiNNNK.”
I can hardly wait!
Will this be Grackle Day?
(photo from Wikimedia Commons, audio from Xeno Canto, video from YouTube. click on the captions to see the originals)
One of the rituals of peregrine courtship is that the male must bring food to the female to show he can provide for her and their family. As egg laying time approaches the female stops hunting for herself; her mate provides all her food. She won’t resume hunting until the nestlings are old enough to leave for a while.
Courtship is well underway at the Cathedral of Learning nest. On Friday morning, 26 February, Ecco brought prey to the ledge (the green perch) and waited for Morela. He ate some while he waited, then called to Morela when he saw her overhead. Eventually she came in to take his offering.
In the video below, watch the strip of sunlight on the back wall of the nest and you’ll see Morela’s shadow as she lands above him.
Stella was a European starling who was rescued when she fell out of her nest in St. Louis. Her rescuer, Rebecca B, was unable to return Stella to the nest (too high up) so she took care of the bird, planning to return her to the wild when she was old enough to survive on her own.
Rebecca B wrote in September 2015: “Well, that didn’t really work out as planned. Stella quickly became very attached and more of a pet than a wild bird. It became very clear she wasn’t suited to live outside in the wild when she began to talk and say “stella is a pretty bird” at only 4 months old! The whistles followed quickly.. and she hasn’t stopped learning.”
This week I wrote a lot about starlings. … Whattaya think?
p.s. In the U.S., European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are an invasive alien species and are not protected as native birds are. That means starlings, unlike native birds, can be kept as pets without a permit.
Ever since the early 1980s when Luis and Walter Alvarez discovered that the Chicxulub Crater in the Yucatan and the extinction of the dinosaurs were caused by the same event, we’ve talked about the “asteroid” that killed the dinosaurs. Recently two Harvard researchers took a new look at the composition of Chicxulub rocks and the physics of comet behavior and revised that conclusion. It wasn’t an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. It was a chunk of comet!