All posts by Kate St. John

Second Egg at Hays Eagle Nest, Feb 16

The female eagle at the Hays bald eagle nest laid her second egg of the season on 16 Feb 2020 at 6:30pm — exactly three days after the first one!

Audubon of Western PA spread the news at the Bald Eagles of Western PA Facebook page:

Watch this nesting pair on the Hays eaglecam at

(photo and text from Bald Eagles of Western PA — Audubon Society of Western PA Facebook page)

Show Kindness

African gray parrot (photo of a pet from Wikimedia Commons)

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Mark Twain

In a study reported widely last month, animal cognition scientists at the Max Planck Institute discovered that African gray parrots will share with each other even when the sharing individual knows it will get no reward.

This is a big deal because African gray parrots are the first birds observed to show kindness to others. Scientists tried the same experiment with blue-headed macaws but the macaws failed to share.

Here’s how the two species reacted to the experiment.

Some days it feels like we humans have forgotten how to be kind. Perhaps we could learn from African gray parrots.

Read more in Science Magazine: These parrots are the first birds observed showing kindness to others.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. video from Science AAAS)

Despite The Cold, An Early Spring

Honeysuckle buds March 2019 vs Feb 2020 (photos by Kate St. John)

Except for a 10 degree cold snap in the last 24 hours, we’re having an early Spring.

So far this year temperatures in Pittsburgh have been 10-34 degrees above normal a third of the time. January 11 was 34 degrees above normal at 71 degrees F.

Honeysuckle bushes responded by leafing out. Last Monday (10 February 2020) I found open honeysuckle buds in my neighborhood. I took a similar photo last year on 11 March 2019 but it was whole month later and the buds were not as open.

According to the USA National Phenology Network, Spring is three weeks ahead of schedule in the southeastern US:

Spring leaf out has arrived in the Southeast, over three weeks earlier than a long-term average (1981-2010) in some locations. Charlottesville, VA is 24 days early, Knoxville, TN is 20 days early, and Nashville, TN is 18 days early.

Status of Spring

Here’s what it looks like on the map as of 14 February 2020.

Spring Leaf Index as of 14 Feb 2020 (animation from USA National Phenology Network)

Despite the cold, today will warm to almost 40 degrees in Pittsburgh and to 52 by Tuesday. I think we’ll still have an early Spring.

(photos by Kate St. John, map from

Happy Valentine’s Day

Terzo and Morela courting on 13 Feb 2020, 2:35pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine falcons Terzo and Morela courted yesterday at the Cathedral of Learning nest. Watch them at the National Aviary falconcam.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

p.s. In case you missed it, the Hays bald eagles have an egg!

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

First Bald Eagle Egg of 2020 at Hays, Feb 13

First egg at the Hays bald eagle nest, 13 Feb 2020, 6:35pm (photo from the Hays eaglecam at Audubon Society of Western PA)

Happy news on Valentine’s Day! Last evening the Audubon Society of Western PA (ASWP) announced:

[Pittsburgh, PA, February 13, 2020] – Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania confirms an egg in the Hays, PA Bald Eagle nest. The egg, laid at 6:30 pm this evening, is visible in the nest on the eagle cam when the incubating adult stands up: There is typically a 2-3 day span in between eggs being laid in a Bald Eagle nest. In 2019, the Hays Bald Eagles laid three eggs; two hatched and the juveniles successfully fledged the nest.

Bald Eagles in Western PA Facebook page

ASWP also posted this video of the first egg roll:

Join the conversation at Bald Eagles in Western Pennsylvania Facebook page.

Watch the Hays Bald Eagle cam at

(photos and video from Bald Eagles in Western Pennsylvania – Audubon Society of Western PA Facebook page)

Note: The photos and video are in black-and-white because the camera uses infrared to see the nest in the dark.

The Flamingo’s Closest Relatives

American flamingos in Celestún National Park, Yucatán, Mexico (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Because they have long necks and long legs and stand around in shallow water you would think that flamingos are related to herons, but they’re not.

DNA sequencing has shown that the flamingos’ closest relatives are grebes.

Horned grebes in western PA, Feb 2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Read more about their amazing relationship in this vintage article:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Steve Gosser; click on the captions to see the originals)

Look For Peregrines Now Through March

Morela at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 10 Feb 2020, 16:15 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

In the run up to egg laying, peregrine falcons perch prominently and perform stunning aerial courtship displays. February and March are the best months for confirming peregrine nest sites and discovering new ones. In southwestern Pennsylvania we need observers to look for peregrines. I hope you can help.

In 2019 we found 10 peregrine pairs in the Pittsburgh region. Two on buildings (red dots at Cathedral of Learning and Downtown Pittsburgh) and eight on bridges (blue dots).

Peregrine falcon pairs in southwestern PA in 2019 (map by Kate St. John)
Peregrine pairs at bridges in southwestern PA in 2019 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Two of the bridges, Ambridge and 62nd Street, were not(*) confirmed even though adult peregrines are regularly seen there. Nesting can’t be confirmed until someone sees a peregrine take food to a nest or a nestling/juvenile in or near a nest.

There are 10+ Peregrine Sites to watch in southwestern PA. Please leave a comment if you can help or if you’ve seen anything. (Confirmed nest sites in prior years are marked with #.)

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh #: This nest is on camera so we’ll easily confirm it this year.

Downtown Pittsburgh #: We know there’s a peregrine pair Downtown but we don’t know who they are (Louie died last summer) and we don’t know where they’ll nest. Lori Maggio is Downtown’s lead observer but the area is a big place to monitor. Help wanted!

Downtown Pittsburgh as seen from Mt. Washington near the Monongahela Incline (photo by Kate St. John, June 2016)
Downtown Pittsburgh as seen from Mt. Washington (photo by Kate St. John, June 2016)

OHIO RIVER, Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge -or- Monaca-East Rochester Bridge # Peregrines choose one of these bridges to nest on each year — it’s all the same territory. A pair was seen on the railroad bridge in November. Observers needed!

Monaca-Beaver RR Bridge + Monaca-East Rochester Bridge

OHIO RIVER, Ambridge Bridge: This site hasn’t been confirmed as a nesting site though peregrines are seen here often. Mark Vass saw one on 8 Feb 2020, Karen Lang saw two on 9 Feb and one on 10 Feb & 11. More observers needed!

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

OHIO RIVER, Neville Island I-79 Bridge #: In use as a nest site since 2012, Jeff Cieslak photographed a peregrine on the bridge on 4 February 2020.

Peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 4 Feb 2020 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

OHIO RIVER, McKees Rocks Bridge #: Even though this bridge has been a nest site since 2008 it’s hard to monitor because it’s 1.38 miles long. Peregrines are best seen from the McKees Rocks side. I haven’t heard of any sightings yet.

McKees Rocks Bridge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Graff Bridge, Rt 422, Kittanning #: In use by peregrines since 2016, this bridge is best monitored from the bike trail under on the Kittanning side. I haven’t heard of any recent sightings.

U.S. Route 422 bridge over the Allegheny River at Kittanning, PA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Route 422 bridge over the Allegheny River at Kittanning, PA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Freeport Bridge: Peregrines haven’t been known to nest here but one was seen during the winter. Is this a new nest site? Observers needed.

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Tarentum Bridge #: The Tarentum Bridge, which has a nestbox, has been in use since 2010. Dave Brooke photographed a peregrine here on 30 Jan 2020.

Peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 30 Jan 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Highland Park and 40th Street Bridges: These bridges may be too close to existing territories … or are they? Are peregrines hanging out at these bridges? Observers needed!

ALLEGHENY RIVER, 62nd Street Bridge: There’s been a nestbox on this bridge since 2007 but no peregrines on site until 2019 when a banded female was identified and a fledgling seen at Tree Pittsburgh near the bridge. I hear it’s easy to see the nest box from the Pittsburgh downriver side. Be the first to confirm nesting at this site!

62nd Street Bridge over the Allegheny River, 2007 (photo by Dan Yagusic)

MONONGAHELA RIVER WATERSHED, Westinghouse Bridge over Turtle Creek #: Peregrines have used this bridge since 2010. Dana Nesiti photographed one here on 9 Feb 2020.

Peregrine falcon at Westinghouse Bridge, 9 Feb 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Look for peregrines in February and March. We need your help to re-confirm every site.

Please leave a comment if you can help, if you need directions, or if you’ve seen anything. Thanks!

(photo credits are in the captions)

Hays Bald Eagles: Eggs Coming Soon

Hays bald eagle pair, 8 Feb 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

Heads up, Bald Eagle Fans!

Yesterday on their Bald Eagles in Western Pennsylvania Facebook page, Audubon of Western PA pointed out that the first bald eagle egg at Hays is usually laid between February 12 and 17.

Watch for eggs on the Hays Bald Eagle cam at

Join the conversation at Bald Eagles in Western Pennsylvania Facebook page.

See great photos at the Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page. Dana Nesiti visits the Allegheny Passage trail and other sites along the Monongahela River to capture the eagles in their natural setting.

Eggs coming soon!

(photo by Dana Nesiti at Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page)

The Benefits of Brush Piles

Coopers hawk eyeing a brush pile that’s full of birds (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

When a predator shows up at your backyard feeders the songbirds need a place to hide. If you don’t have any evergreens, you can make an instant shelter with a brush pile.

Brush piles don’t look tidy but they benefit birds. Look how this one frustrates an active Coopers hawk in Wisconsin.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming this weekend, 14-17 Feb 2020. Here are 3 quick things to make your backyard a better place for birds.

  • Clean your feeders: Bird feeders accumulate mold and bacteria, including Salmonella. Clean them every two to four weeks by emptying and soaking for 10 minutes in a weak solution of 10% bleach (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) described at The Spruce: Bird Feeder Cleaning Tips.
  • Keep your cat indoors.
  • Provide shelter (described above).

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman, video tweet from @RLJSlick)

Charming The Worms, Part 2

On Friday we watched gulls charming the worms. Today we’ll watch people do it.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that earthworms come out on the sidewalks when it rains. They rise to the surface in damp soil when they hear the pattering of rain above them. Gulls and wood turtles take advantage of this by tapping on damp ground to lure worms to be eaten.

People use a variety of techniques, called worm charming, to collect worms for fish bait. The video above was taken at the annual World Worm Charming Championships in Willaston, UK.

Below, a man and wife gather worms for the fish-bait trade in Florida. He makes a noise called worm grunting while she gathers the worms.

(videos from YouTube and Wikimedia Commons)