Pennsylvania’s bald eagles are already on eggs in their huge stick-nests. Peregrine falcons are about to lay eggs on gravel ledges. Meanwhile, in Florida and southern California burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are preparing to nest underground.
I’m so excited to see that my local burrowing owl’s mate has returned from her vacation. She does not look happy to see me, lol. pic.twitter.com/RytDtdL48o
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!
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.
If you want to see a rare gull that breeds in Europe or the arctic, February is the best time in Pittsburgh.
Gulls need open water for food and shelter so when ice forms they have to leave. Arctic breeders move to openings in the sea ice (polynyas) or fly south along the coasts or to the Great Lakes. When it’s very cold the Great Lakes freeze by February and the gulls move further south. That’s when they find Pittsburgh.
Though our city is 300 miles from the ocean a few gulls stay here year round. Several dozen herring gulls (Larus argentatus) breed on our rivers and a few non-breeding ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) spend the summer. In winter they are joined by hundreds more.
According to the Great Lakes Total Ice Coverage Map from 30 Jan 2021, the Toledo end of Lake Erie is fully iced up and it’s pretty thick now at Cleveland. If he was staying near Cleveland he would have to leave.
It’s winter and you’re out for a walk in the neighborhood. As you approach a hedge you can hear it’s alive with hidden birds. They sound like this:
The noise is a flock of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) but the hedge is so dense and dark that you can’t see them. The photo below shows the problem; click on it to see the birds in a digitally brightened version.
House sparrows are always gregarious, but more so in winter when they flock together in large numbers.
In the morning and afternoon they disperse to feed, but twice a day — at midday and in the evening — they gather in dense shrubs or evergreens and chatter for an hour or more. If you approach the hedge they suddenly fall silent. If you peer inside you’ll find a few birds looking wary. The rest have flown out the other side.
If you wait long enough, someone else will watch the hedge for you.
(photo of a hedge by decaseconds on Flickr via Creative Commons license; sparrow photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the originals)
The smartest bird in the western hemisphere, the common raven (Corvus corax), has come to town and is claiming nest sites in the City of Pittsburgh. Ravens have been seen in Schenley Park, above, and are regularly found at Forbes Avenue in Frick Park. This is a big deal because…
Common ravens were extirpated from eastern North America by 1900. After 1950 they slowly recolonized remote areas of the north and Appalachians but were rarely seen in eastern cities. We were very surprised when a pair showed up at Brunot’s Island in October 2007 and eventually nested there. Since then, very slowly, ravens have become more visible in Pittsburgh.
[When the car noise abates briefly at 0:19 below you can almost hear what the raven is saying, a muted “whup … whup”.]
Yes – just down the road apiece from your boyhood diorama … here he is trying to convey his passion for another raven in the trees below the bridge but being drowned out by traffic. A cyclist saw me videoing and said, wow – that’s a really big crow! pic.twitter.com/3AC4IzaIHR
Many people in North America don’t like starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) for their aggressive invasive behavior, but starlings can do something beautiful that no other songbird can match. At dusk as they gather to roost, starlings fly in tight flocks that wheel and turn in unison. Their murmurations make beautiful patterns in the sky.
This 4-minute video of starlings at dusk was recorded at RSPB Otmoor Reserve, a birding hotspot in Oxfordshire, UK.
And here’s a short clip from San Rafael, California.
Went to see the European Starling murmurations in San Rafael, CA yesterday, and wow was it an experience. pic.twitter.com/Zh5Jf941Kr