Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Young Red-Tail Hunts at the Hospital

28 September 2023

On Saturday 17 September, my friends Mary and Bea were walking to the Bloomfield Saturday Market when they couldn’t help but notice a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) hunting on the lawn at Shadyside Hospital. Mary stopped to take his picture.

Perched on the blue sign, I can tell the bird is immature because his tail isn’t rusty red. In early June he was still in the nest. Soon he learned to fly, then to hunt. Now, months later, he can feed himself but he’s not an expert. It takes time and luck to get a meal.

In autumn young red-tails disperse on their first migration and every place they stop is completely new to them. Those that grew up in urban environments are unbothered by traffic and people so they may gravitate to open areas near buildings in search of prey.

This hawk was so focused on hunting that he ignored Mary while she took his picture. Read more about the hawk’s single mindedness in this article from 2009.

p.s. This red-tail may have been attracted to the noise of house sparrows tweeting inside that bright green hedge. There are always lots of them in there, but they shut up as soon as I look so I rarely see one. As far as I know, I’m the only one — other than a hawk — that peers inside that hedge. 😉

(photos by Mary Tuttle)

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawks Learn to Hunt

Two juvenile Cooper’s hawks in Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

22 September 2023

Every year young Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) fledge in June/July and learn to hunt in July/August. As soon as they’re self sufficient they disperse, and then they start to migrate.

Cooper’s hawks eat birds for a living so they migrate with their prey. Their peak migration continues now through mid October at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch.

How did they get to this point? Let’s take a look back to August as some young Cooper’s hawks perfect their hunting techniques in New Jersey. It involves a lot of jumping.

video embedded from PTZtv on YouTube

(credits and links are in the captions)

Peregrines Together in September

Ecco watches while Carla preens, 15 Sep 2023, 3:54pm

16 September 2023

Yesterday Ecco and Carla spent lots of time hanging out together at the Pitt peregrine nest. The snapshot camera’s motion detector captured their activity.

Beginning at 3:50pm the pair spent 45 minutes together, bowing, preening, and watching. When Ecco left, Carla continued on the perch for another half hour, then stretched and departed at 5:00pm.

Two minutes later Ecco landed at the exact same spot on the perch. Because female peregrines are larger than males, the switch from Carla to Ecco made it look as if the bird shrank.

Ecco preened for more than an hour, then stretched and vaulted up to leave at 6:13pm. All told, the peregrines were present on camera for nearly 2.5 hours.

This slideshow shows 144 minutes of their interactions in only 1 minute and 15 seconds. If you miss the captions on the first pass, don’t worry, the slideshow repeats.

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

Flamingos Have Been Popping Up All Over

3 September 2023

Except for a few rare sightings in Florida, flamingos seen in the U.S. are not from the wild, they’re escapees from a zoo. Then suddenly last week, after Hurricane Idalia, flamingos have been popping up all over.

At top, 16 flamingos visited Fred Howard County Park near Tarpon Springs, FL. Below, 6 flamingos stopped by St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, 30 miles south of Tallahassee.

The groups have often been a mix of pink adults and gray youngsters.

As of Saturday evening the totals were:

  • 100+ in Florida
  • 11 at Pea Island, North Carolina
  • 2 in South Carolina
  • 2 in Virginia
  • 3 in Alabama
  • 5 in Tennessee
  • UPDATE on 4 Sep 2023: 1 in Kentucky
  • and 2 in OHIO! at Caesar Creek State Park. These were seen for only a day and then gone.
  • UPDATE on 7 Sept 2023: 2 flamingos in Franklin County, PA pictured below: First reported on eBird on 7 Sept but apparently present for 2 days prior as well.

American flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) are native to the northern shore of South America, the Caribbean islands, Cuba, and the Yucatan in Mexico. Hurricane Idalia plowed through a few of those locations.

Range map of American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) from Wikipedia

This WKRG video on 27 August shows Hurricane Idalia gaining strength as it spans the Caribbean, overlaying part of the Yucatan and all of Cuba. The flamingos would have felt it coming and flown north and northeast to get out of its way. Notice the lower speed winds (shades of green) on the edge of the weather map. The green wind track is where most of the flamingos have been found.

video from WKRG News on YouTube

Considering the storm track, the flamingos are probably from Cuba and the Yucatan including at least one banded bird.

Given all the discussion about the flamingos now appearing all over Florida (and farther north), this eBird list from Amy Grimm is especially relevant. This afternoon, Grimm documented 8 flamingos at Marathon, in the Florida Keys, and noted that “One has large yellow band on the right leg code DXCL, small silver band on left leg.” Do the bands mean it’s escaped from captivity? No. This combination — yellow PVC band on one leg with 4-letter code in black letters, ordinary band on other leg — has been used for years in the ongoing project to band American Flamingos in the big colony at Rio Lagartos, on the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Kenn Kaufman at ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook Group

Flamingo sightings will end as the birds head home. For now, enjoy them in videos.

video from Tampa Bay Times on YouTube
video embedded from @10TampaBay on YouTube

(credits are in the captions)

Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind

Ecco and Carla bow at the nest, 31 August 2023, 4:17pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

1 September 2023

The National Aviary’s streaming camera is off for the season so the Pitt peregrines are virtually out of sight, but they are not off my mind. Every day I check the Cathedral of Learning’s ledges to see where they’re perched and I look at the snapshot camera in case they’ve been to the nest.

Activity at the nest picked up this week because fall is coming and migration is underway. The length of day is similar to spring and they’re taking an interest in songbird migration as prey flies overhead at night.

Ecco and Carla bowed at the nest three times yesterday, including an extended bowing session, to strengthen their pair bond and their claim on the nest.

All of Pitt’s resident peregrines(*) stay home for the winter and I expect Ecco and Carla to do the same. They don’t need to migrate because there’s plenty of food in the winter (pigeons and starlings) and their “cliff” is too valuable to lose by vacating it for six months.

So I’m still watching. The Pitt peregrines may be out of sight but they are not out of my mind.

(*) There’s a lot of history that allows me to say that. Peregrines have lived at the Cathedral of Learning for 22 years, spanning 8 adult birds.

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

Sleeping On Migration

Sparrow asleep in New Mexico (photo by Larry Lamsa via Flickr Creative Commons license)

31 August 2023

Migration is exhausting work and since warblers migrate at night, they must rest and refuel during the day. Food and good cover are both essential at their rest stops. Sleeping is a dangerous activity where predators lurk.

A study published in Current Biology, August 2019, revealed one way that migrating warblers manage these dangers and demands: They adjust their sleep postures depending on their physical condition and physiological needs. Plump, well-muscled birds tend to sleep with their heads held upright, while scrawnier warblers tuck their heads into their feathers, a posture that makes them more vulnerable to predation but helps them conserve their much needed energy.

New York Times: Some Migratory Birds Sleep Better Than Others, August 2019

Fit warblers can afford to be vigilant. They puff up and sleep in a watchful posture, sometimes out in the open. This makes them ready to escape at a moment’s notice.

Sardinian warbler asleep on a branch (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Exhausted warblers hide in thickets and tuck their heads under their wings. This provides much needed rest and protects against heat loss but makes them vulnerable to predators. Interestingly, these same birds sleep less than those in good condition because they have to spend more time foraging.

Bird sleeping with head tucked under wing (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Some long distance migrants, such as the ocean-going great frigatebird, can sleep in flight.

Great frigatebird in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A 2016 study equipped great frigatebirds (Fregata minor) with EEG equipment and proved that they sleep while flying though they get less sleep in the air than on land. Read more in this vintage article.

It would be nice to safely sleep while doing other things. Yawn! I’m ready right now.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, see links in the captions)

Peregrine Family Life in August

“Mother and son on the ledge right now” 17 July 2023 (tweeted by @FaBPeregrines)

25 August 2023

Because the Pitt peregrines had no eggs this year I miss seeing their young on camera. To fill that gap I’ve been following the Fulham and Barnes Peregrines at Charing Cross Hospital in London, UK whose daily lives are chronicled by @FaBPeregrines.

Azina, Tom and their son P6T (named for his band number) are frequently seen on camera, even in late August. P6T’s dispersal from his natal site is on a later schedule than we’re used to in Pittsburgh.

Juvenile peregrines in Pittsburgh fledge in early June and leave in July. At Fulham and Barnes, P6T fledged in the fourth week of May and is still hanging around in late August. His persistence gives us an opportunity to watch a peregrine family in late summer when the youngster hunts on his own.

Notice how the ledge is cluttered with prey on 23 August compared how clean it was on 17 July, at top . Someone has been messy. 😉

Follow this peregrine family @FaBPeregrines on X, formerly known as Twitter.

(tweeted by @FaBPeregrines)

Never Use Sticky Tape for Lanternflies! It Kills Birds!

embedded photo from Audubon News: Downy Woodpecker found in Brooklyn. Photo: Sarah Valeri

22 August 2023

Invasive spotted lanternflies are swarming over Pittsburgh right now, especially near the railroad tracks. Everyone wants to kill them but the first solution that comes up on any Google search is a very, very bad one. NEVER EVER use sticky tape to capture insects. Glue tape kills birds!

Audubon News, the source of the embedded photo above, wrote about the hazards of glue tape last March: Meant to Catch Spotted Lanternflies, Glue Traps Are a Horrifying Hazard for Birds. Only 10% of the trapped birds survive, even if they’re taken to a rehabber.

Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Lancaster County, PA has years of experience with the harm caused by glue tape. This Facebook report from 17 August 2023 is just one of them. Three of the four trapped woodpeckers died and the fourth is in trouble.

So what can you do to kill lanternflies?

For trees use the Circle Trap. You can make it yourself. Instructions found here.

For home, make a simple vinegar trap :

Spotted lanternfly and insect vinegar trap (photo by John English)

Straight white vinegar plus dish liquid — maybe a 1/2 tsp — to break the surface tension. (Insect by-catch in this photo: a cicada.) Thanks to John English for this suggestion.

For personal combat there are lots of solutions: Electric “Tennis Racket” bug zappers, the Bug a Salt Gun, etc. found via Amazon searches.

Electric “tennis racket” bug zappers via Amazon search
The Bug a Salt gun via Amazon search

Watch a champion spotted lanternfly killer use these tools in a video from VICENews:

video from VICENews on YouTube

p.s. Why are spotted lanternflies more prevalent near railroad tracks? They arrived as egg masses stuck to railcars and hatched from there. Their host tree is the Ailanthus, an invasive weed that grows along the rail lines. They were first found in southwestern PA at a rail yard in Beaver County in 2020.

(photo and video credits are in the captions)

Long Bowing in July

“The Kiss” Pitt peregrines Ecco and Carla touch beaks during a long bowing session on 30 July 2023 (snapshot from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

6 August 2023

Each year the National Aviary falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning runs from February through July to cover the peregrine breeding season. Streaming ended on 31 July but just the day before, on 30 July, Ecco and Carla bowed for a long time at the nest and Carla occasionally ate some gravel. (*more information on gravel below)

The entire bowing session lasted 8 minutes but they paused a lot so I sped up the video to double-time. At 3 minutes in, it looks as if Carla has left but she’s merely off camera. As she comes close again Ecco resumes e-chupping and bowing. Finally Carla flies away and Ecco stands up straight to watch her leave.

video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, 30 July 2023

Though the bowing looks like courtship they won’t be starting a family anytime soon. Ecco and Carla live at the Cathedral of Learning all year long and bow to strengthen their pair bond, even in July.

The pair is generally less active in the summer but they’ll perk up when fall migration begins in earnest as they watch birds flying south over Oakland.

You can still see them at the nest — if they’re there — via the snapshot camera.

(*) Carla swallows bits of gravel to help her digestion. Here’s why:

(photo and video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hummingbirds Know How to Stay Sober

Anna’s hummingbird at a feeder (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 August 2023

Fermentation happens in the wild when sugars in fruit are exposed to yeast and bacteria on the skin. A crack in the skin starts the process, then animals consume it with sometimes hilarious results. Groundhogs and squirrels fall over. Waxwings get so loopy they cannot fly.

Nectar ferments, too, which prompted UC Berkeley biologist Robert Dudley to wonder how hummingbirds react to it. Do they like it or avoid it? Do hummingbirds get drunk?

Dudley’s study, published this June in Royal Society Open Science, concludes that hummingbirds indeed drink fermented sugar-water but they drink responsibly. Hummingbirds know how to stay sober.

Anna’s hummingbird at feeder, Vancouver Island (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Dudley tasked several undergraduate students with experimenting on the hummers visiting the feeder outside his office window to find out whether alcohol in sugar water was a turn-off or a turn-on. All three of the test subjects were male Anna’s hummingbirds (Calypte anna), year-round residents of the Bay Area.

They found that hummingbirds happily sip from sugar water with up to 1% alcohol by volume, finding it just as attractive as plain sugar water, but they sip only half as much when the sugar water contains 2% alcohol. …

“They burn the alcohol and metabolize it so quickly. Likewise with the sugars. So they’re probably not seeing any real effect. They’re not getting drunk,” he added.

UC Berkeley press release, Hummingbirds drink alcohol more often than you think

Hummingbirds regulate their alcoholic intake. This stupefied Bohemian waxwing, reeling from too much fermented fruit, needs to have a conversation with them.

p.s. Want to learn more about hummingbirds and see them being banded and in the hand? Come to Hummingbird Day on Saturday 19 August 2023, 9a-noon at

Powdermill Nature Reserve
1795 Route 381
Rector, PA 15677

Click here for event information and free registration. I’ll be there. More news later.

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