The rooftop deck of my building overlooks the largest chimney swift roost in the Pittsburgh area, the Cathedral Mansions chimney, so I wasn’t surprised when Sarah Koenig of Audubon Society of Western PA emailed to arrange a location for a live online Chimney Swift Watch.
By 7:40pm about 100 swifts were circling the chimney and one had just dropped in. Suddenly I was distracted by a large bug that banged right into me. I brushed it away and I looked at the chimney again and there were no swifts at all! I’d been distracted for mere seconds and I know it takes many minutes for the flock to drop in. Where did they go? As I waited and watched the swift inside the chimney came out and flew away, too. Huh?
I tried again last night, Saturday 18 September. This time I looked for all species. I saw 400+ crows heading for Oakland after sunset and a peregrine perched on the Cathedral of Learning.
As the sky darkened I focused exclusively on the chimney. Again, 100+ swifts circled the chimney and I waited to count them as they dropped in. It was 7:40pm.
And then they were gone.
But this time I knew why. As I watched a peregrine approached the chimney from the darkened eastern sky. He could see the flock silhouetted against the sky but the swifts couldn’t see him until he flew through the flock and scattered them like small bowling pins.
For the peregrine is was a game of skittles. For the swifts it was life or death. Peregrines can grab swifts in the air. Maybe he did.
This swift game of skittles is new behavior for the Pitt peregrines but it may be that Ecco is trying out new things during his first autumn at Pitt.
I hope he gets over these sunset games. I’d like to see a lot more swifts at the chimney.
The Pitt peregrine falcons, Morela and Ecco, are staying close to home and watching fall migration as it passes through Pittsburgh. Every day they visit the nest, bow to strengthen their pair bond, and preen on camera. On 10 September they met twice at the nest, shown below.
A few days ago I wrote about birds that twist their necks. Watch Morela preen the spot between her shoulder blades. I can touch that spot with my fingertips but it’s a stretch!
Fear causes an inability to thrive in humans. Now a new study shows this is true of birds as well.
As a grad student at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Aaron Grade decided to parse out why urban nestlings are lower weight than their rural cousins. It’s well known that urban settings have poor habitat, altered food sources and more predators but the likelihood of predation is lower there because urban predators have so many other food choices.
Grade wondered if fear play a role so he set out 38 house wren nest boxes and loudspeakers in participants’ backyards in urban, suburban and rural western Massachusetts. During the nesting season participants played back the sounds of two predators of house wrens: Cooper’s hawks (pictured at top) and eastern screech-owls (below).
Though there was no actual danger, parent house wrens responded to the sounds by guarding their young and perhaps feeding them less. In the end nestlings in these playback settings were 10% underweight no matter what habitat they grew up in.
The study found that whether the birds are hurt or not, their nestlings are underweight and less likely to survive if the family lives in fear.
“These landscapes of fear,” says Grade, “can have a greater effect on behavior and survival than the actual predator itself.”
Mid-August is a quiet time for the Cathedral of Learning peregrine falcons. This year’s youngsters have left the area to begin their life adventures while the adults stay close to home and wrap up their annual molt.
Morela and Ecco rarely visited the nestbox in July but last Thursday 12 August they spent eight minutes bowing together. They were not courting. They were strengthening their pair bond.
Morela calls to Ecco, 10:32am 12 August 2021
Ecco almost leaves
but he returns
and Morela leaves
Ecco goes back and forth, 3 times
After 20 minutes, Ecco leaves
In other news, I usually don’t check the snapshot camera but when I did so on Monday 9 August at 4:44am Morela was perched there in the dark. This was a one-time event.
To check the snapshot camera scroll down on this webpage to see the 2nd image. NOTE: The first image is the streaming camera which is not functioning now.
When hummingbirds sip nectar it can change their external body temperature. The change is visible in this thermal video of an Anna’s hummingbird by Gary Nunn.
After waiting four months I finally got my Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Pro thermal scope! This thing is amazing—can’t wait to get out in the field with it. Anna’s Hummingbird taking a sip of jet fuel ? pic.twitter.com/iJsgmG0AvC
Many would say the bald eagle is the king of birds but when it comes to attitude, actions and name the small songbird attacking this eagle is both King and Tyrant.
Attitude: The eastern kingbird is often fierce and angry. This one is showing the orange-red crest he keeps hidden beneath his head feathers until he’s very, very mad.
Actions: Eastern kingbirds relentlessly defend their territories and will (obviously) ride the backs of hawks and eagles to peck their heads.
Males and sometimes females are very aggressive in territorial disputes [with other kingbirds], often resorting to aerial fights in which they lock feet together, pull out each other’s feathers, and sometimes fall to the ground. Eastern Kingbirds also attack large nest predators like crows and Blue Jays. Such aggression has been shown to increase their breeding success.