Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Sometimes Seen On The Falconcam

Young peregrine flapping on the nestrail at Cathedral of Learning, 31 May 2024 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

31 May 2024

If you can’t come to Fledge Watch at Schenley Plaza you might catch a glimpse of the juvenile Pitt peregrines on the National Aviary’s falconcam. Yesterday Bob Mulvihill positioned the camera so we can view as much of the nestrail as possible. When the youngsters are at its furthest end we can see them. (That’s the left side of the nestrail as viewed from Schenley Plaza and top center in the camera image above).

This morning at dawn they waited for a food delivery which must have been dropped off where we couldn’t see it on the near end.

Stay tuned to the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh in case they reappear.

Come on down to Fledge Watch at Schenley Plaza to see more. Today’s watch (Fri 31 May) is 11:30am – 12:30pm. Click here for the full schedule.

Quick Looks at Size and Behavior

White-throated sparrow and black-and-white warbler from Wikimedia, FaB Peregrine parent checking on the chick

10 May 2024

Maybe you’ve noticed that after watching warblers for a while, sparrows look huge. Gloria (@Lucent508) captured them side by side.

On Day 25 at the peregrine nest at Charing Cross Hospital in London (Fulham and Barnes), one of the chicks explored the nestbox ramp. He stumbled on the last step but enjoyed the outing nonetheless (the stumble is last photo though it actually happened first). At one point his mother looked at him as if to say, “Are you OK out there?”

Even though they are not “persons,” falconcams give us insight into the individual personalities of the peregrines on camera. This year the new unbanded female at the Wakefield Cathedral Peregrines nest (@WfldPeregrines) in Yorkshire, England has a habit never observed in the previous female: “Our previous female would never stay in the nest whilst the male fed the chicks.”

In the video below the female watches the male feed the chick. Sometimes he passes her a morsel of food which she swallows … or she feeds it to the chick. It’s not often that you see two peregrine parents feeding one chick.

(credits are in the captions and embeds)

The Tenants Are Famous

Sitting Room Nuthatch (screenshot from #GwylltHollow)

26 April 2024

Happy Friday! These unruly nuthatch tenants are now so famous that they were featured on BBC1 6 o’clock News on Wednesday. For added fun there was footage of the tawny owl babies (Strix aluco) who will soon take a look outside their nestbox.

Here’s @WildlifeKate to tell their story.

video embedded from @WildlifeKate

Watch the nuthatches on their own live stream at Gwyllt Hollow– Sitting Room Nuthatches. Follow WildlifeKate @katemacrae on X for updates.

p.s. to North Americans: Tawny owls don’t occur in North America but they are in the same genus as barred owls (Strix varia) whom they somewhat resemble.

Tenants Add Mud to the Apartment

screenshot of banner: Gwyllt Hollow – Sitting Room Nuthatches

19 Friday 2024

Last Friday we watched a Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea) vigorously remove a decoration from his beautifully furnished nestbox in South Wales. Apparently the Tenant Didn’t Like the Decorations (blue box).

Nuthatch removes a decoration from the nestbox (screenshot from @katemacrae WildlifeKate on X)

Since then the pair has been remodeling the apartment to their liking. They’ve added plenty of leaves and are now applying plaster (mud!) to the interior. Are they covering the decorations they don’t like? Or just filling in the gaps?

The nuthatches now have their own Live Stream at Gwyllt Hollow – Sitting Room Nuthatches. Follow WildlifeKate @katemacrae on X for updates.

Who’s Making That Metal Drumming Noise?

Northern flicker, male (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 April 2024

In case you haven’t noticed, northern flickers (Colaptes auratus) are loud right now.

The Northern Flicker is very vocal in spring during which its long call (kick, kick, kick, kick, kick) and drumming may be heard from more than a kilometer away [0.62 mile]. Homeowners sometimes express annoyance at individuals who take to hammering on metal chimneys and gates early in the morning, but fortunately this territorial advertisement only lasts for a few weeks in spring. 

Birds of the World, Northern Flicker vocalizations

Both sexes of flickers make a “jungle” call and drum loudly to attract a mate and establish territory. When drumming on wood they sound like this.

LOUD is important and city flickers have figured out that hammering on metal is louder than wood.

They hammer on streetlights. (This one stopped drumming for his photograph).

Northern flicker on streetlight, waiting to hammer (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They hammer on the metal covers on electric poles. (Hey, be careful!)

Northern flicker hammering metal on electric pole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They hammered on the metal hoods of these old ballpark lights every spring. The lights were replaced at Magee Field in 2018. I never got a photo of the flickers on the floodlights but here’s one of a red-tailed hawk.

Old ballfield lights at Magee Field, Pittsburgh, with red-tailed hawk, July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Flickers can be annoying when heard across the street, and worse than annoying when closer to home.

Who’s making that drumming noise? A northern flicker.

(credits are in the captions)

Tenant Didn’t Like the Decorations

Eurasian nuthatch (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

12 April 2024

This one had me laughing out loud.

Heads up for North Americans: Though the bird resembles a red-breasted nuthatch the birdhouse is in Southern Wales so this destructive tenant is a Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea). He is simply called a “nuthatch” in the UK because he is the only one.

Anhinga Shows How To Catch and Eat

Anhinga swallows a fish (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

29 March 2024

Unlike herons, anhingas spear their prey but this means they can’t open their beaks to swallow. This video shows what they do to solve the problem.

p.s. There’s a bird in Africa that looks like an anhinga (Anhinga anhinga). Closely related, the Anhinga rufa is the “African darter.”

Anhinga and African darter photos from Wikimedia Commons

Pigeons Conspicuously Court in Public

Rock pigeon male (on right) struts and coos for his mate (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

28 March 2024

Peregrines hang out where their food is plentiful so they’re often in places with lots of pigeons. Watching peregrines, as I often do, means waiting (bored) for them to choose the perfect moment to catch a bird. Inevitably I watch pigeons while I wait for peregrines so I’ve seen a lot of pigeon courtship.

Most birds have a breeding season for a few months per year in spring and summer but rock pigeons, like humans, breed over and over all year long if there’s enough food to sustain their families. You can tell when they’re starting a new family because they court conspicuously.

Birds of the World’s rock pigeon account, quoted in the list below, explains the steps of courtship that escalate to the moment of copulation.

  • [Courtship] Begins with bowing and cooing, in which male stands tall, inflates crop, fans tail, struts in circle, bows head and neck while giving display coo. This is repeated many times while circling and moving around the female. 

  • Hetero-preening (“nibbling”) follows, male first, female later.
Rock pigeons “nibbling” as part of courtship (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
  • [Billing:] Female ultimately solicits feeding, male appears to regurgitate seed or liquid. Female may repeat …
Courtship billing (after cooing) in which male appears to be feeding female (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
  • … followed by a crouch with wings half raised. Male then mounts, balances with flapping wings while vents are opposed 1–2 seconds for sperm transfer.
Rock pigeons mating (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After mating the male may do a post copulatory display. Sometimes they fly together.

  • Post-copulatory display includes a few steps while standing tall, and often a display flight, usually by the male, in which wings are clapped together on an exaggerated upstroke for 3–5 wingbeats. Bird flies out to another perch, 40–80 m distant, clapping wings at least once and gliding with wings in a “V” between bouts of clapping
Two rock pigeons flying (photo from Shutterstock)
Two rock pigeons flying (photo from Shutterstock)

While you’re observing pigeon courtship there’s one more thing to notice. The male and female do not have the same plumage patterns because they choose mates that don’t look like themselves.

In a Contest Which One Wins?

Two house sparrows: little bib, big bib (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

14 March 2024

Did you know that male house sparrows can tell who’s dominant by looking at each other from afar?

It’s in the size of the bib. Big bib dominates little bib.

Watch for this behavior at your feeder. Learn more in this vintage blog:

(credits are in the captions with link to the original photos on Wikimedia Commons)

These Are For The Birds

13 March 2024

Have you seen coils or fluttering tags on power lines? Not related to power transmission, these accessories are visual cues that alert birds to the presence of wires.

Bird diverters come in many shapes and have changed over the years as new products come to market and are approved by government agencies. California commissioned a 2008 study to evaluate the orange and fluorescent swinging tag below for use in the Sacramento Valley where hundreds of thousands of waterfowl spend the winter.

Aerial marking devices (flight diverters) are intended to reduce avian collisions with power lines by increasing power line visibility. From Testing the Effectiveness of an Avian Flight Diverter for Reducing Avian Collisions with Distribution Power Lines in the Sacramento Valley Published 2008

This (newer than 2008) model from Power Sentry glows in the dark and is visible in fog.

Hawk Eye Bird Flight diverter (photo embedded from
(video embedded from PowerLineSentry on YouTube)

It is also less expensive to install because it can be done by drones.

(video embedded from Manitoba Hydro on YouTube)

Those devices are for the birds.

These are for pilots.

Red ball markers make power lines visible to airplane and helicopter pilots and are usually installed near airports and on long lines over rivers and canyons.

Aviation red ball marker on power line. The helicopter is probably so close because it’s checking the power lines (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ironically, they have to be installed from helicopters. This 6-minute video filmed in West Virginia shows a job I could never do.

(video embedded from T&D World on YouTube)

Wondering about cones? They are also visual cues for pilots.

Power line cone to alert pilots (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

p.s. Some of you know more about this than I do. If I got it wrong, please leave a comment.

(credits are in the captions)