Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Double Fledge Didn’t Work: Young Eagle Rescued at USS Irvin

Logo of USS Irvin Bald Eagle Camera

30 June 2022

There was excitement on Sunday 26 June when both eaglets at the USS Irvin bald eagle nest fledged at the same time. The eaglecam showed that when the first bird fledged, it knocked its sibling off the branch. Fortunately the second bird could still be seen on the eaglecam.

By Monday “footage showed multiple failed attempts by the [second] eagle to fly” and expert opinion determined the bird was missing so many key flight feathers that it had to be rescued.

On Monday evening 27 June, a PGC Game Warden and USS employees teamed up to find and rescue the eaglet. See a photo of the rescued eagle and find out how the bird’s sibling helped in Mary Ann Thomas’ Trib Live article: Game warden, U.S. Steel employees rescue bald eagle; bird’s sibling helped rescuers find it.

The article mentions that the eaglet will be unable to fly until next year. That’s because the flight feathers of bald eagles grow on a prescribed schedule rather than immediately upon feather loss.

In their first year of life eaglets grow their original flight feathers while in the nest, then wait until the following year to molt into Basic 1 plumage. The molt begins in the spring of their second calendar year and finishes with the tail feathers in late July–early August. This eaglet will have to wait a year to make its first flight.

(logo from USS Irvin Eaglecam, footage of the Double Fledge embedded from Pix)

Let’s Call Her Trouble

The wanderer voices her opinion, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

18 June 2022

Yesterday morning at 7:45am I got a call from Game Warden Doug Bergman. He was heading to an assignment in Fayette County but had just received a call that a peregrine fledgling was walking on McClure Street in Pittsburgh. By the time he could finish in Fayette and drive back to Pittsburgh it would be afternoon, way too long for this bird to be on the street.

Peregrine fledglings cannot take off from the ground in their first 24 hours of flight so this one needed an assist to get up to a high perch and start over again. Could I help?

Google Maps showed the incident at the corner of McClure and Eckert Streets — the Eckert Street peregrine nest. Jeff Cieslak had called in the trouble ticket and Jeff was still on site. Maybe we could put the bird on a nearby roof — if we could catch it. I would get there by 9:00am.

The trouble started around 6:30am when Marcy Kemmler, owner of Don’s Diner, saw a peregrine fledgling walking on the street. She stopped traffic, herded the bird onto the sidewalk and called Jeff. By the time he arrived Marcy had already saved the bird’s life several times. It was standing in clover under the California Avenue Bridge. Its size looked female to me.

Peregrine fledgling on the ground at McClure Street, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The fledgling walked behind Don’s Diner and jumped up to the highest spot she could find, two feet off the ground.

Peregrine fledgling behind Don’s Diner, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

She continued walking into Don’s Diner parking lot under the Eckert Street Bridge. When I arrived Jeff was guarding the bird at the base of the arch. Marcy and I walked toward Jeff. The bird’s mother started shouting from her perch on the California Avenue Bridge.

Eckert Street mother peregrine shouts from the California Avenue Bridge, 17 July 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The fledgling was on the ground between the two arches (to the right of the red square in photo below). Jeff blocked the bird’s retreat away from the Diner while Marcy and I blocked its progress toward it. We didn’t realize we were loosely surrounding the fledgling but the bird’s mother did realize it and warned her youngster. Meanwhile Marcy was praying that the bird would walk up the arch.

Don’s Diner in April 2021. Red box shows the base of the arch where the peregrine walked up (screenshot from WPXI video)

I had never seen a peregrine walk up a bridge so I didn’t understand the significance of Marcy’s prayer until it was answered. The bird flapped up to the arch and walk-flapped its way to the top. Whew!

Peregrine fledgling walk-flaps her way up the arch, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

After it made it to near the top of the beam, we moved away to try to get a better look. Kate said, “Now would be a good time for the adults to feed it,” and as if on cue, the male comes back from his (successful) hunt, and the female flies out to scream at him (normal) and guide him directly to the newly-returned fledgling. I didn’t get any pics of that because I was amazed that it was even happening.

Jeff Cieslak at Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page

We watched for an hour and the birds calmed down.

Just before we left Marcy said, “What should we call this bird?” It didn’t take long to decide. Marcy said, “Let’s call her Trouble.”

(photos by Jeff Cieslak, screenshot of Don’s Diner from WPXI)

UPDATE from Jeff Cieslak on 18 June @ Eckert, 8pm: Marcy called, the bird was on the ground again this evening oh, and the sun was going down. I was just relaying the story of Friday’s adventure to my friends, so we hop in the car and drove down to try to help. By the time I got there, Marcy had shepherded the bird back to the beam and it was crawling up the beam when we pulled into the parking lot. Marcy adds: “Trouble was down in the street again tonight and I got it all the way back up to the bridge. Jeff was just pulling in with his wife to try to help and I got it back up. We surely are naming that thing Trouble but it’s so amazing and it was really talking to me too. It got stuck in my little fence and I had to get it out.” Fortunately, after 18 June Trouble didn’t get into trouble again.

p.s. Watch this WPXI video about Don’s Diner and a movie filmed there a year ago in April 2021. Another movie will begin production at Don’s Diner next week.

How To Tell When a Song Sparrow is Angry

Song sparrow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

16 June 2022

Male song sparrows sing to claim territory and avoid fighting with rivals. Each male has a unique song that creates an audio boundary marker that other males are expected to honor. When a rival intrudes, the owner escalates with aggressive signals before he attacks. If you know what to look for, you can tell when a song sparrow is angry.

To learn the escalation steps, “researchers [in a 2013 study at University of Washington led by Çaglar Akçay] recorded songs from 48 sparrows living in Discovery Park in Seattle. To feign an intruder, they perched a stuffed song sparrow in a bush or tree and played the recorded song.

The owners reacted to the stuffed singing intruder as if he was real and escalated as follows:

  1. When the intruder first arrived, the owner matched the intruder’s song. If this didn’t drive off the intruder …
  2. The owner repeatedly flew and landed near the intruder, wing-waving and singing softly. “Wing waving” is vibrating one wing at a time. Soft song is more aggressive than shouting.
  3. When none of this worked the owner attacked the intruder.

This video from the Univ of Washington shows the second step — wing waving and soft song — with narration by one of the researchers. Notice one wing raised and waved at 0:27. Wing raising is a happy greeting between male and female cardinals. Not so with song sparrows!

The stuffed intruder would not leave, even when the owner sang softly, so the owner attacked. Yow!

If a male song sparrow is speaking softly and waving one wing, he’s angry. Learn more at Get off my lawn: Song sparrows escalate territorial threats — with video.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, embedded video from University of Washington study in 2013)

How to Find a Fledgling Peregrine

Blue jay harasses juvenile Pitt peregrine 5 Jun 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

8 June 2022

Now that the young Pitt peregrines have begun to fly you’ll have an opportunity in the next 5-7 days to see them up close on campus — maybe even as close as Charity Kheshgi saw one last year (above).

How do you find them?

Walk around campus near the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel and keep your eyes and ears open. Small birds will help, as the blue jay is doing above. Check out all the tips.

After they’ve flown for about a week they leave for other buildings and are really hard to find.

Get Out of My Airspace!

Adult female peregrine attacks remote-controlled model glider (photo by Steve Shinn)
Adult female peregrine attacks remote-controlled model glider, 2014 (photo by Steve Shinn)

25 May 2022

When it comes to protecting their young, peregrine falcons are practically fearless. They attack threats much larger than themselves no matter what they are.

In 2014 Steve Shinn shared photos of a mother peregrine near Los Angeles attacking radio-controlled gliders that came too close to her nest in Take That, You Pesky Airplane!

I was reminded of that incident when I saw photos in the Daily Mail of a peregrine at Torrey Pines Beach near San Diego where photographer Phoo Chan captured eight stunning shots of a peregrine attacking and riding the back of a brown pelican.

This tantalizing thumbnail gives you a hint of what you’ll see at the Daily Mail’s World’s fastest bird hitches cheeky mid-air ride on the back of a hapless pelican.

(photo at top by Steve Shinn, thumbnail of pelican directs you to photos in the Daily Mail)

Seen This Week, May 14-20

Just banded: female red-winged blackbird in hand, Frick Park, 14 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

21 May 2022

Seen this week in Schenley and Frick Parks:

At top, bird bander David Yeany holds a recently banded female red-winged blackbird at Frick Park on Migratory Bird Day, 14 May 2022.

On 17 May we looked for warblers along Nine Mile Run’s boardwalk and found many black walnut flowers fallen on the railing.

Old flower from black walnut, 17 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

I would have brushed this one away until I saw an insect hiding on it. Do you see the juicy caterpillar, below? This is warbler food!

Warbler food! on an old black walnut flower, 17 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

In Schenley Park a carpenter ant examined fading pawpaw flowers that smell like rotten meat, if they smell at all. No rotting meat here. She left.

An ant leaves after exploring fading flowers on a pawpaw tree, 13 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Mystery flower of the week was a non-native with thin basal leaves found blooming in the woods in Frick Park. How did star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum sp.), a native of southern Europe and southern Africa, get into the woods? Is it invading?

Star of Bethlehem blooming in the woods at Frick Park, 14 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Wild Parrots in the Backyard

King parrot and crimson rosella perch on a fence (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

11 May 2022

Imagine having wild parrots visit your bird feeder.

Australia is home to 56 parrot species including the Australian king-parrot (Alisterus scapularis) and the crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans) of eastern and southeastern Australia. Though they nest in the woods they often visit urban parks and backyards.

Sometimes they scuffle over rights to the feeder, as captured by this feedercam. (The constant loud hooting in the video is a wonga pigeon.)

Occasionally an individual learns how to be hand-fed like a black-capped chickadee.

How cool it would be to have wild parrots in the backyard!

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

Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

Chipping sparrow with seed in beak (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

28 April 2022

Seed-eating birds use only their beaks to extract their food from shells and husks. Have you noticed how they do it?

At the feeder you may see them pick up a whole nut, crack the shell with their strong beaks and let the shell fall, then work on the seed inside their mouths with tongue and beak. They do the same with grassy seeds though we rarely see it.

Evening grosbeak and American goldfinch at the feeder, Nov 2012 (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

This slow motion video of a field sparrow (Spizella pusilla) shows how he separates the “wheat” from the chaff. It’s a lot of mouth work for tiny seeds.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Marcy Cunkelman)

From Flocks to Nests

Mourning dove flock on a fence in winter (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

13 April 2022

In spring a change occurs in mourning dove behavior as large flocks we see in winter disperse to nest. Some flocks move north while locals break up into couples and fan out to choose a territory.

It is hard to notice when the change occurs so I graphed my eBird count of mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) in Frick and Schenley Parks, January 2021 through 9 April 2022.

My eBird counts of mourning doves in Frick & Schenley, 1 Jan 2021 through 8 April 2022 (data from Kate St. John)

The change is pretty dramatic. Just 1-5 birds from March through September, then over 40 December through February. The largest flocks were at the Frick Environmental Education Center where they sunned in the trees above the feeders. 100 mourning doves in January!

Mourning dove flock in winter sun (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This year the count dropped below 10 in early March as they paired up. Some pairs maintain their bonds throughout the winter. Others get to know each other in the spring.

Wary pair of mourning doves in California (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On territory the male visits potential nest sites and calls to his mate to inspect them. She gets to choose. (His nest call is 3 notes like this).

According to Birds of the World: To build the nest he brings small twigs, etc. which he delivers to her while standing on her back(!) She arranges them around her while using her body to form a simple bowl. Nest building usually takes 7–10 hours spread over 2–4 days.

The loosely built nest looks messy. Sometimes you can see through it from below.

Mourning dove nest with egg (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And they mate. She lays her first egg within 2 days of nest completion. Subsequent eggs are one or two days apart.

Mourning dove pairs share incubation as they wait for the eggs to hatch in 14 days. Surprisingly neither bird has a brood patch but it works anyway.

The chicks are fed by regurgitation and grow up to resemble their parents. They fledge in 13-15 days, sooner if frightened.

Adult with two almost grown chicks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Juveniles remain in speckled plumage through August. By winter they look like adults.

Juvenile mourning dove in September (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And in October mourning doves gather in flocks again. The process starts over from flocks to nests.

UPDATE 13 April 2022: Today at Frick Park I talked with someone who has a mourning dove nest in their yard while 16 mourning doves hung out near the feeders. Flocking and nesting were simultaneous today.

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


Rubbing his beak, this bald eagle is feaking (photo by BC Coastal Dry Belt, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

9 April 2022

New word for the day.

Feaking  – The act of rubbing the beak against a surface for cleaning or maintaining beak shape, often done after eating.

Definition from the National Eagle Center

The word feak originated in falconry in the early 16th century, derived from the German word fegen which means cleanse or sweep. Despite what auto-correct assumes, there is NO R in feak.

In this video, the female bald eagle is feaking on the edge of a nest platform in the rain.

And here’s a peregrine feaking after her meal.

Feaking isn’t confined to raptors. Learn the several reasons why birds do it at National Audubon’s article: Here’s Why Birds Rub Their Beaks on Stuff.

(photo from BC Coastal Dry Belt on Flickr; videos embedded from YouTube)