Category Archives: Bird Behavior

Two Crows Save The Day

Two American crows look intently at… (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 July 2020

Crows remember the faces of people who pay attention to them and are kind to those they know(*) so it’s not too surprising that …

Last Sunday two crows saved a toddler in Vancouver, BC from running into traffic.

The toddler’s mother, Arley Cruthers of Vancouver, BC writes:

I usually am in peak helicopter mom mode but today she went from “trying to turn on a water fountain while I sat on a bench” to “running towards traffic” in 1 second flat.

I am not fast so I was chasing after her as she ran towards the road. Suddenly two crows swooped down to the fence and started yelling at her. She stopped, went over to the fence and talked to them. The crows kept up yelling at her and she just stood there, chatting with them.

I caught up, and stood between her and the road, and watched their interaction. After a few minutes, the crows gave me a sharp caw and flew away. Everyone in the playground was like “those crows came over to save your kid.” I made sure to thank them!

— tweets by Arley Cruthers (McNeney)

Crows save the day!

Click here for the complete thread.

p.s. The Twitter thread includes this heartwarming story by June Hunter of how crows helped rescue a lost dog: A Christmas Miracle — with Crows!

(*) p.p.s. Crows also remember the faces those who are mean to them; they shout and harass them.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original; embedded tweet from Arley McNeney Cruthers)

Pair Bonding With Ecco

Ecco and Morela touch beaks at the Pitt peregrine nest, 11 July 2020, 5:45am

13 July 2020

It’s almost mid-July yet two peregrine falcons, Ecco and Morela, are pair bonding at the Pitt peregrine nest in a very serious way. On Saturday 11 July they courted twice and touched beaks in a close bond before dawn.

For five months Morela has had two suitors, Terzo and Ecco. In early June Terzo was a constant presence, then Ecco reappeared on 16 June and both males courted her twice on 25 June. After that Terzo faded away and Morela was alone until Ecco reappeared on 9 July.

I should have seen him coming. My first hint was when Morela spent five hours roosting at the nest rail on the night of 8-9 July from 9p to 2a. Female peregrines usually don’t roost at the nest outside the breeding season. Here she is on the 8 July 2020 “Night in a Minute” video.

The next morning, Morela and Ecco courted for almost four minutes.

The 10th of July was quiet but they returned before dawn on 11 July, courting for three minutes and touching beaks. Beak-touching is more intimate than merely bowing. These two are hitting it off as a couple.

Less than three hours later, at 8:27a, Morela returned with a full crop and courted with Ecco for another three minutes.

I don’t put a lot of stock in the permanence of Morela’s bond with Ecco since he and Terzo trade places so often. However, it’s intriguing to see that she’s so close to Ecco.

Meanwhile, here’s something to ponder …

Why does Morela have a flipped primary feather?

Female peregrines usually molt their primaries during incubation (April/May) so I was surprised to see one of Morela’s primaries is flipped on her right wing. The feather was normal until the morning of 27 June when Morela returned to the nest rail. She preened and stayed there for five hours as shown in the Day in a Minute video .

So far the flipped feather has stayed in that position for 16 days. If it had flipped due to molting, the new feather would have pushed it out by now. So I wonder, was Morela in an aerial battle on 27 June? Even if we knew the answer, we’ll never know who her adversary was.

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

Some Of Us Sleep During the Day

Lapland longspur, Alaska, Oct 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

During Arctic summertime the sun stays up for 24 hours. One day lasts many weeks. How do birds cope with 24-hour daylight?

Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus), pictured above, rigorously adhere to their own internal clock. “If it ought to be night right now, we’re going to sleep.” They sleep during the day.

Other species have different strategies. Some have no clock at all. Others vary their clocks based on sex, male or female.

Red phalarope male in May (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Find out how four species cope with 24-hour daylight in this vintage blog: Arctic Summer Bird Activities.

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

Fireworks Escape To The Wild

Backyard fireworks party, unknown location, Nov 2012 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3 July 2020

Municipal 4th of July fireworks celebrations are canceled in Pennsylvania because of COVID-19 but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any explosions. Amateurs have been setting them off in neighborhoods and fields ever since the weather turned warm. Complaints are blossoming as fireworks “escape to the wild.”

In 2018 a new Pennsylvania fireworks law permitted Class-C “consumer grade” aerial fireworks like those shown below. This released a firestorm of complaints from residents, local firefighters and police — and complaints this year from New York City.

The city ballpark in my Pittsburgh neighborhood has always been a magnet for amateur fireworks activity so we’ve learned to cope. Some call the police (who can’t do anything if the fireworks are legal). Meanwhile we wait for the noise to go away. The birds wait, too.

Find out how wild birds cope with fireworks in this vintage blog: What Do Birds Think of Fireworks.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

p.s. M-80s, cherry bombs and similar explosives are still illegal under federal law.

Not The Soap Opera We Thought

Ecco with Morela at the Pitt peregrine nest, 3 March 2020

2 July 2020

This spring the unresolved rivalry between two male peregrines — Terzo and Ecco — at the Cathedral of Learning made for a disappointing nesting season but generated a lot of speculation. Now that we know more about the Downtown peregrines we can lay one bit of speculation to rest.

Back on 15 March when Terzo and Ecco’s rivalry was spinning like a revolving door, I was surprised to see the Downtown female peregrine Dori appear on camera at Pitt. At the time I couldn’t help wondering, “Is the unbanded male Dori’s new mate who is shopping in Oakland because he doesn’t like the Downtown site?” … This led to speculation that Ecco was two-timing between the two nests. No, he is not.

Ecco has not been two-timing between Pitt and Downtown because (1) he’s not Dori’s mate and (2) he would have been way too busy Downtown to visit Morela at certain critical times.

Dori’s mate: On 28 June we learned from Lori Maggio’s photos that the Downtown male peregrine is banded. (Ecco is not banded.)

Adult male peregrine with silver colored right leg band, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Close-up of silver colored right leg band on Downtown Pittsburgh adult peregrine, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Critical timing: Here’s one example.

We learned on 28 June that the Downtown peregrine nest produced at least two young, probably more, who fledged approximately 25 to 30 June 2020. Parent peregrines are always extremely busy during the fledging period as they watch, feed and protect their naive young. During that period the Downtown adults had no time to make jaunts to other territories.

Meanwhile at Pitt, Ecco spent a busy day courting Morela multiple times on 25 June.

Morela and Ecco, 25 June 2020, 7:32am

Even if we didn’t know Dori’s real mate, this timing indicates Ecco has nothing to do with the Downtown nest.

So, Ecco isn’t two-timing. Frankly he’s having trouble being a successful one-timer.

My apologies for sending us all down this speculative rabbit hole. I should have brushed off Dori’s visit as curiosity on her part. I’ve seen other females visit the Pitt nest during turbulent times. Magnum visited twice in 2016 during Hope’s first turbulent year.

I think I know peregrines … until they surprise me.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh and Lori Maggio)

You’d Think It Was March

Morela at the nest overnight, 2020-06-25, 2:20am

26 June 2020

It’s late June, the solstice has passed, and yet three Cathedral of Learning peregrines are courting and the female Morela spent most of Wednesday-Thursday night at the nest.

Female peregrines normally spend the night at the nest before egg laying. Don’t get your hopes up, though. It’s too late in the year for successful eggs.

On 25 June over a period of 9 hours Morela courted with suitors four times, twice with each male, Ecco then Terzo. Click on links on these images and captions to see video of each event.

Ecco and Morela bow for 3 minutes, 2020-06-25 at 5:50am
Ecco and Morela bow for 9 minutes, 2020-06-25 at 7:30am
Terzo arrives at 10:30am, 2020-06-25
Terzo and Morela bow for almost 4 minutes, 2020-06-25, 10:40am
Morela sunbathes at 10:48am, 2020-06-25
Morela and Terzo court for 5 minutes, 2020-06-25, 2:15pm

Here’s a quick video summary: Day in a Minute, 25 June 2020 7am to 7pm.

After a long failed nesting season, the peregrine soap opera continues at Cathedral of Learning. Is Morela enjoying all the attention? You’d think it was March.

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

Closer To Ecco

Ecco and Morela appear to touch beaks, 16 Jun 2020, 8:17am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

22 June 2020

Though the peregrine nesting season has failed at the Cathedral of Learning, Morela continues to visit the nest and bow with her suitors, Terzo and Ecco. In a normal year this activity would have ended with egg laying in March. This year, over a period of (now) four months, we’ve been able to observe individual behavior in the two males and Morela’s relationship with each one.

Indeed their relationships are different. I’ve noticed that during the longer courtship sessions Morela bows closer with Ecco than she does with Terzo.

During this five minute bowing session on 16 June, Ecco and Morela turn their heads side to side and nearly touch beaks. This is a more intimate form of bowing than merely bobbing up and down.

On 18 June, Terzo initiates a three minute courtship session that lacks such a close approach.

Since we are humans, not peregrines, we don’t know if the behavioral difference is due to the males’ personalities or Morela’s chemistry with each one. But we can see that Morela comes closer to Ecco.

p.s. This month Ecco has been bowing with Morela before dawn! Click here for a bowing session at 5:30am on Sunday 21 June.

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

At Least We Are Spared This

Recent peregrine news out of San Francisco is sadly familiar. SFist reports that people watched the falconcam in horror as a male peregrine, nicknamed Canyon, killed and ate his first hatchling at the PG&E nest.

We know what this is like. Every year from 2016 through 2019 Hope, the female peregrine at the Univ of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, killed and ate some of her chicks as they hatched. Most years she ate two of them. In 2017 she ate only one. Morela replaced her in October 2019.

Read the SF news here https://sfist.com/2020/06/18/bad-news-male-falcon-eats-young/ and if you have a strong stomach watch their video. Hope’s behavior is mentioned in the article.

Screenshot from SFist, San Francisco, 16 Jun 2020

Peregrines eating their hatchlings is so unusual that in the 20 years I’ve tracked it I know of only four peregrines who’ve done it:

  1. Hope at the Univ of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning, 2016 through 2019
  2. a female at UMass Amherst in May 2017
  3. a female at a wild cliff in Wyoming where fire retardant was sprayed (can’t find the link)
  4. Canyon at San Francisco PG&E, June 2020.

Some of you are wondering if this male could be one of Hope’s offspring. No, for at least two reasons:

  • This unbanded young male peregrine, nicknamed Canyon, hatched in 2019. All of Hope’s offspring from 2016 through 2019 are banded. An unbanded male born in that timeframe cannot be one of hers.
  • Canyon is too far away to have dispersed from Pittsburgh. San Francisco is the other side of the continent.

As crazy as 2020’s failed nesting season has been at the Cathedral of Learning, at least we have been spared this.

(screenshots from SFist article)

Ecco is Back, But So Is Terzo

Ecco and Morela court at the Pitt peregrine nest, 16 June 2020, 8:16am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

17 June 2020

When I reviewed yesterday’s time lapse video I saw Morela entice an unseen male to court with her at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. She bowed with him in the 7 and 8 o’clock hours but she wasn’t with Terzo. Ecco is back!

In this Day-in-a-Minute video you can see both courtship sessions with Ecco, then Terzo at the nest alone at 10:30am. (Nothing else happened for the rest of the day.)

Morela and Ecco bowed at 7:08a in the video below.

In their second bowing session at 8:17a they nearly touched beaks, then Ecco checked the sky.

Ecco and Morela bow at the Pitt peregrine nest, 16 Jun 2020, 8:17am
Ecco checks the sky while bowing with Morela, 16 Jun 2020, 8:20am

Terzo arrived two hours later and felt comfortable standing there, unthreatened, for 50 minutes.

Terzo checks the sky when he arrives, 16 June 2020, 10:39am
Terzo stands near the unviable eggs, 16 Jun 2020, 11:01am

These two male peregrines still haven’t figured out who “owns” the Cathedral of Learning but at this point it doesn’t matter. It’s too late in the season to raise a family.

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

Whoops! I Can Fly

16 June 2020

Sometimes learning from a small mistake is just what you need to make the next big step in life. A red-tailed hawk nestling found that out last Friday.

The three nestlings at Cornell’s Red-tailed Hawk Nestcam were ready to fledge on 14 June but no one had done it yet. One was eating and playing with his food. The other two were bored and puttering around the nest high above Cornell University’s stadium.

One of them, J2, decided to test his wings from a perch on the stadium light. It was windy. He started to slide down the light. Whoops! … I can fly!

Watch the faces of his siblings as he flies around the stadium and lands in the trees.

By 10:30am Sunday all three had fledged.

See video highlights of them leaving the nest at allaboutbirds.org/cornellhawks. (Scroll down below the live-cam panel.)

(video from Cornell Lab’s Red-tailed Hawk Cam)