If she looks familiar it’s because Eurasian sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) are the same genus and slightly larger than our sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus). But female sparrowhawks are brown compared to males, whereas adult male and female sharp-shinned hawks wear the same colorful plumage.
Here are photos of all three: female Eurasian sparrowhawk, adult (male / female) sharp-shinned hawk, and male sparrowhawk.
Did you notice the difference in eye color? Sparrowhawks have yellow eyes. Sharpies have orange eyes.
Bald eagles in the Pittsburgh area have been courting since last fall and are ramping up to lay eggs this month. Now eagle fans can watch the action at two local nest sites: a much improved Hays Bald Eaglecam and three cameras at the USS Irvin eagles.
Back in December 2013 the Hays eaglecam was the first live broadcast of an eagles’ nest in Pennsylvania. Without local electricity and Internet, installer Bill Powers of PixCams had to hook up the camera to solar panels and the cell network. This meant the camera had to shut off overnight and go dark after snowfall. But not anymore thanks to help this winter from a neighboring eaglecam site 5.2 miles upriver.
The USS Irvin bald eagles started nesting in 2019 in a remote corner of USS Irvin Works near the Monongahela River. With help from US Steel their first eaglecam came online in 2021. This year that have three cameras viewing their nest and the surrounding area.
Stop by the Hays Bald Eagle Viewing Area on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Click here for directions.
As soon as an egg is laid, visit eaglestreamer.org for hatch and fledge countdown clocks.
USS Irvin Eaglecams: Irvin Plant’s resident bald eagles, “Irvin and Claire,” have three cameras on their nest. All three can be reached via this United States Steel Media Page or individually on YouTube:
In Africa there’s a fish eating eagle that has many characteristics in common our own bald eagle. It eats fish, builds a stick nest near water, has a white head and tail, and perches and calls in pairs.
Prior to 2018 it was in the same genus as North America’s bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) but DNA evidence moved the African fish eagle to Icthyophaga vocifer, the “fish-eater with loud voice.” It is closely related to the Madagascar fish eagle (I. vociferoides).
Nonetheless it behaves a lot like a bald eagle. This description of the African fish eagle could be written about the bald eagle, including the habit of stealing fish from ospreys.
… Red-knobbed Coot are important prey in addition to fish. Hunts mainly from a perch by swooping down to pluck prey from near the water surface, rowing larger prey to shore. Rarely hunts when soaring, but regularly pursues and pirates other piscivorous [fish-eating] birds. Perches for 85–95% of day in productive tropical habitat. Usually solitary, but more than 100 may gather at concentrations of stranded fish.
Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) breed in Siberia and northern China and travel 22,000 km (13,670 mi) each fall to southern Africa. Not only is their migration the longest of all the raptors but when they stopover in autumn to refuel in Nagaland, India their flock can number half a million birds. Right now they’re in southern Africa where I hope to see them.
Amur falcons are insectivores who, on migration, capture flying insects to eat in mid air.
They time their migration and choose a route to take advantage of insect swarms.
In northeastern India winged adult termites swarm in autumn in Nagaland.
Over the Arabian Sea dragonflies migrate in the fall from India to Africa.
In southern Africa, December to March rains spawn swarms of termites, locusts, ants and beetles.
Amur falcons are present from October to December near the Nagaland village of Pangti where they fatten up on termites before continuing their journey. There are hundreds of thousands of falcons in the air at once.
Their abundance led to near tragedy, however. Until the practice ended in 2012, Nagaland hunters caught tens of thousands of falcons per day in fishing nets hung from the trees. Each year they killed 250,000 Amur falcons to sell as meat for mere pennies. They thought the falcons would never disappear.
The killing ended abruptly when journalist Bano Haralu returned to her homeland, witnessed the destruction, and got a hunting ban placed in November 2012. More importantly, she and her colleagues taught the villagers, and especially the children, the importance of the falcons and a way forward through ecotourism. It was a stunning turnaround and a credit to the people of Nagaland.
Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) never build a nest. Instead they take over a large stick nest that someone else built — that of a red-tailed hawk, osprey or bald eagle. Ideally the original owner is not present at the time, which is usually the case because great horned owls are the earliest to nest(*).
In Pennsylvania they claim a nest as early as mid December and lay eggs as early as 22 January. By the time the original owner discovers the owls in residence, it’s usually too late to make a fuss. Great horned owls are powerful and attack silently at night.
There’s an old bald eagle nest on camera at the Hilton Head Island Land Trust which eagles have not reclaimed since they lost two eaglets there. Instead a pair of great horned owls took over the nest and the female is already incubating two eggs.
Three years ago our own Hays eagles had a great horned owl problem. Here’s a trip down memory lane:
In February and March 2021 a great horned owl harassed the Hays bald eagles, apparently trying to chase them away even after they were incubating eggs. The owl went so far as to silently knock the male eagle off his roost on the night of 2 March! In the end the Hays eagles prevailed.
(*) There’s only one bird in Pennsylvania that nests earlier than a great horned owl and that’s because it nests 365 days a year (or 366 during this leap year). Click here to see who it is.
p.s. Thanks to Mary DeVaughn for sending me news of the HHI Raptorcam.
It’s been 10 years since the spectacular winter of 2013-2014 when snowy owls irrupted in the Lower 48 States. That winter they invaded the Northeastern U.S. and traveled as far south as coastal North Carolina, Florida and Bermuda!
This year a few snowies are visiting the Great Lakes region but the only concentration of owls is in western Canada. You can see the difference in their eBird sightings in these maps of 2013-2014 versus 2023-2024. (Click here to see the eBird Explore map.)
In 2013-2014 there were so many snowy owls that photographers often saw peregrine falcons attacking them. Steve Gosser captured this still shot at Presque Isle State Park in December 2013.
Tom Johnson filmed two peregrines harassing snowy owls at Stone Harbor, New Jersey in January 2014.
It was also a snowy weather winter. 2013-2014 was very cold with enduring snow on the ground because of the “Polar Vortex.”
This year is much warmer — so much so that yesterday’s snow melted overnight, as seen at the Pitt peregrine nestbox.
In case you missed it, the “northern goshawk” disappeared last summer. After only 66 years as a single species, the American Ornithological Union (AOU) split the northern goshawk back into its former status as two: the Eurasian goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and the American goshawk (Accipiter atricapillus).
They basically look alike. The split was based on DNA and vocal evidence but you won’t note these things in the field and you won’t need to. The ranges do not overlap. This is the classic case of “Where did you see the bird?” In North America? Then “American.” In Eurasia? Then “Eurasian.”
Because I had seen a goshawk in Helsinki, Finland on 6 July 2017, I gained an additional Life Bird by the split. (See my lousy photos taken through binoculars below.)
At the time I marveled that this bird had orange-ish eyes. North American juveniles have yellow eyes (see illustration above) while adults have red eyes. Did the orange eyes mean this Helsinki bird was immature? A Finnish bird guide told me “No. In Finland the adults have orange-colored eyes, not red.”
In Europe and Asia, juveniles have pale-yellow eyes [until 3 or 4 years of age] while adults typically develop orange-colored eyes, though some may have only brighter yellow or occasionally ochre or brownish eye color.
Since their eye color changes slowly, perhaps more slowly than their plumage, it may be unreliable to use the color as a diagnostic difference between the two species. However, as a North American birder familiar with goshawks, those orange eyes in Finland made a difference for me.
Nearly every winter since the late 1990’s when Bill Hintze(*) first reported them, you can usually find a merlin or two at Schenley Park golf course at dusk. Charity Kheshgi and I went looking on 12 December and right on time a large merlin, probably female, arrived 20 minutes before sunset.
The temperature was relatively warm but it was very windy and felt quite cold. The merlin didn’t care. As the sun set she flew to the top of a pine tree across the road. (She’s in this photo as a dot.)
Charity photographed her as a silhouette.
Interestingly she didn’t roost at the golf course. When it got darker she flew away to the south-southeast.
If you’d like to see a merlin, stop by the golf course about 40 minutes before sunset and walk around looking at the treetops. Parking is available at the First Tee parking lot.
(*) Bill Hintze and the merlins: I think Bill was the one who first found the merlins but I might be misremembering. If I’m wrong please leave a comment so I can correct the text.
Watering holes are places of abundant wildlife in Arizona’s Sonoran desert as captured on this trail cam in the borderlands. One of the night visitors is a ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), a member of the raccoon family, shown above. (There are two embedded videos below; please wait for them to refresh.)
When water crosses political boundaries animals cross, too, back and forth from Arizona to Mexico. But now the Border Wall makes most of that impossible.