Category Archives: Birds of Prey

American Kestrels Ready to Fledge

Screenshot from the Live Kestrelcam at CornellBirdCams

17 June 2024

Are you going through Falconcam withdrawal? Don’t despair. Four falcons in Wisconsin are still on camera and nearly ready to fledge.

Click on the image above or this link at Instagram for a brief video of American kestrel nestlings (Falco sparverius), the smallest falcon in North America.

See them Live on the Wisconsin Kestrel Cam below … WOW! That was fast! All of them fledged within a day of this article and the Live Stream is closed for the year. The kestrels say, “See you next year!”

Seen This Week: Flowers and Owls

Saucer magnolia bud about to bloom, Pittsburgh, 18 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 March 2024

This week non-native flowering trees put on a show in the city of Pittsburgh. Originally from China and Japan their growing season is earlier than our native trees.

Star magnolia in bloom, Pittsburgh, 15 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

This month’s three-day spurts of highs in the 60s and 70s prompted the red maples to flower and start producing seeds.

Red maple already gone to seed, Pittsburgh, 18 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last Saturday I visited Wolf Creek Narrows, almost an hour north of Pittsburgh, where the growing season is later than at home. There we found an interesting jelly fungi called witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) …

Witches butter fungi, Wolf Creek Narrows, 16 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and a decapitated skunk cabbage that allowed us to see the spadix inside. The hood usually covers this structure but something ate the hood. What animal could put up with the odor to eat that hood? And then the animal would vomit because the plant is toxic.

Skunk cabbage spadix revealed, Wolf Creek Narrows, 16 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

I promised you an owl.

Inspired by Steve Gosser‘s photo of an American woodcock at North Park Upper Fields on 4 March, two of us stood out in the cold on Thursday evening waiting for sunset and for American woodcocks to make their twittering courtship flights. The sky was clear and the moon was so bright that we had moon shadows. It was also 5°F colder than at home in the city and I brought the wrong gloves. Brrrr!

Despite the cold it was worth the trip. Half an hour after sunset three American woodcocks put on a show and two flew right past us on their way to the sky.

American woodcock, North Park Upper Fields, 4 March 2024 (photo by Steve Gosser)

But the big surprise of the evening came before the woodcocks. Karyn saw a great-horned owl fly out of the pines and land on top of a brush pile. The owl was hunting while the voice of a youngster begged for food from pines.

Meanwhile a second adult owl flew to a bare tree at the other end of the field where we could see its silhouette against the glowing sky. Though my cellphone is not good at distance photos, you can faintly see the ear tufts that prove that this second bird of prey is a great-horned owl.

Great horned owl, North Park Upper Fields, 21 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is getting interesting.

(credits are in the captions)

New Eagle Owl Baby at the National Aviary

Eurasian eagle-owl chick at the National Aviary hatched on 15 March 2024 (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

22 March 2024

Eurasian eagle owls Dumbledore and X are parents again at the National Aviary. Their latest chick hatched on 15 March and is growing quickly and thriving in the Aviary’s Avian Care Center. You can see the chick and his caregivers through the Avian Care Center window.

When the chick hatched he weighed 55 grams (0.121 pounds, roughly the size of a small lime) but will grow so rapidly that in only eight weeks he’ll be fully grown, weighing up to 4kg (9 pounds!) with a wingspan of up to 6.5 feet.

I’ve said “he” for this chick but there is no way to visually tell whether he’s male or female. The National Aviary will do a DNA feather test to determine the chick’s sex.

Eventually he’ll look like his parents who lead active lives at the National Aviary. His father, Dumbledore, participates in flight shows and meets visitors when he’s not busy breeding.

Dumbledore the Eurasian eagle owl at the National Aviary (photo by meihua-stock via Pinterest and DeviantArt)

I don’t have recent videos of X or Dumbledore (they’ve been busy off camera!) so to give you an idea of how big a Eurasian eagle owl is and how calm one can be as an avian ambassador, watch the public’s reaction when an owl visited the Hive Library in Worcester, UK with BBC Earth Unplugged.

video embedded from BBC Earth Unplugged

Guests are encouraged to drop by on weekdays to see the Eurasian eagle owl chick as he grows! He is the 11th chick his parents have hatched at the National Aviary over the years.

(credits and links are in the captions)

Flaco Died of a Window Strike

Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl in Central Park shortly after he escaped his damaged cage, 18 Feb 2023 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 March 2024

One week ago today, on 23 Feb 2024, the most famous owl in New York City hit a window on West 89th Street and died.

Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) escaped his enclosure at the Central Park Zoo more than a year ago after a vandal damaged it on 2 Feb 2023. The zoo tried to recapture him and worried that he would starve or be hit by a car. Instead Flaco thrived on his own and became a symbol of freedom to many New Yorkers.

A crowd watches Flaco on 18 Feb 2023 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

He endeared himself to apartment dwellers by sometimes visiting their highrise windows or perching on their fire escapes.

Flaco peeping in a window in NYC, Dec 2023 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Sadly a window was Flaco’s undoing. Flaco’s biggest fan, David Lei (@davidlei), reported:

Memorials sprung up instantly.

Memorial to Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl, New York City, 25 Feb 2024 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Flaco’s death was covered in the New York Times: Flaco, Escaped Central Park Zoo Owl and Defier of Doubts, Is Dead and commented on by the zoo where he lived most of his life.

His story should not be over, though. Flaco was not the only bird to die of a window strike in North America. He was merely the most famous. Nearly one billion birds per year hit windows in the U.S.

If your home has ever experienced a window strike please implement one of these techniques to prevent further collisions and deaths.

Find out more at this vintage blog, written after one of our young peregrines died of a window strike.

I hope Flaco’s death inspires everyone to do more to prevent bird deaths at windows.

(credits are in the captions)

Gentle With Their Young

Male Eurasian sparrowhawk plucking prey (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

23 February 2024

Birds of prey are fierce while they gather food but gentle with their nestlings. Watch as this mother Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) protects her babies from the rain.

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.

Eurasian sparrowhawk, female in UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Adult sharp-shinned hawk (left) + adult male Eurasian sparrowhawk (Wikimedia photos are at the links)

Did you notice the difference in eye color? Sparrowhawks have yellow eyes. Sharpies have orange eyes.

See more nature videos at Robert E. Fuller’s channel on YouTube.

(credits are in the captions)

First Egg at the Hays Eagle Nest, 2024

Hays bald eagle pair + first egg in nest, 21 Feb 2024, 6:57am (screenshot from the Hays Bald Eagle Nest Camera)

21 February 2024

If you haven’t been watching the Hays Bald Eaglecam, now is a good time to start. Sharp observers saw the first egg of the 2024 nesting season last night, 20 February 2024, at 8:16pm.

The female incubated all night long, then just before dawn she turned the egg for all to see.

Hays bald eagle female turns her first egg of 2024, 21 Feb, 6:50am (screenshot from the Hays Bald Eagle Nest Camera)

As the sun rose she settled down and her mate called to her.

Female eagle on the nest at Hays, 21 Feb 2024, 6:54am (screenshot from the Hays Bald Eagle Nest Camera)

… So she left the nest to perch next to him (shown at top).

First egg at the Hays bald eagle nest as seen on 21 Feb 2024, 6:55am (screenshot from the Hays Bald Eagle Nest Camera)

Watch for one or two more eggs in the days ahead and stay tuned for the first pip on this egg about 35 days from now. Here are all the links you need.

(screenshot photos from the Hays Bald Eagle Nest Camera)

It’s Eaglecam Season in Pittsburgh

Hays bald eagles flying together, new male + female on 22 Oct 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

5 February 2024

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.

When plant manager Don German at USS Irvin heard about the Hays camera troubles he stepped in to help. Mary Ann Thomas writes in the Post-Gazette, “A U.S. Steel plant manager contacted Duquesne Light to install a transformer. They flipped the power on Friday [2 February].” Read more about the upgrade at U.S. Steel manager and Duquesne Light boost power to Hays bald eagle webcam.

Watch eagles online at two sites:

Hays Bald Eagle Nest Camera: The female eagle who nested at Hays in 2013 is still on site today, this year with a new mate nicknamed “V.” Watch them raise their first family together at these links.

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:

This is the month! Who will lay the first egg? Watch and see.

(photo of Hays bald eagle pair by Dana Nestiti at Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Africa’s Fish Eagle is a Lot Like Ours

Bald eagle (on left by Steve Gosser) and African fish eagle (on right from Wikimedia)

28 January 2024: Day 10, Chobe National Park by boat, Botswana — Road Scholar Southern Africa Birding Safari. Click here to see (generally) where I am today.

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.

African fish eagle carrying a fish (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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).

African fish eagle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Birds of the World: African fish eagle

If you watch bald eagles, you’ll recognize the African fish eagle’s hunting technique.

video embedded from South Cape Images Photography on YouTube

African fish eagles are louder than bald eagles; they sound almost like gulls. Just as for bald eagles the female is larger — she’s on the left.

video embedded from Tekweni on YouTube

Here’s a pair of bald eagles calling for comparison. Their voices are much softer.

video embedded from Wandering Sole Images on YouTube

It’s no wonder these two were in the same genus for so long.

p.s. Fish eagles were easy to find along the Chobe River at the Botswana-Namibia border.

(credits are in the captions)

Most Spectacular Raptor Migration in the World

Amur Falcon, male in South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

27 January 2024: Day 9, Chobe National Park, Botswana — Road Scholar Southern Africa Birding Safari. Click here to see (generally) where I am today.

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.

Male Amur falcon eating an insect in flight in South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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.
Range map and migration route of Amur falcon (image from Wikimedia Commons, annotated)

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.

video embedded from Ace Ventura on YouTube

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.

Amur falcons gather at Pangti, Nagaland, India on migration (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In 2018 Scott Weidensaul went to Pangti to see the birds and tell their amazing story in A Galaxy Of Falcons: Witnessing The Amur Falcon’s Massive Migration Flocks. Birders flocked to the spectacle last fall.

UPDATE on 29 January 2024: I was fortunate to see a female Amur falcon in Namibia today, swooping for insects near the Chobe River. (These photos are from Wikimedia.)

Female Amur falcon, South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For more information see:

The Earliest Nest

Great horned owl using an osprey nest on Merritt Island, 4 Jan 2011 (photo by Chuck Tague)

15 January 2024

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.

Watch the nest on the Hilton Head Island Land Trust Raptorcam. Follow their latest news on Hilton Head Island Land Trust’s Facebook page.

Screenshots of great horned owl nest at Hilton Head Island Land Trust, 15 Jan 2024 during the 6 o’clock hour

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.