Category Archives: Birds of Prey

What do Ospreys have in common with Golden Retrievers?

Golden retriever at the beach (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

31 August 2021

When dogs get wet they shake it off.

So do ospreys.

It’s a bit trickier to shake off in the air.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, video embedded from YouTube, tweet embedded from @marktakesphoto)

Peregrines up, Goshawks down

Peregrine falcon mother feeding chicks, Ohio, 2020 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

4 August 2021

“The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to remove the peregrine falcon from the state’s threatened species list and place the northern goshawk on the state’s endangered-species list.” — PA Game Commission Press Release, 24 July 2021

In Pennsylvania peregrines are up, goshawks are down.

Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) went extinct east of the Mississippi in the 1960’s due to the long lasting effects of DDT. When the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1972 peregrines were among the first to be added to the list. Pennsylvania had gone from 44 nesting pairs to none.

Peregrine falcon at Gull Point, Presque Isle State Park, 2012 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Thanks to the Peregrine Recovery Program, captive-bred peregrines were released in the eastern U.S. in the 1970s through 1990s. The descendants of those birds thrive in new places, including Pittsburgh, in cities and on man-made structures. There are now 73 nesting pairs in Pennsylvania and their population is secure. Their recovery took 50 years.

Peregrine falcon Dorothy at the Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, June 2012 (photo by Peter Bell)

In my lifetime peregrine falcons went from extinct in Pennsylvania to my very own Yard Bird. What a happy day!

Unfortunately the news is not happy for northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) a shy, fierce raptor of the northern woods. Goshawks are so shy in the U.S. that human presence in their nesting zone can cause the nest to fail. (They are not as shy in Europe, photo below.)

Northern goshawk, Netherlands, 2018 (photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Goshawks have experienced range contraction and a dramatic population decline in Pennsylvania in the past 20 years. Though never plentiful, I haven’t seen one since 2018 and that was in Newfoundland, Canada.

Northern goshawk on nest, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona, 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Classifying the northern goshawk as an endangered species would further protect it by limiting or delaying certain activities within northern goshawk breeding habitat during courtship and nesting seasons.” — PA Game Commission Press Release, 24 July 2021

I look forward to a brighter future for the northern goshawk.

Approval of the peregrine’s and goshawk’s status will be brought to a final vote at the PA Game Commissioners’ September 2021 meeting.

For more information read this Trib-Live article by Mary Ann Thomas and the PA Game Commission 24 July 2021 press release.

(photos by Chad+Chris Saladin, Steve Gosser, Peter Bell, Martha de Jong-Lantink and Wikimedia Commons; click on the linked captions to see the originals)

Who Is The King of Birds?

Bald eagle, female at Hays, 24 July 2021 (photo by Theo Lodge)

2 August 2021

Many would say the bald eagle is the king of birds but when it comes to attitude, actions and name the small songbird attacking this eagle is both King and Tyrant.

Eastern kingbird attacks bald eagle, Hays, 24 July 2021 (photo by Theo Lodge)

Attitude: The eastern kingbird is often fierce and angry. This one is showing the orange-red crest he keeps hidden beneath his head feathers until he’s very, very mad.

Eastern kingbird (photo by Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren from Wikimedia Commons)

Actions: Eastern kingbirds relentlessly defend their territories and will (obviously) ride the backs of hawks and eagles to peck their heads. 

Males and sometimes females are very aggressive in territorial disputes [with other kingbirds], often resorting to aerial fights in which they lock feet together, pull out each other’s feathers, and sometimes fall to the ground. Eastern Kingbirds also attack large nest predators like crows and Blue Jays. Such aggression has been shown to increase their breeding success.

from Eastern Kingbird account, All About Birds

In late July when Theo Lodge took the attack photo, the kingbird was ensuring a successful breeding season by defending his “kids.” The juveniles look like adults now except for yellow mouths.

Juvenile eastern kingbird, 23 July 2013 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And so the eastern kingbird earned the common name of king and a scientific name, Tyrannus tyrannus, that doubles up on tyrant.

Enjoy them now in Pittsburgh. They’ll be gone by early September.

(eagle photos by Theo Lodge, kingbird photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Juvenile Hawks Cry Wolf

Juvenile red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park (photo by Jim Funderburgh)
Juvenile red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park, 2019 (photo by Jim Funderburgh)

28 July 2021

Have you heard this pathetic sound recently?

If you track it down you’ll find a young red-tailed hawk, possibly on the ground, calling as if it is in distress. There may be two of them walking around, jumping down from a perch, looking at their feet, and making the most heart-rending sounds. Despite their tone these juvenile hawks are not hurt. They are crying wolf.

In late July young red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) in southwestern Pennsylvania have been out of the nest for four to eight weeks. Their parents have taught them everything they need to know about capturing and killing prey but they lack experience. To gain it their parents drop them off at a fertile hunting ground and leave for the day. Their parents will return with food, but not right away.

Left alone the youngsters play at catching prey (video below) and progress from hunting insects and invertebrates to capturing small mammals. It takes weeks to make this kind of progress and they won’t do it if their parents are nearby.

Juvenile red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park, 2019 (photo by Jim Funderburgh)

Like any kids, they get impatient when it goes slowly and whine as loudly as possible. Sometimes they perch prominently to do it. “Come back! I want food now!”

Don’t worry when you hear or see a “distressed” juvenile red-tailed hawk. It’s crying wolf.

(photos and video of two hawks by Jim Funderburgh, video of one hawk by Christopher Booth on YouTube)

Hays Eaglets Growing Up

23 April 2021

The three youngsters in the Hays bald eagle nest have grown a lot in the weeks since they hatched on March 23 and 27. Their white natal down has been replaced by gray second down and they are showing pin feathers, the precursor to flight feathers and juvenile plumage.

On Wednesday 21 April they were glad to see food arrive. It was cold and there was snow on the nest.

You won’t see snow next Tuesday. Our high is forecast for 82 degrees F!

Watch the Hays eaglets grow on ASWP’s Hays Bald Eagle Nestcam.

p.s. This morning a squirrel is active below the nest while the adult eagles try to shoo it away. This squirrel probably doesn’t realize he could become lunch.

(photo and video from ASWP’s Hays Bald Eagle Nestcam)

Three Is Not a Crowd at Hays

Feeding time for 3 eaglets at the Hays bald eagle nest, 30 March 2021 (snapshot from ASWP’s Hays eaglecam)

31 March 2021

Yesterday was a great day to watch the three eaglets at the Hays bald eagle nest. It was warm and sunny so the nestlings were very active. The oldest (H13) even challenged his mother. “Feed me!” She gave him a stern look.

Today we’re in for all-day rain and falling temperatures to a low of just 24 degrees on Friday morning. At 6:30am today, rainwater beaded up on mother eagle’s back as she brooded them.

The eaglets are still so tiny that three is not a crowd — yet — at the Hays bald eagle nest. Watch them at ASWP’s Hays Bald Eagle Nestcam.

News from last Saturday 27 March: This year for the first time since 2014 all three eggs hatched at the Hays nest. The first two (H13 and H14) hatched 18 hours apart on 23 March. The last (H15) hatched on 27 March. In this snapshot from 3rd Hatch Day the oldest is four days old, the youngest is seven hours old.

Hays bald eagle nest on 3rd Hatch Day, Saturday 27 March 2021 (snapshot from ASWP’s Hays eaglecam)

(photos and video from ASWP’s Hays Bald Eagle Nestcam)

Osprey Back Yet?

Young osprey (photo by Dana Nesiti)

26 March 2021

There’s a Rule Of Thumb that says: Pittsburgh area osprey return from winter migration around St. Patrick’s Day.

This year the earliest eBird reports for southwestern Pennsylvania show osprey in Beaver and Butler Counties on 20 March 2021 and arriving this week along the Ohio River and at many lakes.

I haven’t seen an one yet so my goal this weekend will be to find an osprey, maybe at the Duquesne nest site.

My goal after that is to see an osprey do this …

(photo by Dana Nesiti)

Eagles and Peregrines Are On Different Schedules

First eaglet of 2021 in the Hays bald eagle nest, 23 March 2021 (photo from ASWP’s Bald Eagles of Western PA Facebook page)

23 March 2021

This week’s events at two Pittsburgh raptor nests show us that bald eagles and peregrine falcons are on different schedules during the breeding season.

At the Hays bald eagle nest the first eaglet of 2021 hatched early this morning. Audubon of Western PA announced that the eaglet broke out of his egg overnight and emerged at 3am, 23 March 2021. The “baby picture” above is from the ASWP Facebook page.

Meanwhile at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, 3.5 miles away, Morela laid her third egg yesterday morning. Peregrines typically lay 3-5 eggs so Morela may lay more. We won’t know until we see it.

The peregrine timelapse video below shows the adults may be incubating, though I wonder about Morela’s 90 minutes on the perch from 4p – 5:30p. If incubating has begun the hatch date will be a month from now, approximately April 20-24.

Interestingly, though the peregrines started nesting a month later than the eagles they will more than catch up in the end. The Pitt peregrine nestlings will fly at least a week before the Hays eaglets.

The Hays eagles schedule this year is …

  • First eagle egg laid = 12 February 2021
  • First eagle egg hatched, first chick = 23 March 2021
  • First flight expected = guessing June 11 – 20

The Pitt peregrines’ schedule is …

  • First peregrine egg = 17 March 2021
  • First peregrine hatch (most will hatch on the same day) = approximately 20-25 April.
  • First flight expected = guessing 30 May to 4 June.

Soon the Hays bald eagle nest will have active fluffy chicks while the Pitt peregrines will embark on The Big Sit. For the next month it will be more interesting to watch the eagles than the peregrines.

Follow the Hays bald eagles at Bald Eagles in Western Pennsylvania – Audubon Society of Western PA on Facebook. Watch them live at ASWP: Hays Nest.

Watch the Cathedral of Learning peregrines at the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.

(photo of first Hays eaglet from ASWP Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page, video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Nesting Underground

Burrowing owl in Florida (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

12 March 2021

Ah Spring! It’s time to nest.

Pennsylvania’s bald eagles are already on eggs in their huge stick-nests. Peregrine falcons are about to lay eggs on gravel ledges. Meanwhile, in Florida and southern California burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are preparing to nest underground.

Burrowing owls aren’t usually seen inside the nest because it’s dark in there. No problem. There’s plenty to see at the burrow entrance. Here’s a pair in Florida.

Happy Friday!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, tweet from Wendy @geococcyxcal in southern California, video from photoguy73)