Category Archives: Birds of Prey

New Eaglet at Harmar

First eaglet of 2018 at the Harmar bald eagle nest (photo from Audubon Society of Western PA)
First eaglet of 2018 at the Harmar bald eagle nest (photo from Audubon Society of Western PA)

Yesterday morning the first egg hatched at the Harmar bald eagle nest high above the Allegheny River.

In the midst of April snow his parents were very attentive as he made his way out of the egg. Fortunately the snow was gone by afternoon.  (video from Audubon Society of Western PA (ASWP))

 

Meanwhile over by the Monongahela River, the Hays eaglet is now eleven days old and will be an "only child" this season.  The last egg is not viable though it's still in the nest.   ASWP posted this snapshot yesterday on their Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page.

10-day-old eaglet at the Hays bald eagle nest, 2 April 2018 (photo from Audubon Society of Western PA's Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page)
10-day-old eaglet at the Hays bald eagle nest, 2 April 2018 (photo from Audubon Society of Western PA's Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page)

Watch the Harmar eaglecam for the second egg to hatch in the days ahead.

Keep tabs on the Hays eaglet at the Hays live feed.

And for all the latest eagle news, join the eagle watching community at Audubon Society of Western PA's Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page.

 

(photos and videos from the Audubon Society of Western PA's Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page)

UPDATE:  Second eaglet hatched at Harmar on April 3 at 4:30pm:

Eagle Baby Pictures

Hays bald eagle family, 25 March 2018: two parents, one chick, one egg (photo via ASWP Facebook page)
Hays bald eagle family, 25 March 2018: two parents, one chick, one egg (photo via ASWP Facebook page)

While I was out of the country I missed this year's first hatching event at the Hays bald eagle nest on March 23.

The video below from Pix Controller's Facebook page shows the eaglet on March 24.  The photo above from ASWP shows the entire family on March 25.

Though the mother eagle laid three eggs in February, she's expecting only two to hatch.  Here's this year's history:

  • Egg #1 laid on February 13
  • Egg #2 laid on February 15
  • Egg #3 laid on February 19
  • One of the three eggs cracked. It was not viable and was removed by the parents.
  • Hatch #1: March 23
  • Hatch #2:  ... UPDATE on MARCH 31: the egg is not viable and will not hatch

When will the second egg hatch?  If the timing of first hatch works for the second one, the last egg will hatch between March 25 (if the remaining egg is Egg #2) and March 29 (if it's Egg #3). But my math could be wrong.

For more eagle baby pictures and videos visit the Audubon Society of Western PA's Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page.  You don't have to be a Facebook member to see them.

Meanwhile, Hatch Watch continues.  Click here to see the live feed at ASWP.

 

(photo of the Hays bald eagle family from the Audubon Society of Western PA's Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page; video from Pix Controller Facebook page)

The King

King vulture, pivoting on foot (photo by April M King via Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture, pivoting on foot (photo by April M. King via Wikimedia Commons)

On a birding trip to Panama:

In the skies over Central and South America you may see The King soaring overhead.

As large as a bald eagle, the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) can weigh up to 10 pounds with a wingspan seven feet long.

From below he's unmistakable -- all white with black flight feathers, a black tail and a dot for his head.  His head looks small because he's bald.

King vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If he came in for a landing you'd see that his bare skin is colorful -- yellow, red and orange.

King vulture, flying lower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Though the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is related to condors and our familiar turkey and black vultures, he's the only surviving member of his genus.  His last name, papa, is Latin for pope and was chosen because his white and black feathers resemble a pope's vestments.

King vulture at National Zoo in DC (photo via Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture at National Zoo in DC (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

No matter his title, king or pope, the King is in charge at the dinner table.  His powerful beak tears open carcasses. When he arrives on the scene other vultures move away.

Like royalty, the King eats first.  When he's finished everyone else can dine.

 

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

Day 3:  Pipeline Road on the border of the Soberania National Park

Eagle Eggs In Pittsburgh

Harmar bald eagle with first egg, 25 Feb 2018. Steve Gosser is visible in the parking lot below (photo from the ASWP Harmar bald eaglecam)
Harmar bald eagle with first egg, 25 Feb 2018. Steve Gosser is visible in the parking lot below (photo from the ASWP Harmar bald eaglecam)

As of Saturday night we have bald eagle eggs in both of Pittsburgh's on-camera nests.

Near the Allegheny River, the Harmar female laid her first egg for 2018 on Saturday evening 24 February around 5 pm. 

On Sunday Steve Gosser went to the Harmar viewing area and was seen on the eaglecam as a speck in the parking lot far below (photo at top).  He calls it his first Eaglecam selfie.  If you visit the gravel parking lot on Freeport Road near the Hulton Bridge, you might get an eaglecam selfie too.  😉

At the Hays bald eagle nest near the Monongahela River there have been three eggs since February 19, but we haven't been able to watch them "live." Pittsburgh's overcast skies have kept the Hays solar panels too low to broadcast.   No selfies over there!

The sun made a brief appearance yesterday and is due to shine today so the Hays eaglecam will probably return soon at ASWP's Hays Eagle Nest webpage.

Meanwhile, here's a snapshot of the three Hays eggs on February 22 plus links to videos of the three eggs' first appearances.

Adult bald eagle at Hays nest arranges aleaf near her three eggs, 22 Feb 2018 (snapshot from the Hays bald eaglecam via ASWP)
Hays nest with three eggs, 22 Feb 2018 (snapshot from the Hays bald eaglecam via ASWP)

Keep up with both nests on Facebook at Bald Eagles in Western Pennsylvania -- Audubon Society of Western PA or visit the Audubon Society of Western PA's bald eagle webpage for links to the cams and the latest news.

 

(photos and video from Audubon Society of Western PA's bald eaglecams at Harmar and Hays)

A Snowy Winter

Snowy owl near Boston, MA, Feb 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)
Snowy owl, Plum Island, Massachusetts, early Feb 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

This winter has been great for seeing snowy owls in the northeastern U.S. as lots of them have come down from the Arctic for a visit.   Lauri Shaffer photographed these two at Plum Island, Massachusetts near Boston early this month.

Snowy owl, Plum Island, MA, early Feb 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)
Snowy owl female, Plum Island, MA, early Feb 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

Snowy owls love wide open landscapes so they're often attracted to airports.  One was seen at Pittsburgh International Airport in January but birders couldn't go see it because it was in a secured area.

When an owl chooses Boston's Logan Airport, Norman Smith (director at Blue Hills Trailside Museum) is called in to capture and relocate the owl for the safety of the bird and the planes.  In this video from Massachusetts Audubon, he releases Snowy Owl #26 at Duxbury Beach on January 29.    See the story of this owl at Massachusetts Audubon's blog post, Releasing Snowy Owl #26.

 

Norman is one of the founders of Project SNOWSTORM, a project that fits snowy owls with transmitters to track their movements.  It's been such a productive winter that the project is now tracking 24 owls!   Watch their movements online at the Project SNOWSTORM website.

Even though our weather may be crazy hot and cold, it's been a "snowy" winter.

 

(photos above by Lauri Shaffer at birdingpictures.com, video from YouTube by Massachusetts Audubon, photo below by Kate St.John)

p.s. Last week I saw a snowy owl in Mercer County, PA, shown in a (lousy!) photo taken through my scope.  The owl was much better in real life.

Snowy owl, Mercer County, PA 13 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Snowy owl, Mercer County, PA 13 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

First Egg At Hays Bald Eagle Nest, Feb 13

First egg at Hays Bald Eagle nest,13 Feb 2018 (photo from Pix Controller Facebook page)
First egg at Hays Bald Eagle nest,13 Feb 2018 (photo from Pix Controller Facebook page)

The female bald eagle at Hays laid her first egg of the season last night. This photo was captured by PixController and posted on their Facebook page.

Watch the Hays Bald Eagles on camera at this link.

Happy Spring!

 

p.s. February 13 is also the date she laid her first egg in 2016. Amazing.

(photo from the Hays Bald Eagle camera via PixController)

Flying a Ferruginous Hawk

Before my trip to California's Central Valley last month I wanted to be sure I could recognize a ferruginous hawk, so I looked for a video of one in flight.

This video from Falconer's Apprentice Media shows an immature bird in training.  Like all light phase ferruginous hawks he is very white underneath.  Brown above (immature), he has reddish highlights.

The audio portion explains that ferruginous hawks are hard to work with.  This quote from the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program explains why:

"Ferruginous Hawks are mean and wild, and have no qualms whatsoever about defending themselves.  When the Humans are taking care of an injured Ferruginous Hawk here at the RMRP, only very experienced catchers take on this bird.

The reason for this intense attitude could stem from where these birds live: on the plains.  While nests will be built in trees if they're available, Ferruginous Hawks usually nest in open areas such as rock outcrops, or simply on the ground.  The plains environment just doesn't provide many protected nesting opportunities. Since nesting sites are so exposed, the birds have to be able to defend themselves not only from aerial predators like most Raptors have to, but also from terrestrial predators like Coyotes. And if the chicks are on the ground for the first month of their lives, you can expect the chicks to be as fierce as the parents."

-- from The Owl's Perch: Why Ferruginous Hawks are Awesome

Knowing this we can appreciate the commitment, bond, and patience it takes to fly a ferruginous hawk.

 

p.s.  I saw my Life Bird ferruginous hawk at Lassen Road in Tehama County, California.  It flew across the road in front of me, a beautiful adult with a white belly, rufous back, and light rufous tail (white underneath). Woo hoo!

(video from Falconry Told on YouTube)

Who Is This White Hawk?

Leucistic red-tailed hawk near Berthoud, Colorado, 2017 (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr)
Leucistic red-tailed hawk near Berthoud, Colorado, 2017 (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr)

Have you ever seen a distant white raptor and hoped it was a snowy owl or gyrfalcon?  I have, but I'm usually wrong.  Both species are rare and neither is here in spring or summer.

Snowy owls and gyrfalcons only visit Pennsylvania in late fall or winter.  In most years snowies don't come to the Pittsburgh area at all (this year is an exception) and gyrfalcons are never here.  In over 100 years only 41 gyrfalcons were reported statewide (see *1 below).

And yet we still see an occasional rare white raptor, even in the summer.  What hawk is this?  In nearly every case it's a leucistic red-tailed hawk.

"Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes." (quoted from Wikipedia).  The condition is rare but red-tails are our most common hawk so it's not surprising to find it in a numerous population.

The whiteness varies from hawk to hawk and even from year to year.  Sometimes leucistic red-tails are spotted brown, sometimes they're entirely white.  Pat Gaines photographed a speckled one in Berthoud, Colorado this winter (above) and an all-white bird in North Denver in 2010 (below).  Neither bird is albino because its eyes are the normal color, not pink.

Leucistic red-tailed hawk in North Denver, Colorado, 2010 (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr)
Leucistic red-tailed hawk in North Denver, Colorado, 2010 (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr)

Even the all-white birds have at least one normally-colored feather.  It's a tail feather on this hawk, as shown in Pat's photo below.

One red tail feather: Leucistic red-tailed hawk in North Denver, Colorado, 2010 (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr)
One red tail feather: Leucistic red-tailed hawk in North Denver, Colorado, 2010 (photo by Pat Gaines via Flickr)

So what makes them white?

A study of color aberrations among Indian birds listed six reasons for pale or white feathers. (Download the report here: How common is albinism really? Colour aberrations in Indian birds reviewed.)

  • Albino (pink eyes) is a hereditary pigment error. Albinos are rarely seen because they die young due to poor eyesight.
  • Leucism (normal eyes) is a hereditary lack of both melanin pigments.  Some feathers are normal color.
  • Progressive graying.  Oh my!  A few birds turn "gray" as they age, becoming progressively whiter as they molt each year.
  • Brown. Normally black feathers are brown and sensitive to light so they bleach out in the sun.  This mutation is only expressed in females.
  • Dilution. Black feathers are silvery gray.  Therefore the bird looks pale.
  • Ino is like albino but not as severe. The bird does not have pink eyes and thus lives longer than a true albino.

Even so, we can't know why each bird is white without a lot of study.

So who is that white hawk in Pennsylvania?  It's probably a leucistic red-tailed hawk.

 

(photos by Pat Gaines)

(*1) How rare are gyrfalcons in PA?   In 1982 and 1984, DVOC's Cassinia analyzed all the reports of gyrfalcons in Pennsylvania. From the mid 1870's to 1984 only 41 were confirmed: Gyrfalcon Records in Pennsylvania, Part One, 1982 and Gyrfalcon Records in Pennsylvania, Part Two, 1984.  Most reports were in Schuykill, Carbon, Berks, Lehigh and Lancaster counties with only 2 reports at Presque Isle, Erie County (there have been more since then).  As of 1984, the most recent sighting of a gyrfalcon in Pittsburgh's 11-county metro area was 1 bird in Westmoreland County in January 1913.

Only In California

Yellow-billed magpie, San Benito County, CA (photo by J. Maughn via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Yellow-billed magpie, San Benito County, CA (photo by J. Maughn via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

There are three species of magpies on earth but this one, the yellow-billed magpie (Pica nutalli), lives only in the open oak savannah of central and southern California.

Even though barn owls (Tyto alba) occur worldwide this video could only happen there.

Like all magpies the birds are brave and relentless.  One of them pulls the owl's wing!

What are the three Pica species? Eurasian (Pica pica) in Europe and Asia, black-billed (Pica hudsonia) in western North America, and yellow-billed (Pica nutalli) only in California.

 

(photo by J. Maughn on Flickr, Creative Commons license; click on the image to see the original. Video by Charles Sullivan on YouTube)

p.s.  Yellow-billed magpies are hard to find near Chico, California ever since West Nile Virus came through.  I was afraid I'd never see one but J. Maughn (his photo is at top) suggested looking at eBird for recent sightings.  Ta dah!  I went to a place near Big Chico Creek where magpies had been seen this month and found a pair building a nest.  Life Bird!

 

In The Ferruginous Zone

Ferruginous Hawk, Arizona, 7 Feb 2009 (photo by Dominic Sherony via Wikimedia Commons)
Ferruginous Hawk, Arizona, 7 Feb 2009 (photo by Dominic Sherony via Wikimedia Commons)

Five years ago at the San Diego Bird Festival I had three target Life Birds: white-tailed kite, mountain bluebird, and ferruginous hawk.

I saw white-tailed kites on the Festival field trips.  I missed mountain bluebirds that year but saw them in Montana in 2016.  But the ferruginous hawk, pictured above, is still on my target list.

On the spur of the moment I used up my Southwest Airlines points to fly+drive to Chico, California for the Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway.  Right now I'm where those hawks spend the winter -- in the "ferruginous zone."

On Throw Back Thursday, read more about this big western hawk at The Color of Rust.

I hope to see one.

 

UPDATE 26 Jan 2018: Hooray! I did see one at Lassen Road, Tehama County, California.

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