Category Archives: Birds of Prey

Working Birds

Peregrine falcon “Charlie” at work at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Feb 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5 September 2022

On Labor Day let’s honor working birds.

Pictured above is a bird at work in 2009, a peregrine falcon named Charlie whose job was to clear birds from the airfield at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. His full crop indicates that he’d already done his job that day but he was looking around anyway, just in case some birds came back.

Charlie is one of several working falcons who make it safe for flights to take off and land at Ramstein. Click on this link to see photos when Ramstein AB celebrated their falcon workers on Earth Day 2018.

And don’t miss this vintage article featuring Rufus, the Harris hawk who patrols Wimbledon. (Includes video!)

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Young Owls at Dusk

Barred owl juvenile, Frick Park, 23 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

27 July 2022

This spring a pair of barred owls (Strix varia) nested in Frick Park. The two nestlings fledged in June but won’t become independent until fall so Charity Kheshgi found all four family members when she looked for them last Friday. Here are the two youngsters at dusk.

Barred owl juveniles, Frick Park, 22 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

On Saturday she saw one juvenile, photo below and at top.

Barred owl juvenile, Frick Park, 23 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

And on Sunday both youngsters, one shown below.

Barred owl juvenile, Frick Park, 24 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

I went to see for myself and learned a helpful tip. If you’re looking for young owls at dusk, find the upset and shouting wood thrushes and robins. They will be dive-bombing the owl.

See more of Charity’s photos on Instagram.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Cooper’s Hawk Family Grows Up

Juvenile and adult Cooper’s hawks, Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

25 July 2022

This April Charity Kheshgi and I noticed Cooper’s hawks nesting in Frick Park and wondered when their young would fledge. In “Cooper’s Hawk Nesting Questions” I concluded the young would fly by June 22-26 at the latest. They were even later than that because…

This month we checked on their progress every few days. On 3 July the pair had four thriving youngsters who were walking on branches and making short hops. (Not fledged yet?) By 8 July the young could fly but they refused to leave the vicinity of the nest.

All four were still there on 14 July, flying well and begging near the nest. “Feed me!” Their father baby-sat, above, while their mother was out hunting. The young were very alert, especially when they saw “mom” coming home.

Two of four juvenile Cooper’s hawks, Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Two juvenile Cooper’s hawks near their former nest in Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

July 14th was the last time we saw all six family members together. Five days later they had dispersed. The Cooper’s hawk family had grown up.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Merlins Nest in Pittsburgh!

Adult female merlin at Chatham University, Pittsburgh, 21 July 2022 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz)

24 July 2022

Since the winter of 2016-2017 many of us have visited Schenley Park golf course at dusk from late December to late February to watch one to three merlins come in to roost.

Merlins (Falco columbarius) are small fast falcons about the size of pigeons, though pigeons outweigh them. Like their peregrine cousins, merlins declined because of DDT and their population retracted into Canada’s boreal forest. After DDT was outlawed, they recovered slowly and in 1995-2014 began to take up residence further south. Some began nesting in towns and cities.

This year it was Pittsburgh’s turn. On 18 March 2022 Malcolm Kurtz saw and heard two merlins vocalizing at Chatham University as if they intended to nest. Would they? Unlikely. Most eastern merlins nest in Canada. They had never nested in Allegheny County.

Four months later on 18 July Malcolm saw proof that they’d raised a family — a juvenile with parents at Chatham.

County record! Merlins are nesting in Pittsburgh!

Merlin family at Chatham University, juvenile in the center, 21 July 2022 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz)

Why Chatham?

Birds of the World, Merlin account explains: “Merlins do not build a nest and make few if any modifications to an old corvid or hawk nest. In cities, they nest in conifers in residential areas, school yards, parks, and cemeteries. High availability of safe nesting sites (corvid nests in spruces) and high prey abundance (house sparrows) appear to be two main reasons for urban populations of merlins.”

Yes, I’ve seen plenty of house sparrows in the merlins’ territory.

Merlin family at Chatham University, juvenile in the center, 21 July 2022 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz)

How long will the juvenile merlin hang around?

Again from Birds of the World, Merlin account, “Fledglings remain dependent upon adults and remain near nest sites for 1 to 4 weeks. They often hunt for dragonflies, which are abundant in July and August and may half-heartedly chase potential prey species or pigeons.”

Will the Chatham merlins be back next year? Perhaps nearby but not in the same nest. Merlins rarely use the same nest in two consecutive years. 

Watch for Malcolm Kurtz’s article on the merlins in an upcoming issue of Three Rivers Birding Club’s newsletter, The Peregrine. Check out his photos on Instagram.

(photos by Malcolm Kurtz)

p.s. Sounds! Here are examples of what merlins sound like in their nesting territory. Be alert for these calls in your neighborhood March-to-August.

Alarm near the nest, Xeno Canto 666137:

Female calling after mating with male, Xeno Canto 642023:

Adults and begging juvenile, Xeno Canto 642023:

Double Fledge Didn’t Work: Young Eagle Rescued at USS Irvin

Logo of USS Irvin Bald Eagle Camera

30 June 2022

There was excitement on Sunday 26 June when both eaglets at the USS Irvin bald eagle nest fledged at the same time. The eaglecam showed that when the first bird fledged, it knocked its sibling off the branch. Fortunately the second bird could still be seen on the eaglecam.

By Monday “footage showed multiple failed attempts by the [second] eagle to fly” and expert opinion determined the bird was missing so many key flight feathers that it had to be rescued.

On Monday evening 27 June, a PGC Game Warden and USS employees teamed up to find and rescue the eaglet. See a photo of the rescued eagle and find out how the bird’s sibling helped in Mary Ann Thomas’ Trib Live article: Game warden, U.S. Steel employees rescue bald eagle; bird’s sibling helped rescuers find it.

The article mentions that the eaglet will be unable to fly until next year. That’s because the flight feathers of bald eagles grow on a prescribed schedule rather than immediately upon feather loss.

In their first year of life eaglets grow their original flight feathers while in the nest, then wait until the following year to molt into Basic 1 plumage. The molt begins in the spring of their second calendar year and finishes with the tail feathers in late July–early August. This eaglet will have to wait a year to make its first flight.

(logo from USS Irvin Eaglecam, footage of the Double Fledge embedded from Pix)

Yesterday at Schenley Park: Nestlings and Blackpolls

Blackpoll warbler, Schenley Park, 22 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

23 May 2022

Six of us gathered at Schenley Park yesterday morning in perfect weather for a bird and nature walk. (The sixth is taking the picture.)

Great weather for an outing in Schenley Park, 22 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

First on the agenda was a look through my scope at the Pitt peregrines. Though we were half a mile from the Cathedral of Learning we could see one adult babysitting and two fluffy heads looking out the front of the nestbox. This is where the chicks were standing as we watched.

3 peregrine chicks at the Cathedral of Learning, 26 days old, 22 May 2022

Inside the park, a pair of red-tailed hawks is raising three chicks about the same age as the peregrines. We paused on our walk to watch them eat. Best views are from here.

Scroll through Charity Kheshgi’s Instagram photos to see our Best Birds including the blackpoll warbler pictured above.

In all we saw 25 species (https://ebird.org/checklist/S111010535). Not a high count but well worth the trip.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis): Saw 4, maybe 5: 1 or 2 adults + 3 young in nest.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  3
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  2
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  Saw 4: 1 adult via scope + 3 young in nest via falconcam.
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)  5
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  4
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  1
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  5    2 pairs
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  4
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  18
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  5
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  2
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)  2
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)  1
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  4
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  1
Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)  2    Seen!
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)  1

p.s. Charity’s photo of the rose-breasted grosbeak was taken after the walk.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Cooper’s Hawk Nesting Questions

Adult Cooper’s hawk (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

21 April 2022

On 12 April my friend Charity and I saw a Cooper’s hawk building a nest. Yesterday we saw an adult in the nest, incubating. We wondered about the process: When did nest building end? When did incubation begin? Does the male share incubation duties? How long before the eggs hatch?

The answers are fascinating because Cooper’s hawks don’t follow the expected rules. In the quotes from Birds of the World, below, did you know? …

  • Cooper’s hawks are a “common backyard breeding bird in cities of all sizes.”
  • Male Cooper’s hawks do most of the nest building. The female stops by occasionally to check on his progress and helps a bit, especially at the end.
  • Nest-mates have multiple genetic fathers. “Cooper’s Hawks exhibit high rates of extra-pair paternity involving both territorial and especially non-territorial floaters.”
  • Only the female has a brood patch. She does most of the incubation. The male takes over for short periods while she eats.
  • The female broods the chicks for two weeks, about twice as long as peregrines do.
  • Both parents tend the young.
Cooper’s hawk building a nest (photo by BrockmeyerPhoto)

Further details from Birds of the World help answer our questions about the nest:

  • Nest building takes 2 weeks.
  • Eggs are usually laid in the morning at 2 day intervals (occasionally 3 days) for a total of 3-5 eggs.
  • Incubation begins after the 3rd egg and lasts 34 days. The first 3 eggs hatch on the same day; the 4th and 5th eggs laid usually hatch 1 day later, occasionally up to 3 days later.
  • The young leave the nest at about 30 days (males) to 34 days (females), although able to clamber short distance in nest tree 4–5 days earlier.

The earliest schedule would be: Nest completion on 12 April, female laid 3 eggs 12-16 April, incubation began 16 April, hatching on 20 May, young leave the nest 19-23 June.

The latest schedule would be: Female began incubation 19 April, hatching on 23 May, young leave the nest 22-26 June.

I plan to stop by occasionally to see what’s up. The excitement will start in late May.

Meanwhile, see photos of a Cooper’s hawk family nesting in a backyard in this vintage article from 2017.

(top photo from Wikimedia Commons, nest-building photo by BrockmeyerPhoto)

Whooo’s There?

Great horned owl (photo by Alan Wolf via Flickr, CC license)

15 April 2022

At the end of March in Great Falls, Montana …

Meanwhile in southwestern Pennsylvania, great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) laid eggs in January/February and hatched young around the time of this video. Keep an eye out for activity above. As the owlets grow up their nests will become more obvious, even during the day.

For a view of Great Falls and other Montana towns see Montana Webcams here.

(photo by Alan Wolf via Flickr, CC license)

USS Irvin Eaglets Hatching Soon

5 April 2022

Early yesterday morning the mother bald eagle at the USS Irvin nest in West Mifflin turned her eggs and revealed a pip. You can see the pip in the video below.

Watch the USS Irvin Works Eaglecam for the first egg to hatch today.

This nest is only 5 miles away, as the crow flies, from the Hays bald eagles. For more information on this site see: New Eagle Cam at USS Irvin Works in the Mon Valley.

(screenshot and video from USS Irvin Works eaglecam)

The Clean Up Crew Is Back

Turkey vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

31 March 2022

Have you noticed them lately?

Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) are migrating over Pittsburgh during the warmest parts of the day. They returned to Hinckley, Ohio on 15 March. Now they’re here.

Since my first sighting of a lone turkey vulture on 10 March I now see groups of at least four every day, especially near their roosts.

Turkey vultures at the roost (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Very soon we are going to appreciate that the Clean Up Crew has returned to eat the dead things that rot in warm weather.

Unlike us, vultures can always eat what they want. Find out why in this vintage article.

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