Category Archives: Birds of Prey

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.

Remembering a Snowy Winter

Snowy owl at Presque Isle State Park, 29 Nov 2013 (photo by Shawn Collins)

7 January 2024

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.

Peregrine falcon attacking snowy owl at Gull Point, Erie, PA, 1 Dec 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Tom Johnson filmed two peregrines harassing snowy owls at Stone Harbor, New Jersey in January 2014.

Peregrines attack snowy owls at Stone Harbor, NJ in Jan 2014 (Video embedded from Cornell Lab on YouTube)

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.

Snow melted overnight in Pittsburgh: 6 Jan 2024 afternoon vs 7 Jan morning (via the National Aviary’s snapshot camera)

This winter we’re missing both snowies and snow.

(credits are in the captions)

Goshawks With Orange Eyes

Eurasian goshawk compared to American goshawks (images from Wikimedia Commons)

17 December 2023

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.”

Ranges of American goshawk versus Eurasian goshawk (maps from Wikimedia Commons)

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.”

Eurasian goshawk in Helsinki, Finland, 6 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Eurasian goshawk in Helsinki, Finland, 6 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The eye color difference is noted in Wikipedia and Birds of the World as well.

Eurasian goshawk:

 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.

Wikipedia: Eurasian goshawk

American goshawk:

Typical adult American goshawk (A. atricapillus) shows strong supercilium, red eyes, black head, and blue-gray back.

Wikipedia: American goshawk

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.

Merlin at Schenley Park

Merlin at Schenley Park, 12 Dec 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

16 December 2023

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.)

Sunset at Schenley Park’s golf course, 12 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Charity photographed her as a silhouette.

Merlin in Schenley Park after sunset, 12 Dec 2023

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.

Wildlife in the Borderlands

Ringtail resting on a rock, Phoenix, AZ (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 December 2023

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.

This vintage article explains.

UPDATE on 15 Dec: Here’s the Border Wall.