Category Archives: Birds of Prey

About To Fly

3 chicks in red-tailed hawks’ nest, Schenley Park, 28 May 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

31 May 2023

Spring nesting season is continuing apace. The first batch of baby robins is learning to fly and some are old enough to forage on their own. Raptor fledglings are not far behind.

On Sunday 28 May we watched three red-tailed hawk chicks in a nest under the Panther Hollow Bridge in Schenley Park. This species hatches in the order the eggs are laid, each one two days younger than the last. The chicks clearly show their age difference in Charity Kheshgi’s video. One chick is getting ready to fly, one is still fluffy, and the middle one is halfway between.

Red-tailed hawks’ nest, Schenley Park, 28 May 2023 (video by Charity Kheshgi)

At the Tarentum Bridge on Sunday afternoon, John English and I watched three peregrine chicks lounging on top of the nestbox while an adult “babysat” nearby.

Adult female peregrine watches her ledge-walking chicks at the Tarentum Bridge, 28 May 2023 (photo by John English)

At first we saw only three chicks but after we moved to a better viewing location the fourth was on the top of the box as well, exercising his wings.

Four peregrine chicks at Tarentum Bridge, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Four peregrine chicks at Tarentum Bridge, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
One chick concentrates on exercising his wings (photo by Kate St. John)

And suddenly I saw him fly the length of the pier to the other end and back again to the top of the box! I have no photos of this feat but you get the idea. By today he may have fledged from the bridge.

All these birds are about to fly.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi, John English and Kate St. John)

Little Owl Loves The Rain

Little owl at Terwick Common, UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5 May 2023

After a cold wet week in Pittsburgh it’s hard to imagine being excited about rain but this little owl (Athene noctua) in Britain is loving it. (Yes, “little owl” is his common name.)

Thankfully at last today is bright and sunny in Pittsburgh.

By the way, the little owl of Eurasia could be mistaken in photos for our burrowing owl in the Americas. Both are in the genus Athene and they’re the same size and shape. Here they are side-by-side.

Little owl and burrowing owl (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

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

Remembering When: Two Owl Nests On Bridges

Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

30 March 2023

Seven years ago I wrote about two great-horned owl nests on local bridges — one on the Homestead Grays Bridge incubating eggs, the other with young at the Anderson Bridge in Schenley Park.

A lot has changed in seven years. At the Homestead Grays Bridge there is still a nest but it’s occupied by a red-tailed hawk this year. We saw the hawk incubating last Sunday from the Duck Hollow parking lot. Bring a scope if you stand here.

We view the red-tailed hawk’s nest on the Homestead Gray’s Bridge from Duck Hollow, 26 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The nest is where it’s always been, even seven years ago, on a cross bar flush to the upright above the pier. For better viewing, look at it from the Homestead side.

Location of red-tailed hawk’s nest at the Homestead Gray’s Bridge, 26 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile at the Anderson Bridge all is quiet. Even the traffic is gone. The bridge was closed suddenly in December 2022 for a four-month patching operation because it was too dangerous to stay open. Last week the project became a 3-4 year total rehab, though work won’t begin for another year.

Warning! Anderson Bridge closed (signs photographed in March 2023 by Kate St. John)

The bridge was rusty seven years ago when the owl family lived there. Imagine how bad it is now!

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Great horned owl family under the Anderson Bridge, April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Nearby residents sometimes hear a pair of owls hooting but no one has reported them on the bridge. I wonder where they are.

Read the tale of two owl nests in this vintage article from 2016:

(2016 great-horned owl photo by Dana Nesiti, remaining photos by Kate St. John)

Hatch Watch Begins at Hays Eagle Nest

Bald eagle on the Hays nest, 23 March 2023 (screenshot from Pittsburgh Hays Bald Eagle Camera at

24 March 2023

UPDATE on 26 March 2023: First egg hatched around noon on 26 March.

It’s been more than a month since the first egg was laid at the Hays bald eagle nest and today, 35 days later, we’re watching for a hatch.

Bald eagle eggs hatch in 34-41 days but thanks to‘s record keeping we know that the Hays eagles hatch at the early end of that spectrum. This year’s predictions are:

Estimated hatch dates (based on 35 days incubation):

Egg 1 – 3/24/23; Egg 2 – 3/27/23.

You can also:

(photos are screenshots from the Pittsburgh Hays Bald Eagle Camera at

Egg Watch in Progress at Pittsburgh Bald Eagle Nests

Hays bald eagles: Female and male vocalizing, 12 Feb 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti at Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

17 February 2023

It’s that time of year again when Southwestern Pennsylvania’s bald eagles refurbish their nests and start to lay eggs. Two Pittsburgh area nests, Hays and USS Irvin, are in the midst of Egg Watch.

Distance between Hays and Irvin eagles’ nests in Allegheny County (map generated from

Hays Bald Eagles:

Yesterday morning the camera was zoomed out to see both eagles at the nest tree. It will zoom close to watch for eggs. UPDATES

  • 1st hatch at Hays nest, 26 Mar 2023 @noon
  • 2nd hatch at Hays nest, 28 Mar 2023 @7pm
screenshot from Pittsburgh Hays Bald Eaglecam, ASWP, 16 Feb 2023, 7:53am

By the time you read this the first egg may have arrived, but watch for a second in the day(s) ahead. Here’s how:

USS Irvin Bald Eagles:

This pair has been on site since 2019 and on camera since December 2021. There is no in-person viewing location so check them out on the USS Irvin eaglecam. UPDATES:

YouTube splash screen of USS bald eagle cam at Irvin Works; click on the image to see the cam

(photo of Hays bald eagle pair by Dana Nestiti at Eagles of Hays PA, map via gmap-pedometer, screenshot from ASWP’s Hays Eaglecam, screenshot from USS Irvin Works eaglecam on YouTube)

On the Fringe of Their Range

Black vultures in Florida, 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

16 February 2023

Vultures used to abandon the Pittsburgh area in winter but as the climate heated up small groups of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) began to stay through the coldest months. Then about two years ago black vultures (Coragyps atratus), which are rare here at any time of year, changed their winter habits one bird at a time.

This winter a single black vulture has been roosting with turkey vultures on a cell tower near Audubon of Western PA’s Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. Every time someone reports him to eBird he pops up in a Rare Bird Alert.

Pennsylvania is the northern fringe of the black vulture’s winter range while the heartland is in Central and South America (see Jan-Feb eBird map below). In Ecuador I saw black vultures every day.

Black vulture sightings in Jan-Feb 2023 (screenshot from eBird)

If you want to see huge flocks of black vultures in winter, Florida is the place to be. They perch on buildings or stand around on dikes with their wings open.

Black vultures in Florida (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes they cause as much trouble as the keas (wild parrots) in New Zealand (video in 2019 below). Like our overabundance of winter crows, the overabundance of black vultures in Florida is a temporary winter problem.

video from WFTV on YouTube

Fifteen years ago Chuck Tague caught me mimicking the black vultures’ wing-open hopping gait.

Kate mimicking the black vulture dance, February 2007 (photo by Chuck Tague)

In this vintage article:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Chuck Tague, video from WFTV on YouTube)

A Very Tiny Hawk

Tiny hawk, female (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

15 February 2023

Only as big as a European starling, this accipiter native to Central and South America is aptly named the tiny hawk (Microspizias superciliosus).

Why is he so little? Because he eats the smallest birds.

Like all accipiters, the tiny hawk feeds primarily on birds. It hunts hummingbirds and small songbirds, by darting out from a place of concealment to snatch them as they pass by, but also ambushing them when the smaller birds are perched. There is some evidence that it learns the regular perches of some hummingbirds and hunts for them there. Some individuals also hunt rodents and bats.

Wikipedia: Tiny Hawk account

Interestingly his scientific species name, superciliosus, literally means “over and above the eyebrow” and is probably a description of the white line above his eye.

At first I misread the word as “supercilious” meaning arrogant or haughty. There’s a connection between the two words. Arrogant or haughty people sometimes raise one eyebrow to show their attitude toward others.

We didn’t see the tiny hawk during our Ecuador birding trip because we were in Mindo & the northwest highlands while he lives in the lowlands and foothills.

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

On Finding Pellets

Red-tailed hawk casting a pellet, 2018 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

22 January 2023

This red-tailed hawk is not consuming the lump near his mouth. He’s casting a pellet of indigestible bones, fur and feathers that came up from his gizzard. Pellets are a normal by-product of digestion in birds of prey. If you find one, it can tell you what the bird was eating.

We always find pellets during annual maintenance at the Pitt peregrine nestbox including these three found during our 9 January visit (paperclip for scale). The pellets can be many months old.

Peregrine pellets from Cathedral of Learning nestbox, 9 Jan 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A closeup shows feathers and bones (no fur*) but is not very enlightening due to the pellet’s age. Fortunately I stored the pellets in a ziploc bag. After they thawed a small fly appeared inside the bag, hatched from eggs laid on the pellet in much warmer weather. Ewww!

Closeup of peregrine pellet (photo by Kate St. John)

I imagine the pellets came from Morela since the green perch is one of her favorite places to rest and digest.

Morela casting a pellet, 17 Dec 2021 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine pellets are slightly longer than a paperclip. Some birds make much larger pellets.

On a hike at Audubon Greenway Conservation Area last Wednesday we found a surprisingly large pellet containing fur, bones and a big tooth. It was so large that we wondered if a bird could produce it. I didn’t pick it up but it looked as though it could span my palm.

Pellet found at Audubon Greenway, 18 Jan 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Alternate view of pellet found at Audubon Greenway, 18 Jan 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A Google search revealed that great horned owl pellets are 3 to 4 inches long, usually cylindrical and tightly compacted. This one may have opened up because it was soaked by heavy rain.

Great-horned owl clutching a feather (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So what did the owl eat? Whose big tooth was that?

Learn more about owl pellets at The Owl Pages: Digestion in Owls.

* p.s. There is no fur in peregrine pellets because they don’t eat mammals, only birds.

(photos from Chad+Chris Saladin, Kate St. John, the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh and Wikimedia Commons)

Seen This Week

Sunrise, 11 Jan 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

14 January 2023

The sunrise was gorgeous and cold last Wednesday when a group of us decided to walk at Jennings in Butler County. We saw few birds but there were ice heaves, buttress roots on an elm, and the seeds of old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii).

Ice heave at Jennings, Butler County 11 Jan 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Elm tree with buttress roots, Jennings, Butler County, 11 Jan 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

When old man’s beard is in bloom it’s called virgin’s bower, transforming it from a young woman to an old man in a matter of months.

Seeds of Virgin’s bower, a.k.a. Old man’s beard, Jennings, Butler County, 11 Jan 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

My friends who live north of the city have not seen many dark-eyed juncos at their feeders this winter, but juncos are definitely present at the Frick Park Environmental Education Center. Charity Kheshgi posted photos of our recent trip to Frick.

(bird photos by Charity Kheshgi embedded from Instagram, all other photos by Kate St. John)

Golden Eagle Special on WQED, Dec 21

Golden eagle at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, 2 Nov 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

19 December 2022

Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) occur worldwide in the northern hemisphere but are quite rare in Pittsburgh though we see them on migration at the Allegheny Front. Their stronghold in North America is in the American West but now the birds face many threats.

Pittsburgh conservation filmmakers, David and Melissa Rohm of Wild Excellence Films, went to Wyoming to learn about the challenges the eagles face and meet the people working to save them. Their film, Golden Eagles: Witnesses to a Changing West, will air on WQED this coming Wednesday, 21 December 2022 at 10:00pm.

Coming to WQED on Wednesday 21 December 2022 at 10pm

In the film we learn that golden eagles prefer wide open spaces without human interference so when we move in, they move out. They’ve disappeared from many areas heavily disturbed by humans and, according to Birds of the World, most North American nesting populations are declining or below carrying capacity due, in part, to anthropogenic related mortality.

Golden eagle range map (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Watch eagle researchers rappel down cliffs to band golden eagle chicks. Visit wildlife rehabilitation centers where eagles are treated for lead poisoning. Hear Indigenous people’s connections to the largest eagle in the American West.

Don’t miss Golden Eagles: Witnesses to a Changing West on WQED on Wednesday, 21 December 21, at 10pm.

(photo of golden eagle at the Allegheny Front by Steve Gosser, map from Wikimedia Commons, remaining images from Wild Excellence Films, click on the captions to see the originals)