In North America we call our smallest falcon a “kestrel” (Falco sparverius) because it resembles the well known Eurasian or common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) in Europe. Both are cavity nesters that use holes in cliffs, trees or buildings.
Wildlife artist and blogger Robert E Fuller (@RobertEFuller) has live nest cameras at his farm in Yorkshire, England including two on common kestrel nests. When he tweeted this video three days ago the eggs in Jeff and Jenny’s nest were about to hatch. Yesterday the first three hatched. Today the chicks are growing fast and the last egg awaits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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!
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.