Category Archives: Birds of Prey

Hays Eagles: Hatching & Action at Duck Hollow

Female at Hays bald eagle nest, 21 March 2022, 06:58a (snapshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

21 March 2022

Lots of news this morning!

At the Hays bald eagle nest the first pip was confirmed yesterday morning at 8:36am. You can see the pip in the video below. Watch the Hays bald eaglecam for the first egg to hatch today.

Six of us braved the drizzle yesterday morning at Duck Hollow and were rewarded with an exciting visit from one of the Hays bald eagles. Connie Gallagher captured part of the action in photos.

Fix participants at the Duck Hollow outing, 20 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

It all began with two herring gulls on the mud spit, manipulating a large fish.

Two herring gulls with a big fish, 20 March 2022, 8:45am (photo by Connie Gallagher)

The gulls hadn’t made much progress opening the fish when they saw the male Hays bald eagle flying upriver toward Duck Hollow. All the waterbirds could tell the eagle wanted that fish. The ducks stayed put, the gulls quickly stashed the fish and flew up calling and complaining.

Hays bald eagle wanted that fish (photo by Connie Gallagher)

The eagle made three dropped-talon passes at the fish but it was too hard to grab in flight. Meanwhile the gulls divebombed him and chased him every time. That fish was stashed so tightly that the eagle would have to land to get it. But the gulls were relentlessly annoying.

Finally the eagle left and the gulls resumed their meal, watched by a crow.

Herring gulls resume their meal, 20 March 2022, 10am (photo by Connie Gallagher)

In all we saw 29 species including an odd mixed-up mallard who might be an “intersex hen.” Photos are on our checklist here.

So glad we went birding in the rain!

p.s. At the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, Morela laid her second egg this morning, 21 March, around 3am. You can see both eggs by the light of the moon. Watch the peregrines at the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh

Morela with two eggs, Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, 21 March, 4am (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

(photos by Kate St. John, Connie Gallagher and snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hays Bald Eagles: Pip Watch

Female bald eagle on nest at Hays, Pittsburgh, 17 Mar 2022, 17:54 (snapshot from Hays Bald Eaglecam)

18 March 2022

It’s “Pip Watch Week” at the Hays bald eagle nest. Hatching of the first egg is expected any day now.

Bald eagle eggs hatch, on average, after 35 days of incubation. At the Hays nest this pair has hatched 15 eggs over the past nine years, averaging just over 36 days per egg. Their first egg of the season, laid on 11 Feb 2022, is due to hatch soon. 35 days is today (18 March), 36 days is tomorrow (19 March).

Our hint that it’s close to hatch time will be a hole in the shell — a pip — hammered by the chick who’s preparing to hatch. After pipping the egg it takes an eaglet as much as a day to break out of his shell. Read the step-by-step hatching process here.

It won’t be long now. Watch for hatching at the Hays bald eaglecam. By the time you read this article the first eaglet may be here!

p.s. Five miles away, the USS Irvin bald eagles have two eggs. The first was laid on 27 Feb so Pip Watch will start there at the beginning of April. Click on this link to watch the USS Irvin bald eaglecam. Approximate first hatch date there is 2/27/2022 + 35 days = 4/4/2022.

(snapshot from the Hays bald eaglecam via PixCams)

Focus in the Midst of Distractions

Immature red-tailed hawk focused on prey (photo by Chuck Tague)

10 March 2022

Despite distractions we humans can focus on just one thing if we want to. Birds of prey can do it, too, as seen in this video of a red-tailed hawk in Tompkins Square Park, New York. The hawk doesn’t care about squirrels or people or the ambulance but when he sees a rat …!

This ability to focus is called selective attention and was proven eight years ago in chickens. See this vintage article, Selective Attention in Chickens, with an amazing video to test your own selective attention.

Bonus test: After you see the video in the chicken article, try another test. (This test + answer lasts 3 minutes. The remaining 2 minutes show family & friends reactions.)

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. Videos embedded from YouTube)

Soaring Is A Signal

Red-tailed hawk soaring, 2013 (photo by Cris Hamilton)

3 March 2022

In March red-tailed hawks conspicuously soar over western Pennsylvania. They take to the skies alone or in pairs to soar and dive and dangle talons. Sometimes they even scream.

What is all this soaring about? It’s a multi-purpose signal.

Pair of red-tailed hawks soaring (photo by Melissa McMasters via Wikimedia Commons)

Soaring is part of hunting and migration of course, but in the spring it’s a way to claim territory, advertise availability to potential mates, and cement the pair bond.

What better way to tell other red-tailed hawks that a territory is already taken than by soaring above it? Adults do this alone and in pairs. Unwelcome red-tails are escorted away. “This is mine!”

A lone red-tail also soars to advertise for a mate saying, “This is mine and I need a mate to share it.” (I have no idea how they signal the difference between ‘stay away’ and ‘come here.’)

Before the female lays eggs pairs of red-tailed hawks soar to cement their pair bond.

Prenesting displays typically consist of both birds soaring in wide circles at high altitudes and the male performing maneuvers similar to the Sky-dance [in which the] bird dives steeply from high altitude, checks descent and shoots immediately upward at similarly steep angle.

After several series of dives and ascents, the male slowly approaches the female from above, extends his legs and touches or grasps her momentarily. Frequently, both birds dangle their legs during aerial maneuvers. The birds may grasp one another’s beak or interlock talons and spiral toward the ground. Piercing screams and quiet, raspy calls often accompany courtship flight displays.

Birds of the World: Courtship displays of the Red-tailed Hawk
A pair of red-tailed hawks dangles talons in a courtship display in Santa Barbara (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the video below you’ll see a pair soaring, dropping talons, and persuading a third bird to leave.

For red-tailed hawks soaring is a signal.

(photos by Cris Hamilton and from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Cutest Bird of the Year

Burrowing owl, Imperial County, CA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

20 February 2022, San Diego Bird Festival, Big Day across the county

In more than a decade of choosing an annual ABA Bird of the Year, this year’s choice, the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), has the most personality. It’s hard to look at one posing near it’s burrow without seeing its defiant and endearing stance.

The owls, of course, take themselves seriously, choosing a mate, finding an appropriate prairie dog, ground squirrel or man-made burrow to nest in, and raising a family.

Burrowing owls at man-made nest near Salton Sea (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The owls have had recent success in Imperial County, California where many of these photos were taken. Unfortunately by 2019 their population in nearby San Diego County was down to 75 pairs due to habitat loss and destruction of the ground squirrels whose holes the birds rely on.

In 2020 researchers began to turn that around by releasing eight young owls at Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve. In the winter of 2020-2021, 24 pairs were reintroduced to man-made burrows at Ramona Grasslands Preserve. This winter they plan to reintroduce several more. The hope is that the young birds raised at Ramona will return to their birthplace to nest.

Ramona grasslands, San Diego County (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Read more about burrowing owls in San Diego County at San Diego Burrowing Owls get new homes.

If you want to see great photos every day of the cutest Bird of the Year, follow Wendy @geococcyxcal on Twitter.

They are so photogenic!

UPDATE 21 Feb 2022: Did not see a burrowing owl on this trip.

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

Hays Has An Egg

Female bald eagle examines her 1st egg of 2022 at the Hays nest, 11 Feb 2022 (screenshot from PixCam’s Hays Bald Eagle Live Stream)

13 February 2022

In case you missed it …

The female bald eagle at Hays in the City of Pittsburgh, laid her first egg of the season half an hour after sunset on Friday, 11 February 2022 at 6:22pm. As soon as the egg was dry she began incubation.

Her mate roosted nearby and waited for dawn to see the egg and trade places with her. It takes 35 days of continuous incubation before the egg will be ready to hatch.

The Hays female usually lays several eggs, each one 2-3 days apart.

Incubation at the Hays bald eagle nest, 12 Feb 2022, 11:11a, (screenshot from PixCam’s Hays Bald Eagle Live Stream)

Watch for the second egg to arrive today or tomorrow on PixCam’s Hays Bald Eagle Camera Live Stream.

p.s. Another bald eagle pair is on camera at U.S.Steel’s Irvin Works, 5.3 miles away. See them Live on PixCams’ U. S. Steel Bald Eagle Camera.

Distance between Hays and Irvin eagles’ nests in Allegheny County (map generated from gmap-pedometer.com)

(screenshots and video from PixCams, map annotated from gmap-pedometer; click on the captions to see the originals)

A Few Raptors Draw Attention

Snowy owl perched on Ceres statue, Union Station, Washington DC, 19 Jan 2022 (photo by Angela N via Flickr Creative Commons license)

8 February 2022

Some raptors draw attention if you know where to look.

This winter a snowy owl has been hanging out at Union Station in Washington, DC often perching on the Ceres statue (above) in Louis Saint-Gaudens’ Progress of Railroading series. (Ceres is indicated by arrow below.)

Progress of Railroading statues by Louis Saint-Gaudens, Union Station, Washington, DC, Jan 2011 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Angela N has been photographing the owl since 13 January and found it in a very photogenic pose last Wednesday.

Snowy owl at Union Station, Washington, DC, 2 Feb 2022 (photo by Angela N via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, a peregrine falcon drew attention in late January at Duck Hollow when it harassed a bald eagle on 29 January, captured by Joe Fedor.

Peregrine falcon chasing bald eagle at Duck Hollow, 29 Jan 2022 (photo by Joe Fedor)
Peregrine falcon (top) chasing bald eagle at Duck Hollow, 29 Jan 2022 (photo by Joe Fedor)

And harassed the gulls on 30 January, captured by Stephen Bucklin.

Peregrine falcon harassing ring-billed gulls at Duck Hollow, 30 Jan 2022 (photo by Stephen Bucklin)
Peregrine falcon harassing ring-billed gulls at Duck Hollow, 30 Jan 2022 (photo by Stephen Bucklin)

In both cases we can tell it’s a peregrine because of its sickle shape and pointed wings. In the gull photos it has the same wingspan as the ring-billed gulls.

It’s nice to have photos of the birds that draw attention.

(photos by Angela N via Flickr Creative Commons license; click on the captions to see the originals, and by Joe Fedor, Jr, and Stephen Bucklin)

Looking at the Tops of Things

Sunset at Schenley Park golf course, 25 Jan 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

29 January 2022

When the clouds broke up Tuesday afternoon I walked to Schenley Park for a beautiful sunset with a plan to look at the tops of the things.

If I’m lucky, in winter I find as many as three merlins perched at the tops of bare trees half an hour before sunset.

The merlins don’t watch the sky. Instead they focus on potential prey, the small birds that roost in the conifers and bushes between Holes 1, 17 and 18.

On Tuesday I found two merlins: one on a dead snag, the other in the top branches of the tallest tree across the fairway, but he was too hidden for a cellphone photo. (Click on the photo to see a circle around the first merlin.)

Merlin at Schenley Park golf course, 25 Jan 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

While looking at the tops of things, I found a pair of red-tailed hawks on a parking lot light last Saturday, silhouetted against the sky. This was not a very tall pole but the red-tails felt comfortable that no one was paying attention while one of them ate a squirrel.

Red-tailed hawks at CMU Morewood Gardens parking lot, 22 Jan 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

You might find something fun if you Keep Looking Up.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Eagles Fight For Fish

Steller’s sea eagle and golden eagle fight at Lake Kuril, Russia (screenshot from YouTube video)

28 January 2022

Speaking of Steller’s sea eagles yet again

Like their bald eagle relatives, Steller’s sea eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) migrate to open water for the winter where they hang out in large groups near abundant fish. The Steller’s sea eagle in Maine is the only one on this continent so we can’t see his behavior among friends and competitors but there is plenty to see in his native range of Far Eastern Russia and northern Japan.

The link below shows tussling between Steller’s sea eagles and a fight with a golden eagle, an unrelated and much smaller bird. It happened at a crater lake in Kamchatka, Russia.

p.s. News as of 27 January 2021: Maine’s Stellers sea eagle was last seen on 24 January 2021. No one knows where he went … yet.

Sea Eagles’ Banquet on Ice

White-tailed eagle, Hokkaido, Japan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 January 2022

On the recurring subject of sea eagles …

The Steller’s sea eagle in Maine was still near Boothbay Harbor on Tuesday 18 January 2022, as reported by @WanderingSTSE. The bird is 7,000 miles away from his native range and the only member of his species on the continent. What would his life be like if he was at home?

Steller’s sea eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) breed in Far Eastern Russia and migrate south for the winter but they don’t leave cold weather behind. One of their favorite winter locations is Hokkaido, Japan where floating ice provides a platform from which to fish. (Blue arrow points to Hokkaido.)

Steller’s sea eagle and range map (orange=breeding only, green=year round, blue=winter only) (images from Wikimedia Commons)

They are joined there by a smaller sea eagle, the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) of Europe, Asia and western Greenland. White-tailed eagles are very similar to their closest relative, the bald eagle. All three are sea eagles in the genus Haliaeetus.

White-tailed eagle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

At Hokkaido the sea eagles have a daily banquet on the ice.

p.s. 18 Jan 2022 UPDATE on the Steller’s sea eagle in Maine:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, video by John Russell embedded from YouTube; click on the captions to see the originals)