Last week in Newfoundland our birding tour witnessed an amazing bird interaction when a merlin attacked a big black corvid in the air. It happened so fast that we had to think hard about the birds’ identities.
Yes the attacker was a merlin — a small, streaky dark, very fast falcon that made this sound as it attacked. (Xeno-canto XC332445: alarm calls of merlin pair recorded by Pritam Baruah in Churchill, MB, August 2016)
But was the big black bird a crow or a raven?
Fellow traveler Trina Anderson captured the action with her camera. Before we saw her photos we could only identify the corvid by size and behavior. We decided “raven” based on the relative size of the two birds and the behavior of the raven.
Merlins are 2/3 the size of a crow but less than half the size of a raven. Overhead the merlin was tiny compared to the bird it attacked, so it had to be a raven. Trina’s photos show the size difference.
The black bird barely flapped during the interaction and it flipped upside down in flight (see the last photo). Crows flap hard when they’re under attack and they don’t fly upside down.
During the fight it was hard to see the diagnostic field mark — the tail — but Trina’s next photo shows the corvid has a wedge-shaped tail. That means “raven.”
It’s hard to tell ravens from crows unless you have some practice. Get tips on how to tell them apart in this 3 minute video from The Raven Diaries: Ravens vs Crows, they’re different!
In Pittsburgh we’re lucky to have three bald eagle nests in Allegheny County: Hays on the Monongahela River, Harmar on the Allegheny River, and Crescent Township on the Ohio River.
Last weekend the two youngsters at the Harmar nest made their first flight. Annette and Gerry Devinney were on hand to record their progress on 1 July 2018. Here are some of Annette’s photos and Gerry’s video.
Below, the two young eagles fly near each other. They’re looking good.
Woo hoo! They’re playing in the sky.
Gerry captured their soaring and antics in this video.
We often complain when birds of prey eat “our” songbirds, rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels but there’s one prey item that no one quarrels about.
Last weekend Dana Nesiti posted a photo series at Eagles of Hays PA: The mother bald eagle brought food for her fledgling, H8, who quickly crowded her and grabbed for it. The prey was nearly lost in the scuffle. (click here for the photo album)
What did she bring him for dinner? A rat!
Thank goodness birds of prey are eating rats. I’ve seen red-tailed hawks eat them, too.
The airspace over Greenfield was busy with bird traffic on Sunday. One of those birds was in control.
Around noon Anne Marie Bosnyak, Linda Schmidt and I were chatting at a table outside the Staghorn Cafe when Anne Marie pointed out four distant turkey vultures. She’d left her binoculars in the car so she wasn’t sure about the fourth one. With my binoculars I identified it — a peregrine falcon. At that distance I couldn’t tell if it was immature or adult.
Most birds avoid flying near peregrines because of their swift pursuit of avian prey and fierce territoriality. The vultures were no exception. They circled together and moved westward, away from the peregrine heading south.
The peregrine rose in the heated air, then noticed a pair of dark birds rapidly heading west and turned to follow them.
Ravens. As if to acknowledge the peregrine’s presence one of them tumbled three times in the sky but they didn’t slow down. The ravens left without incident.
The peregrine circled lazily in the heat and then something really interesting flew below him — an adult bald eagle heading toward the Monongahela River.
As I watched, the peregrine dove several times at the bald eagle and drove it lower and away. Even through binoculars I could see the eagle flinch as it tried to evade the peregrine. They disappeared over the horizon toward Hays.
In Pennsylvania peregrine falcons control the airspace whenever they want to. Bald eagles don’t stand a chance, as shown in Peter Bell’s photo above.
If you miss seeing nesting peregrines on camera here’s a raptor family to watch online. As of last night (June 5), there were two chicks and one egg still to go at an osprey nest in Montana.
The nest is in Hellgate Canyon next to the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana. It looks like a very public place but the birds are right next to the river. The Hellgate valley is so narrow here that the river, the railroad, some businesses, and Interstate 90 are all close by. We see and hear I-90 traffic in the background. (Click here for a map of the site.)
These two will fly in the next few weeks. They’re much further along than the tree nest overlooking the Parkway where the mother is still incubating or brooding. She’s hard to see now among the leaves.
If you watch red-tailed hawks in your area you might find a nest. When you see one carrying prey in its talons, it’s taking food to the chicks. Follow the bird and you’ll find the red-tailed hawks at home.
p.s. In case you’re not familiar with Cornell Lab … they’re a unit of Cornell University that works to advance the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. We, and the birds, have all benefited from their work.
Yesterday morning the first egg hatched at the Harmar bald eagle nest high above the Allegheny River.
In the midst of April snow his parents were very attentive as he made his way out of the egg. Fortunately the snow was gone by afternoon. (video from Audubon Society of Western PA (ASWP))
Meanwhile over by the Monongahela River, the Hays eaglet is now eleven days old and will be an “only child” this season. The last egg is not viable though it’s still in the nest. ASWP posted this snapshot yesterday on their Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page.