Pennsylvania’s bald eagles are already on eggs in their huge stick-nests. Peregrine falcons are about to lay eggs on gravel ledges. Meanwhile, in Florida and southern California burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are preparing to nest underground.
I’m so excited to see that my local burrowing owl’s mate has returned from her vacation. She does not look happy to see me, lol. pic.twitter.com/RytDtdL48o
If you follow the Hays bald eagle family you know the female is incubating three eggs while her mate guards her overnight. The male has good cause to stay close. A great horned owl has been harassing them!
Almost two weeks ago, on Sunday 21 Feb 2021 at 9:26pm, a great horned owl knocked the male bald eagle off the “woods perch.”
Things seemed to calm down for a week. Then on the night of Tuesday 2 March 2021 the great horned owl came back twice.
It returned an hour later to knock the male off a branch close to the nest, shown in the video below.
The Hays bald eagles are probably feeling murderous about that owl right now so I’m sure they’ll like this trail cam video from Washington state in which a great horned owl is attacked by three species in a row!
Native from Florida to Argentina, the snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) is a gregarious bird of prey that eats only one thing: freshwater snails in the genus Pomacea. Its beak is specially shaped to do so.
The Snail Kite’s slender, deeply hooked, sharp-tipped upper mandible permits it to cut the columellar muscle of Pomacea snails and remove soft tissues from the shells. The arc of the upper mandible approximates the inner spiral of the snail’s shell.
In the old days before humans took over Florida’s landscape, snail kites ranged over half the state, but we drained and diverted more than 50% of Florida’s wetlands, the snail kite population crashed and was listed as Endangered in 1967. Twenty years ago, from 2000-2007, their population dipped so low that scientists feared they would go extinct in the U.S. Then a curious thing happened. Their food supply changed and the kites changed so they could eat it.
Before this century the snail kite’s main food was the native Florida apple snail (Pomacea paludosa) but an invasive species, the island apple snail (Pomacea maculata), arrived in 2000 and began to spread in Florida’s lakes and water management areas.
When the island apple snail first arrived in Florida the snail kite population dropped but less than a decade later the population began increasing. Did the birds initially have a tool problem? Were their beaks too short to get at the snail inside the larger shell? A recent study from the University of Florida indicates this was probably the case. Since 2007…
Researchers found that the birds with bigger bills were surviving, and their offspring were inheriting the bigger bills. …
“We found that beak size had a large amount of genetic variance and that more variance happened post-invasion of the island apple snail. This indicates that genetic variations may spur rapid evolution under environmental change,” Fletcher said.
On Wednesday night, 17 February just after 7pm, a raccoon scaled one of the branches that holds the Hays bald eagle nest. The mother eagle was on the nest and heard the raccoon coming so she rose up, spread her wings, and scared him away.
Seven years ago a raccoon intruder did the same thing. This one was a little braver.
The raccoon hid nearby, frozen in place, but four minutes later he moved again and the father eagle arrived to help. Two eagles!! The raccoon finally left.
Most birds fear great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) for they are such top predators that they will eat the young of bald eagles, peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks.
Their nesting habits are dangerous, too. Like other owls they never build a nest but great horned owls will steal one that looks good to them. They usually pick on red-tailed hawks. It leads to a fight as shown in the video below.
In early February 2019 a red-tailed hawk was building a nest at Presidio park in San Francisco when a great horned owl decided to steal it. The details of their encounter are quoted below the video. (Abbreviations: RTH=red-tailed hawk, GHO=great horned owl)
A pair of great horned owls have been visiting this red-tail hawk nest at the Presidio for several nights. This is the first time it’s come to the nest during the day, and the first time the RTH has seen it. It didn’t take kindly to the invasion and attacked it soon after it arrived. The GHO was able to fend off the RTH the first time, but in the 2nd attempt, it falls off the nest and doesn’t come back….until the next day. The RTH returns to make sure all is secure. Confrontations done in real time and SloMo. NOTE: The owl comes back the next day & lays an egg, and another a few days later. There are a few minor skirmishes, but the RTH finally moves on & lets the GHO have the nest. One of its two eggs broke, but the remaining egg is due to hatch mid-March. UPDATE: The 2nd egg failed to hatch also. The owl eventually moved on.
If the owls are persistent, the red-tailed hawks eventually give up. Great horned owls outweigh red-tails by 30% and their talons are more than twice as powerful with a talon strength of 500 lbs per square inch. On the glove you can see the difference: red-tailed hawk (left), a great horned owl (right).
Everyone’s enemy is a formidable foe. No nest is worth dying for.
p.s. It is likely that Pittsburgh’s great horned owls have already laid eggs — much earlier than bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and peregrines According to the Breeding Bird Atlas of Pennsylvania the earliest egg dates in PA are …
Great horned owl = 22 January
Bald eagle = 6 February
Red-tailed hawk = 24 February
Peregrine falcon in Pittsburgh = 6 March (based on falconcam at Pitt)
The Hays bald eagles are having a Happy Valentine’s Day with their first egg of the season just 36 hours old. The female laid her first egg on Friday 12 February 2021 at approximately 5:55pm. Their happy event was on the CBS Local news, at Trib-Live, and captured on the streaming cam on YouTube.
The female usually lays her second egg three days after the first so watch the Hays Nest Eaglecam tomorrow, 15 February, for the arrival of another egg.
Native to Eurasia and North America, long-eared owls (Asio otus) are shy and secretive medium-sized birds that hunt open areas and roost in woodland edges and conifer stands.
In Pennsylvania they are present year-round and listed as Threatened, but are so elusive that it’s hard to keep track of them. The Game Commission plans to study Pennsylvania’s long-eared owls but needs preliminary data. They are asking birders for help.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is interested in learning more about long-eared owls in Pennsylvania, who are threatened and extremely vulnerable to disturbance [so] we’re asking birders to share their long-eared owl observations with us.
To protect the location of the birds, we are asking birders NOT to post their observations on eBird or other platforms at this time(*) but instead to send all observations–past or present–to Game Commission Wildlife Biologist, Patti Barber, at email@example.com with “LEOW Observations” in the subject line. Include date, location, number of owls and evidence of owls in the area (seen, heard, pellets, feathers, heard etc).
Pictures are welcome, however, please maintain enough distance so as to not disturb the birds. Long-eared owls often abandon roosts when disturbed. Please do not walk on private property without owner’s consent. Thank you, in advance, for your help.
— partially paraphrased: Pennsylvania Game Commission, 19 January 2021 via Instagram
So how do you find a long-eared owl? Find is the hardest part. Long-eared owls are more strictly nocturnal than other owls so you’ll have to find them at the roost where they are masters at hiding in plain sight. Here are a few examples.
Roosting in dense deciduous woods in Minnesota:
Roosting in a conifer stand in Illinois, 2011. This owl looks like a fat branch with ear tufts.
Owl eyeing the photographer but still hidden.
I’ve only seen a long-eared owl three times in my life with each sighting 10 years apart. My last was in Beaver County in 2015 so I’m not due to see another one until 2025. I wonder if my quest will be successful.
(photos and map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
(*) eBird reports: The Game Commission is working with eBird to develop a process to allow these observations to be entered while also protecting these sensitive locations.
Huge flocks of crows roost in Portland, Oregon in the winter just as they do Pittsburgh. By 2017 the city realized that the crows’ huge sanitation problem could not be solved with cleanup crews and pyrotechnics so they turned to a team of falconers.
This 9-minute video from Oregon Public Broadcasting, published in November 2018, shows how trained Harris hawks — which normally operate during the day — move the crows at night. Awesome!
(screenshot from OPB video; click on the caption to see the original)
Though most western red-tailed hawks are similar to their eastern cousins they are generally darker, as shown below in Washington state. There’s also a dark morph that’s completely chocolate brown as in the photo at top from San Mateo County, California.
Here are more examples.
Arizona: Underwings on this adult are darker and redder than back east.
Utah: Dark underneath on an immature red-tail.
California: While many red-tails in California are merely darker, the dark morph is over the top.
Some day when we can travel again I’m looking forward to seeing a dark morph red-tailed hawk.