Category Archives: Birds of Prey

Goshawks With Orange Eyes

Eurasian goshawk compared to American goshawks (images from Wikimedia Commons)

17 December 2023

In case you missed it, the “northern goshawk” disappeared last summer. After only 66 years as a single species, the American Ornithological Union (AOU) split the northern goshawk back into its former status as two: the Eurasian goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and the American goshawk (Accipiter atricapillus).

They basically look alike. The split was based on DNA and vocal evidence but you won’t note these things in the field and you won’t need to. The ranges do not overlap. This is the classic case of “Where did you see the bird?” In North America? Then “American.” In Eurasia? Then “Eurasian.”

Ranges of American goshawk versus Eurasian goshawk (maps from Wikimedia Commons)

Because I had seen a goshawk in Helsinki, Finland on 6 July 2017, I gained an additional Life Bird by the split. (See my lousy photos taken through binoculars below.)

At the time I marveled that this bird had orange-ish eyes. North American juveniles have yellow eyes (see illustration above) while adults have red eyes. Did the orange eyes mean this Helsinki bird was immature? A Finnish bird guide told me “No. In Finland the adults have orange-colored eyes, not red.”

Eurasian goshawk in Helsinki, Finland, 6 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Eurasian goshawk in Helsinki, Finland, 6 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The eye color difference is noted in Wikipedia and Birds of the World as well.

Eurasian goshawk:

 In Europe and Asia, juveniles have pale-yellow eyes [until 3 or 4 years of age] while adults typically develop orange-colored eyes, though some may have only brighter yellow or occasionally ochre or brownish eye color.

Wikipedia: Eurasian goshawk

American goshawk:

Typical adult American goshawk (A. atricapillus) shows strong supercilium, red eyes, black head, and blue-gray back.

Wikipedia: American goshawk

Since their eye color changes slowly, perhaps more slowly than their plumage, it may be unreliable to use the color as a diagnostic difference between the two species. However, as a North American birder familiar with goshawks, those orange eyes in Finland made a difference for me.

Merlin at Schenley Park

Merlin at Schenley Park, 12 Dec 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

16 December 2023

Nearly every winter since the late 1990’s when Bill Hintze(*) first reported them, you can usually find a merlin or two at Schenley Park golf course at dusk. Charity Kheshgi and I went looking on 12 December and right on time a large merlin, probably female, arrived 20 minutes before sunset.

The temperature was relatively warm but it was very windy and felt quite cold. The merlin didn’t care. As the sun set she flew to the top of a pine tree across the road. (She’s in this photo as a dot.)

Sunset at Schenley Park’s golf course, 12 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Charity photographed her as a silhouette.

Merlin in Schenley Park after sunset, 12 Dec 2023

Interestingly she didn’t roost at the golf course. When it got darker she flew away to the south-southeast.

If you’d like to see a merlin, stop by the golf course about 40 minutes before sunset and walk around looking at the treetops. Parking is available at the First Tee parking lot.

(*) Bill Hintze and the merlins: I think Bill was the one who first found the merlins but I might be misremembering. If I’m wrong please leave a comment so I can correct the text.

Wildlife in the Borderlands

Ringtail resting on a rock, Phoenix, AZ (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 December 2023

Watering holes are places of abundant wildlife in Arizona’s Sonoran desert as captured on this trail cam in the borderlands. One of the night visitors is a ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), a member of the raccoon family, shown above. (There are two embedded videos below; please wait for them to refresh.)

When water crosses political boundaries animals cross, too, back and forth from Arizona to Mexico. But now the Border Wall makes most of that impossible.

This vintage article explains.

UPDATE on 15 Dec: Here’s the Border Wall.

They Want to Cull Barred Owls Again

Barred owl, 5 May 2005 (photo by anonymous)

30 November 2023

Sometimes history repeats itself.

In 2013 US Fish & Wildlife proposed an experiment: Kill 3,600 barred owls (Strix varia) in the Pacific Northwest to keep them away from their close relative, the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis). Barred owls had spent 100 years expanding westward to the Pacific coast where they became more successful than their habitat-constrained spotted cousins and even interbred with them. Though barred owls are native to North America and moved west on their own, USFW dubbed them “invasive” and proposed killing them wherever found near spotted owls.

Nationwide comments on the culling proposal were overwhelmingly negative but local comments were in favor. The experiment went forward and barred owls were killed according to plan. The final paper describes barred owl “removal”.

Barred owls detected in treatment areas were removed using 12-gauge shotguns and well-established field protocols (20, 22, 23). A total of 2,485 barred owls were removed from treatment segments of five different study areas during the experiment (Table 1). The mean number of barred owls removed per year was highly variable among study areas, ranging from a low of 15.8 barred owls per year in Green Diamond (GDR), to a high of 251.5 barred owls per year in the Oregon Coast Range (COA).

— FWS.GOV Study Results: Invader removal triggers competitive release in a
threatened avian predator

The five locations where removal occurred, called “treatment” areas, and the number of barred owls killed are shown in the screenshot of Table 1.

Table 1 from FWS Barred Owl Removal study

Interestingly at two of the five study sites — Hoopa-Willow Creek and Green Diamond, California — the killing of 494 barred owls made little to no difference for the spotted owls. Click here for the graph that shows this.

However, USFW declared the experiment a success and recently drafted a new “Barred Owl Management” proposal to continue killing barred owls and expand the project further in California. The draft is currently in its 60-day public comment period: November 17, 2023 โ€“ January 16, 2024 during which we are free to express our opinion.

Read about the proposal and download relevant documents at Fish and Wildlife Service seeks public comment on draft strategy to manage invasive barred owls. Click here to submit a comment online or paper-mail your comments to the address below. The comment period ends on 16 Jan 2024.

Public Comments Processing; Attn: Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2022-0074
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: PRB/3W
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041โ€“380

UPDATE on 1 APRIL 2024: This application has created an uproar. No fooling! see …

A government proposal to kill a half-million owls sparks controversy

p.s. Here’s what I thought of this idea in 2013. I haven’t changed my mind.

Seen This Week

Eastern screech-owl, Frick Park, 7 Nov 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

11 November 2023

Songbird migration is quiet now and birds, when they’re found, are in mixed species flocks.

On 7 November, Charity Kheshgi and I encountered agitated golden-crowned kinglets, tufted titmice and dark-eyed juncos but it took us a while to find what they were upset about. This red morph screech-owl was hiding above our heads in a small oak.

Golden-crowned kinglet, Frick Park, 7 Nov 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

An exception to the mixed species flocking rule is our “murder” of crows. My guess is that Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock is 90% American and 10% fish crows, but who can tell? They look alike.

In late afternoon crows stage in the trees in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, then head west at sunset. 6,000 to 10,000 pass by my building on their way to the roost.

Crows staging in Squirrel Hill just before dusk, 10 Nov 2023 (photo by Stephen Tirone)

At sunset black birds in a darkened sky are impossible to photograph but it’s another story at sunrise. Click on the photo below for a closeup of crows in the brightening sky.

Sunrise with crows, 2 Nov 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves littered the ground this week and the air was filled with the sound of leaf blowers. ๐Ÿ™

Fallen red maple leaf, 7 Nov 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Most of the trees were bare in Schenley Park by Friday 10 November.

Bare tree touched by sun, Schenley Park, 3 Nov 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Most of the trees are bare, 10 Nov 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally, a reminder that the rut is still in progress and deer are crossing roads. This duo showed up at a Squirrel Hill polling place on Election Day at a place surrounded by roads. So watch out.

Deer at the polling place on Election Day, 7 Nov 2023 (photo by John via Mardi Isler)

(credits are in the captions)

How High Can An Eagle Fly? Can A Raven Follow Him?

A raven harasses V, the new male bald eagle at Hays, 18 Oct 2023 (photo by Jim McCollum)

24 October 2023

On 18 October while Jim McCollum was taking photos of the Hays bald eagles a raven showed up and began to harass the new male eagle, nicknamed “V.”

10/18 – The new fella went for a fly about and got jumped by a Raven. The Raven chased him all over the sky. This guy needs to work on his fighting skills.

Jim McCollum -> 40 Acres a.k.a. Hays Woods Enthusiasts
A raven harasses V, the new male bald eagle at Hays, 18 Oct 2023 (photo by Jim McCollum)
A raven harasses V, the new male bald eagle at Hays, 18 Oct 2023 (photo by Jim McCollum)

Jim’s photos were shared to the 40 Acres a.k.a. Hays Woods Enthusiasts Facebook group where Dave Dutzik remembered a story about crows that piqued my interest.

A little tidbit I read recently. Crows will lite on eagles backs and peck at their necks. The eagles donโ€™t fight back just soar higher and higher until for lack of oxygen the crow passes out and falls off the eagles back. Iโ€™m not sure about the validity but itโ€™s a good story!

Comment by Dave Dutzik at 40 acres Facebook group

Is it a true story? Let’s look into it.

At what altitude does lack of oxygen affect birds?

Birds are the champions of high altitude and can breed and exercise (fly) at altitudes that kill humans. Some species are so well adapted to high altitude that they fly as high as a jet, over the Himalayas where humans die without supplemental oxygen. Even our North American songbirds fly high …

Migrating birds in the Caribbean(*) are mostly observed around 10,000 feet, although some are found half and some twice that high. Generally long-distance migrants seem to start out at about 5,000 feet and then progressively climb to around 20,000 feet.

Stanford Birds: How fast and high can birds fly

(*) Migrating birds in the Caribbean = warblers!

Is lack of oxygen the reason why the crow leaves the eagle? No. The crow leaves because the eagle is no longer a threat or because the crow is tired.

How high can a crow, a raven and a bald eagle fly?

So the better question is: How high can a raven fly? Can a bald eagle follow him?

For more information see High-altitude champions: birds that live and migrate at altitude and this vintage article.

(photos by Jim McCollum)

ICYMI, There’s a New Male Bald Eagle at Hays

“V”, the new male bald eagle at Hays, 15 October 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

16 October 2023

In case you missed it (ICYMI) there’s a new resident male bald eagle at Hays. The old male disappeared in early September. The new guy was obvious by late September.

“Dad” was one of the original eagle pair at Hays where nesting began in 2013. Pictured below in 2020 they fledged 20 youngsters in 10 years. The female was 4-5 years old when she arrived (14-15 years old now), but he was a full adult so no one knew his age. Bald eagles can live 30 years.

Hays bald eagle pair (female on left, “Dad” on the right) 8 Feb 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

The newcomer, nicknamed V for visitor, became obvious as he set out to accomplish two important things in his early days of residence.

  • Vigorously defend his new territory against other males,
  • Court his new mate and cement their pair bond.
New male bald eagle, V, at Hays, 1 Oct 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

This extra level of activity drew Hays eagle fans’ attention to his presence. Viewers have seen V chase away other bald eagles and mate with the Hays female.

This is typical behavior among new peregrines, too. Long time residents don’t work hard to show who’s boss, but the newcomers do. The first time it happened at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest it took me a while realize that new behavior was a clue. See how I figured out the first male switchover at Pitt in this vintage article: Who is he? New male at Pitt.

Meanwhile V and the Hays female will be busy getting to know each other as nesting season approaches in December.

New male bald eagle, V, flies past beautiful red maples at Hays, 15 Oct 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Check out the action in person at the Hays eagle viewing site and Dana Nesiti’s latest photos and news at Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook.

Read about the Hays eagle changeover in Mary Ann Thomas’ article in the Post-Gazette: With dad missing, Hays bald eagle finds a new, younger potential mate.

(photos by Dana Nesiti at Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Young Red-Tail Hunts at the Hospital

28 September 2023

On Saturday 17 September, my friends Mary and Bea were walking to the Bloomfield Saturday Market when they couldn’t help but notice a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) hunting on the lawn at Shadyside Hospital. Mary stopped to take his picture.

Perched on the blue sign, I can tell the bird is immature because his tail isn’t rusty red. In early June he was still in the nest. Soon he learned to fly, then to hunt. Now, months later, he can feed himself but he’s not an expert. It takes time and luck to get a meal.

In autumn young red-tails disperse on their first migration and every place they stop is completely new to them. Those that grew up in urban environments are unbothered by traffic and people so they may gravitate to open areas near buildings in search of prey.

This hawk was so focused on hunting that he ignored Mary while she took his picture. Read more about the hawk’s single mindedness in this article from 2009.

p.s. This red-tail may have been attracted to the noise of house sparrows tweeting inside that bright green hedge. There are always lots of them in there, but they shut up as soon as I look so I rarely see one. As far as I know, I’m the only one — other than a hawk — that peers inside that hedge. ๐Ÿ˜‰

(photos by Mary Tuttle)

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawks Learn to Hunt

Two juvenile Cooper’s hawks in Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

22 September 2023

Every year young Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) fledge in June/July and learn to hunt in July/August. As soon as they’re self sufficient they disperse, and then they start to migrate.

Cooper’s hawks eat birds for a living so they migrate with their prey. Their peak migration continues now through mid October at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch.

How did they get to this point? Let’s take a look back to August as some young Cooper’s hawks perfect their hunting techniques in New Jersey. It involves a lot of jumping.

video embedded from PTZtv on YouTube

(credits and links are in the captions)

Tomorrow is International Owl Awareness Day

Great horned owl, Frick Park, April 2019 (photo by Steve Gosser)

3 August 2023

Every year August 4 is International Owl Awareness Day. Here are some owls to get you ready for tomorrow.

The three owls pictured here live in Pittsburgh’s city parks but are hard to find in August. The best time of year to see a great-horned owl, above, is in late winter or early spring. Steve Gosser photographed this one in Frick Park in April 2019.

Though barred owls have nested successfully in Frick Park, I didn’t see any this year. In July 2022 two youngsters ventured further from their parents at dusk, photographed by Charity Kheshgi.

Young barred owls, Frick Park, July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

This roost on the main trail in Schenley Park was the best place to find an eastern screech-owl in winter, but it has not been used for several years. Nowadays listen for angry songbirds to tell you about the owls. They told me where to find a young eastern screech-owl in early June.

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Benjamin Haake)
Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park, March 2016 (photo by Benjamin Haake)

Last week I mentioned the Eurasian eagle-owl, Flaco, who lives in Central Park, NYC.

This video history describes Flaco’s early days after he escaped from his enclosure last winter. He’s been thriving ever since.

video by BrutAmerica embedded from YouTube

p.s. If you’re in Houston, Minnesota visit the International Owl Center for special programs tomorrow.

(photos by Steve Gosser, Charity Kheshgi and Benjamin Haake)