Category Archives: Birds of Prey

Waiting For The First Eagle Egg

Hays bald eagle pair, 3 Feb 2019 (photo by Dan Dasynich)

Bald eagle nesting season has come to western Pennsylvania. Our favorite pair at Hays Woods finished their new nest in early winter and are spending lots of time together. The Hays eaglecam is up and running. Everyone’s ready for eggs.

Yesterday Dan Dasynich spent time on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail taking photos of the eagles. He captured this one just after they had a mating session. Then the male flew off downriver.

Because the Hays pair has been on camera for five years we have details of their nesting history. From 2014 through 2018 the female laid her first egg between February 10 and February 19.

Her earliest date was in an unusual year. In 2017 she laid her first egg on February 10 but the nest tree blew down on February 12 so the pair built another nest very quickly. She laid her first egg in the replacement nest on 20 Feb 2017.

If history is any guide, the first egg is one to two weeks away. Meanwhile the Hays eagles are putting finishing touches on the nest, the male is bringing food for his lady, and they mate many times.

When will the first egg arrive? Watch for it on Audubon Society of Western PA’s camera at Hays, PA Bald Eagle Nest

Eagle eggs are coming soon.

(photo by Dan Dasynich)

UPDATE: First egg was laid on Tuesday 12 Feb 2019 at 6:45pm

First egg at Hays bald eagle nest, 12 Feb 2019, 6:45pm (photo from the Hays eaglecam at ASWP)

Baby Eagle Owl At The Aviary

Baby Eurasian eagle owl at the National Aviary, 18 Jan 2019 (photo courtesy National Aviary)

Super Bowl Sunday is “Superb Owl Sunday”

Hatched at the National Aviary on 12 January 2019, this Eurasian eagle owl chick is growing up fast. In the photo above he’s six days old.

His parents are education birds at the National Aviary and he(*) will be, too. To prepare him for this role he’s being hand-raised with lots of love and attention and began close encounters with a few Aviary visitors at the tender age of 17 days.

By the time he’s four weeks old he’ll look like this owlet — one of his siblings from 2013.

Baby Eurasian Eagle Owl at the National Aviary, April 2013 (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

When he grows up he’ll look like his parents. By then he’ll be a very big bird.

Eurasian Eagle Owl adult at the National Aviary (photo courtesy National Aviary)

Eurasian eagle owls (Bubo bubo) are virtually the world’s largest owl. Native to Europe and Asia, they can weigh up to 10 pounds with a wingspan more than six feet long. That’s 1.5 times larger than North America’s great horned owl. You can tell the difference between the two species — even in photographs — when they open their eyes. Adult Eurasian eagle owls have orange eyes. Great horned owls have yellow eyes.

Watch the owlet grow up at the National Aviary‘s Avian Care Center window or schedule a close encounter to meet him in person. Participants can touch the chick’s downy feathers, take photos, and interact with him under the supervision of National Aviary animal care experts. The number of encounters is limited and available for only a few weeks. Click here to sign up for an owlet encounter.

(photos courtesy of the National Aviary)

(*) I said “he” in this article but we really don’t the owlet’s sex without a DNA test!

Casting A Pellet

(Red-tailed hawk casts a pellet, photos by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Why does this red-tailed hawk throw up a long gray lump? Is he sick? Not at all. He’s casting a pellet.

Birds’ digestive systems are very different from ours, beginning with their beaks. Since birds don’t have teeth they swallow most of their food whole. The rest of their digestive system is geared to deal with this.

Birds have little saliva and few taste buds compared with mammals, which chew and physically process food as the first step and then subject it to chemical processing as the second step. Birds reverse this sequence. They start chemical digestion in the proventriculus [then the food] undergoes physical processing in the gizzard.

Ornithology, 3rd Edition by Frank B. Gill, page 164

We chew with our teeth and spit out the bones. Birds chew with their gizzards which then collect the bones, fur, and other indigestible bits into a lump. The bird spits out the lump when it’s a convenient size.

Owls, eagles, hawks and falcons cast pellets but so do many other birds “including grebes, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, kingfishers, crows, jays, dippers, shrikes, swallows, and most shorebirds.” (quote from Wikipedia)

Scientists examine pellets to find out what the bird ate. One of the long-eared owl pellets below was dissected to reveal the rodent bones inside.

Pellets cast by a long-eared owl, dissected to show rodent bones (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For whatever reason, it’s rare to see a bird casting a pellet so consider yourself lucky if you witness it, as Chad+Chris Saladin did in the photos above.

A NOTE ABOUT HANDLING OWL PELLETS from Wikipedia: Some rodent viruses and bacteria can survive the owls’ digestive system so wear gloves and sterilize the pellets in a microwave oven before handling. A 2005 study found outbreaks of salmonellosis at elementary schools associated with dissection of owl pellets: Smith KE, Anderson F, Medus C, Leano F, Adams J, 2005. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases,5, 133–136.

(red-tailed hawk photos by Chad+Chris Saladin; pellet photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Happy New Year!

Augur buzzard (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

May your new year be filled with beautiful birds!

This beauty looks like a red-tailed hawk but he’s from Africa. His tail is red but he doesn’t have the telltale “belly band” of dashes on his chest.

This is an augur buzzard (Buteo augur) from Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Click on the photo caption to see the original featured photo on Wikimedia Commons.

p.s. Augur buzzards have charcoal gray backs and very hooked beaks, but you can’t see those features in this photo.

(featured photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In Case You Missed It: Eagle News

Bald eagle in Pittsburgh (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Pittsburgh’s bald eagles have been busy this month. Here’s the latest news in case you missed it.

If I’ve missed something let me know and I’ll post it here.

(photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

Racing Pigeons And Raptors

Pigeons (Columba livia) and the raptors who hunt them have evolved together for millions of years. The raptors’ successful hunts leave only the fastest, most maneuverable pigeons. Speedy, elusive pigeons mean only the most skillful raptors can survive.  Most of us never get to see this interaction so this dramatic video from Romania is a real treat.

In 9 minutes Porumbeiro shows how his racing pigeons work to elude two raptors: first a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), then a northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). 

The pigeons stay in a tight flock because raptors can’t pick out a victim in a moving ball of birds. The raptors try to separate one bird from the group by slicing through the flock. If it works, the raptor pursues the lone bird.

Who will win?

(video by pomumbeiro on YouTube)

Who’s On The Wire?

Bird on a wire at Carrizo Plain, CA (photo from BLM via Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s a bird you won’t see in Pennsylvania.  He was photographed at Carrizo Plain National Monument, 100 miles (as the crow flies) northwest of Los Angeles, California.

Quiz:  Who is this on the wire? … Notice his long legs.

(photo by Bob Wick, BLM via Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Goshawk in Slow Motion

Earlier this month we watched expert falconer Lloyd Buck fly his peregrine falcons in The World’s Fastest Animal on NOVA.  Here he is in a 6+ minute video putting a northern goshawk through her paces. Watch her perform in slow motion.

You’ll probably notice how similar the northern goshawk is to a peregrine falcon.  The two species aren’t closely related but they need similar skills to survive, so their bodies and actions are similar, too.  The difference is that the goshawk doesn’t dive on prey like a peregrine. The goshawk always chases.

p.s. The complete 53-minute video of PBS NOVA’s program on peregrine falcons — The World’s Fastest Animal — is viewable online at

(video from BBC Earth Unplugged on YouTube)

Whooo’s Out There?

Great horned owl (photo by Alan Wolf via Flickr, CC license)

What’s that noise in the backyard tonight? Who’s out there?

In autumn in Pennsylvania, great horned owls (Bubo viginianus) call to establish territory and court their mates. Their family time is coming soon. She’ll lay eggs before any other raptor species, sometimes as early as December.

Listen for their 5-note syncopated call: “hu-hu-Hoo HOO HOO

Great horned owl (recording by Ted Floyd, xeno canto XC344952)

If you’re lucky you’ll hear them “sing” a duet.  (Turn up your speakers to hear both birds in this recording.  The male’s voice is the lower one.)

Great horned owl duet (recorded by Daniel Parker, xeno canto XC144359)

Anywhere you live in North America, if there are woods or fields nearby great horned owls are there year round.

Range map of great horned owl (map from IUCN via Wikimedia Commons, purple color means year-round)

Sometimes they make very odd noises.

Great horned owl wak-wak calls, Pasadena, CA (recorded by Lance A.M. Benner on xeno canto XC337290)

Whooo’s out there? 

‘Tis the season for great horned owls.

(photo by Alan Wolf via Flickr, Creative Commons license, audio from Xeno Canto, click on the captions to hear the originals.)

Autumn Eagle Update

Hays bald eagle, 4 Nov 2018 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page)

Hays hillside, Pittsburgh, PA

This fall the Hays bald eagle pair chose a new nest site and went on a building binge that lasted several weeks. They started with huge branches …

Enormous branch on its way to the nest, 28 Oct 2018 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page)

… and worked their way down to the smaller stuff.

Carrying a stick to the nest, 4 Nov 2018 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page)

With leaves on the trees in October, it was hard to see the new nest when one of them flew in –> see Gerry Devinney’s video, 6 Oct 2018.

By last Sunday, 11 Nov 2018, a gap in the trees revealed an eagle on the nest. Click the screenshot below (arrow added) or on the caption to see Dana Nesiti’s video from Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page.

Eagle on the Hays nest (screenshot from video at Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Hays isn’t the only site where nest renovations are in progress.  The eagles at Canonsburg Lake in Washington County have been bringing sticks, too.  Rich McPeek caught one in the act on Veterans Day and posted it on the Canonsburg Lake Eagles Facebook page.

Bald eagle making renovations to the Canonsburg Lake nest (photo by Rick McPeek, Canonsburg Lake Eagles Facebook page)

And in Butler County, Steve Gosser found this adult bald eagle cruising at Moraine State Park on Veterans Day.

Bald eagle at Crooked Creek, 11 Nov 2018 (photo by Steve Gosser)

I’m sure there’s bald eagle activity at Dashields Dam and Harmar but I’ve heard no news from those sites.  Meanwhile, check out the eagles at North Park Lake. They may be up to something. 😉

(photo credits: Dana Nesiti at Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook, Rich McPeek at Canonsburg Lake Eagles on Facebook, and Steve Gosser)