Category Archives: Birds of Prey

Climate Change Will Move Bald Eagles Away From Home

Pair of bald eagles at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia, 2010 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

9 July 2023

A decade ago we thought climate change was a slow moving train but now it’s heating up so fast that new calculations predict we will hit the +1.5°C (2.7°C) global temperature mark in the next five years. The National Audubon Society’s Climate Initiative predicts that most bird species will shift northward. Unfortunately our national symbol, the bald eagle, will leave much of its favorite range in the U.S.

The Audubon Society predicts that three-quarters of the bald eagles’ current summer range will become unsuitable for the birds in about 60 years.

“A lot of their breeding is going to shift completely into Canada and Alaska. So the lower 48 is looking less ideal for breeding conditions for the species,” said Brooke Bateman, senior scientist at the National Audubon Society.

Yale Climate Connections: How climate change could hurt bald eagles

At +1.5°C — in the next five+ years — the biggest decrease will be in a swath of the Southeast and Lower Mississippi Valley. This screenshot map of bald eagle climate vulnerability is tiny on purpose so that you’ll view it on the Audubon website. Click here, then scroll down to see the maps for winter/summer.

A global temperature rise of +3.0°C will reduce bald eagle nests in a huge swath of the U.S. from Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina westward to Nebraska and Arkansas. This is unhappy news for Pittsburgh where red indicates a 15% loss of bald eagle nests under the +3.0°C scenario. [Again, view this map on the Audubon website. Click here, then scroll down to see the maps for winter/summer.]

Bald eagle predicted summer range change when climate change heats +3.0 degrees C (screenshot from zoomed field guide bald eagle account)

Sadly, climate change will prompt our national bird to move away from home.

Read more about the Audubon climate change report at Yale Climate Connections. See the affect of climate change on the bald eagle’s range in the Audubon Field Guide:

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, screenshot from field guide bald eagle account)

Pittsburgh’s Most Common Hawk

Red-tailed hawk in North Park, Feb 2019 (photo by Steve Gosser)

1 July 2023

Last week while in Tidewater Virginia, I noticed that turkey vultures dominated the airspace. On our way to Pittsburgh yesterday, soaring red-tailed hawks made me feel like “I’m home.”

Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) live quite near us in southwestern Pennsylvania, especially in the city. Here are a few shots of our most common hawk, thanks to local photographers.

Red-tailed hawk in flight, January 2022 (photo by Christopher T)
Red-tailed hawk nestling, Frick Park, May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Red-tailed hawk family in a nest in Schenley Park, 14 May 2018 (photo by Gregory M. Diskin)
Red-tailed hawk family in a nest in Schenley Park, 14 May 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)
Immature red-tailed hawk on light pole, 2013 (photo by Chuck Tague)
Pair of red-tailed hawks on Hammerschlag Hall at CMU, April 2011 (photo by Peter Bell)
Immature red-tailed hawk at Pitt Law School window, fall 2019 (photo by Kim Getz)

(photo credits in the captions, click on the links to see the photographers’ websites)

Listen For Merlins Nesting Near You

Merlin family at Chatham University, Pittsburgh, PA, July 2022 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz)

25 June 2023

Last year Malcolm Kurtz found the first recorded merlin nest in Allegheny County when he heard them on Chatham University’s campus. They were easy to find because merlins are extremely vocal during the breeding season, especially late June through July when their young beg loudly. If you recognize the sound you may discover merlins nesting near you. In Pennsylvania this is a very big deal and Don Nixon, who tracks Pennsylvania’s merlins, wants to know about it.

Merlins (Falco columbarius) are small, streaky, dark, very fast falcons about the size of pigeons who, after the DDT crash, did not nest in Pennsylvania for over 30 years. When they returned they chose old unmodified crow or hawk nests in conifers in forests, cities, residential areas, school yards, parks, cemeteries, and golf courses.

Don Nixon has seen merlin numbers grow quickly in recent years and writes:

  • We now have over 100 documented merlin nests across Pennsylvania since 2006.
  • Nest sites stretch from a repeatedly used area at Promised Land State Park in the Poconos to a golf course in Somerset.
  • Nests have been reported in 24 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
  • Counties reporting nests for the first time in 2022 include Allegheny (Malcom’s nest), Blair, Cameron, Clarion, Columbiana and Somerset. 
  • This year Lackawanna County is already reporting its first nest.

Don publishes an annual PA merlin map after the breeding season, 2022 shown below. The dots appear clustered because there are few observers.

Pennsylvania merlin nests in 2022 (map from Don Nixon)

Since merlins don’t use the same nest site in consecutive years these dots don’t tell you where to find merlins this year. Instead you’ll have to listen for them. The two most common calls, described by Birds of the World, are:

  • Ki-Ki-Kee (Kek-Kek-Kek) given in courtship displays, territorial or other aggressive encounters,
  • Food Begging Whine: a monotonous call, given by female soliciting food transfers from male. Sometimes given after copulation. Also given by nestlings but softer and quicker.

Here are three examples:

Alarm near the nest, Xeno Canto 666137:

Female calling after mating with male, Xeno Canto 642023:

Adults and begging juvenile, Xeno Canto 583041:

If you hear these sounds look for merlins. If you heard them in Pennsylvania, Don Nixon wants to hear from you. Add your own dot to the PA Merlin Map. Contact Don at:

Don Nixon
1009 Green Glen Drive, DuBois, PA  15801
814-661-5944 (cell)

Now’s the time to listen for merlins. Maybe you’ll find a nest!

(photo by Malcolm Kurtz, map from Don Nixon)

American Kestrels Mysteriously Decline

American kestrel at Madera Canyon, AZ (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 June 2023

When I began watching peregrine falcons 22 years ago, peregrines were endangered and our smallest falcon, the American kestrel, was doing just fine, but the tables have turned. Peregrines have fully recovered from extinction in eastern North America while kestrels have lost half their population and face an uncertain future. The New York Times described their plight this week in The Mystery of the Vanishing Kestrels: What’s Happening to This Flashy Falcon? Can we save this beautiful bird before it’s gone?

Pair of American kestrels in Colombia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

American kestrels (Falco sparverius) range from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and are the only “kestrel” in the Americas, but they aren’t true kestrels like those found in Europe and Africa. Instead, DNA tests have shown that our kestrel is closely related to the larger falcons of the Americas, including peregrines. Falco sparverius evolved to fill the kestrel niche.

Range map of American kestrel from Wikimedia Commons. purple=Year round, orange=Summer breeding, blue=Winter non-breeding

American kestrels are versatile birds. At home in grasslands, meadows, deserts, cities and suburbs, they eat grasshoppers, crickets, large flying insects, beetles, lizards, small rodents and small birds.

Kestrel eating a bug (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Kestrels nest in cavities in buildings, trees, cliffs and nestboxes but more than half of their sites are unoccupied now in eastern North America. I’ve seen the decline first hand in Pittsburgh. A decade ago there were two kestrel nests within a few blocks of Downtown’s Third Avenue peregrines. Now there are none.

Dr. John Smallwood, a professor of biology at Montclair State University interviewed in the New York Times article, has monitored 100 kestrel nestboxes in New Jersey for nearly 30 years. The number of occupied nests at his sites peaked at 61 in 2002 and has dropped ever since.

What’s going wrong for kestrels? Are they out-competed for prey? Are they ingesting poison? What’s happening on their wintering grounds? Are insect declines affecting kestrels? Are neonicotinoid pesticides a factor? And what about the bigger questions of habitat and climate change?

Many kestrel experts think it’s a combination of causes. Dr. Smallwood agrees, but he still has a top suspect. “If I’m only allowed one word: grasshoppers.”

The one parameter that seems to be declining over time, researchers say, is survival of young birds in the summer.

… the thinking is that those juveniles may be more dependent on insect prey because it’s easier to catch.

— New York Times: The Mystery of the Vanishing Kestrels: What’s Happening to This Flashy Falcon?
Female American kestrel holding a cricket (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I would not be surprised to learn that the kestrels’ decline is linked to the rapid insect decline in this century which was probably prompted by neonics. Neonicotinoids were first introduced in the 1990s but didn’t take off as a pesticide until the early 2000s.

Meanwhile a nationwide study funded by the USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into the American kestrel’s mysterious decline. I hope they find the answer soon.

Read more at The Mystery of the Vanishing Kestrels: What’s Happening to This Flashy Falcon?

(photos and map from Wikimedia Commons, click on the captions to see the originals)

Both Hays Eaglets Have Fledged

Young bald eagle, H19, flies near the Hays bald eagle nest, 15 June 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

17 June 2023

I missed it! As of Thursday both young bald eagles, already as large as their parents, had fledged from the Hays bald eagle nest.

Dana Nesiti (Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook) photographed the first one in flight (H19) and the second perched in a tree (H20) on Thursday 15 June.

H19 fledged on Sunday 11 June and was flying really well by Thursday.

Young bald eagle, H19, flies near the Hays bald eagle nest, 15 June 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)
Young bald eagle, H19, flies near the Hays bald eagle nest, 15 June 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

H20 was new to flying and less ambitious.

Young bald eagle, H20, flew from the Hays bald eagle nest, 15 June 2023 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Their names, H19 and H20, indicate they are the 19th and 20th eagles to fledge from the Hays nest since it began 10 years ago.

See a summary of this year’s nesting season at Eaglestreamer’s Hays Update page.

Stop by the Hays Bald Eagle Viewing Area on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to see them fly near home. Click here for directions.

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

Watch Kestrel Family “Live”

Male kestrel incubates eggs in Yorkshire, UK (screenshot from Robert E Fuller video)

16 June 2023

In North America we call our smallest falcon a “kestrel” (Falco sparverius) because it resembles the well known Eurasian or common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) in Europe. Both are cavity nesters that use holes in cliffs, trees or buildings.

Wildlife artist and blogger Robert E Fuller (@RobertEFuller) has live nest cameras at his farm in Yorkshire, England including two on common kestrel nests. When he tweeted this video three days ago the eggs in Jeff and Jenny’s nest were about to hatch. Yesterday the first three hatched. Today the chicks are growing fast and the last egg awaits.

Watch more nature videos on Robert E. Fuller’s channel on YouTube.

p.s. The Live stream is a composite of many nests. Jeff & Jenny’s is at top right, as highlighted below in the screenshot.

screenshot from Robert E Fuller Live Cams on YouTube

About To Fly

3 chicks in red-tailed hawks’ nest, Schenley Park, 28 May 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

31 May 2023

Spring nesting season is continuing apace. The first batch of baby robins is learning to fly and some are old enough to forage on their own. Raptor fledglings are not far behind.

On Sunday 28 May we watched three red-tailed hawk chicks in a nest under the Panther Hollow Bridge in Schenley Park. This species hatches in the order the eggs are laid, each one two days younger than the last. The chicks clearly show their age difference in Charity Kheshgi’s video. One chick is getting ready to fly, one is still fluffy, and the middle one is halfway between.

Red-tailed hawks’ nest, Schenley Park, 28 May 2023 (video by Charity Kheshgi)

At the Tarentum Bridge on Sunday afternoon, John English and I watched three peregrine chicks lounging on top of the nestbox while an adult “babysat” nearby.

Adult female peregrine watches her ledge-walking chicks at the Tarentum Bridge, 28 May 2023 (photo by John English)

At first we saw only three chicks but after we moved to a better viewing location the fourth was on the top of the box as well, exercising his wings.

Four peregrine chicks at Tarentum Bridge, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Four peregrine chicks at Tarentum Bridge, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
One chick concentrates on exercising his wings (photo by Kate St. John)

And suddenly I saw him fly the length of the pier to the other end and back again to the top of the box! I have no photos of this feat but you get the idea. By today he may have fledged from the bridge.

All these birds are about to fly.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi, John English and Kate St. John)

Little Owl Loves The Rain

Little owl at Terwick Common, UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5 May 2023

After a cold wet week in Pittsburgh it’s hard to imagine being excited about rain but this little owl (Athene noctua) in Britain is loving it. (Yes, “little owl” is his common name.)

Thankfully at last today is bright and sunny in Pittsburgh.

By the way, the little owl of Eurasia could be mistaken in photos for our burrowing owl in the Americas. Both are in the genus Athene and they’re the same size and shape. Here they are side-by-side.

Little owl and burrowing owl (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

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

Remembering When: Two Owl Nests On Bridges

Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Great horned owl on nest under the Homestead Grays Bridge, 30 March 2016 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

30 March 2023

Seven years ago I wrote about two great-horned owl nests on local bridges — one on the Homestead Grays Bridge incubating eggs, the other with young at the Anderson Bridge in Schenley Park.

A lot has changed in seven years. At the Homestead Grays Bridge there is still a nest but it’s occupied by a red-tailed hawk this year. We saw the hawk incubating last Sunday from the Duck Hollow parking lot. Bring a scope if you stand here.

We view the red-tailed hawk’s nest on the Homestead Gray’s Bridge from Duck Hollow, 26 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The nest is where it’s always been, even seven years ago, on a cross bar flush to the upright above the pier. For better viewing, look at it from the Homestead side.

Location of red-tailed hawk’s nest at the Homestead Gray’s Bridge, 26 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile at the Anderson Bridge all is quiet. Even the traffic is gone. The bridge was closed suddenly in December 2022 for a four-month patching operation because it was too dangerous to stay open. Last week the project became a 3-4 year total rehab, though work won’t begin for another year.

Warning! Anderson Bridge closed (signs photographed in March 2023 by Kate St. John)

The bridge was rusty seven years ago when the owl family lived there. Imagine how bad it is now!

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Great horned owl family under the Anderson Bridge, April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Nearby residents sometimes hear a pair of owls hooting but no one has reported them on the bridge. I wonder where they are.

Read the tale of two owl nests in this vintage article from 2016:

(2016 great-horned owl photo by Dana Nesiti, remaining photos by Kate St. John)

Hatch Watch Begins at Hays Eagle Nest

Bald eagle on the Hays nest, 23 March 2023 (screenshot from Pittsburgh Hays Bald Eagle Camera at

24 March 2023

UPDATE on 26 March 2023: First egg hatched around noon on 26 March.

It’s been more than a month since the first egg was laid at the Hays bald eagle nest and today, 35 days later, we’re watching for a hatch.

Bald eagle eggs hatch in 34-41 days but thanks to‘s record keeping we know that the Hays eagles hatch at the early end of that spectrum. This year’s predictions are:

Estimated hatch dates (based on 35 days incubation):

Egg 1 – 3/24/23; Egg 2 – 3/27/23.

You can also:

(photos are screenshots from the Pittsburgh Hays Bald Eagle Camera at