Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

Courting Cahows

Pair of Bermuda petrels at Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, 31 Oct 2019 (screenshot from Cornell Labs Bermuda Cahowcam)

November is courtship time for one of the rarest seabirds on earth.

The Bermuda petrel (Pterodroma cahow) or cahow (pronounced ka-HOW) ranges across the Atlantic Ocean, returning to land only once a year to court and breed at Bermuda.

Cahows nest in dark burrows which they access only at night, so secretive that they were presumed extinct until 1951 when the last 17-18 pairs were discovered on an isolated Bermuda island.

Every year the odds are against an egg becoming an adult. However the birds’ long breeding lives, 30-40 years, ensure the species will survive as long as there are safe places to nest — and that’s the rub. Rats were eradicated from their breeding colonies but many of the burrows are on islands threatened by hurricanes and sea level rise.

Since 2001 the Cahow Recovery Program has been setting up safe breeding burrows on Nonsuch Island and translocating a few pre-fledgled birds to the burrows in hopes they will return there to breed when they reach maturity at 3-6 years of age. So far so good. There are now 15 pairs on Nonsuch, two of which use burrows equipped with live streaming Cahow cams under infrared light.

November is the time to watch the cameras at Cornell Lab’s Bermuda Petrel Cams. The pairs return to their burrows, prepare the nest, court and copulate. In the video below a pair touches beaks and preens in the courtship behavior called allopreening.

Watch the Cahow cams this month, especially at night. The birds are most active on the darkest nights of the New Moon.

Cahows leave their burrows in December, then the female returns in January to lay her single egg. If all goes well a chick will fledge in July.

The long process of creating and raising a single cahow chick has just begun.

p.s. Here’s an amazing fact about cahows: Notice that the birds have tube-like noses. These structures take the salt out of saltwater so they can drink it. They sneeze the salt out of their noses. There are more amazing cahow facts here.

(screenshot and video from Cornell Lab’s Bermuda Petrel cams)

Briefly at the Nest

On Friday afternoon, 1 November 2019, Terzo called to his new mate Morela to court with him at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, “Come bow with me!”

Morela arrived immediately and became so wrapped up in courtship that she didn’t realize she was crowding Terzo into the back of the box. When he had no room to bow, Terzo stopped courting and left the nest.

Morela turned and called, “Come back!”

This was a brief courtship display even though it may look as if Terzo was running away. How do we know it wasn’t aggression? Here’s the difference between courtship and a fight.

In courtship you will see two birds, one much larger than the other, bowing and “ee-chupping” in squeaky voices. This is a very ritualized Ledge Display with a pattern of who-does-what: the male arrives and leaves first; they bow and ee-chupp; the female stays after he leaves. The ritual steps of the Ledge Display are described at: Familiarities On The Cliff.

In a fight at the nest, two peregrines of the same sex (equal size) lock talons, scream at the top of their lungs and try to peck, wound and kill each other. The fight does not stop until one of them is dead. There’s more information on this at Fidelity to Their Mates and Fighting. For a slideshow of a famous fight at the Pitt nest see Peregrine Fight at the Nest, 18 March 2007.

Ledge Displays are typically very brief outside the nesting season but Morela wasn’t done. Soon enough she’ll learn how to bow without crowding Terzo.

Don’t worry. They’ll be back.

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Morela with Terzo at the Nest!

Since early October I’ve watched the new female peregrine, Morela, fly and perch with her mate at the Cathedral of Learning. Her presence is easy to confirm because she’s often on camera. Not so with her mate.

Last week she tried to entice him to the nest but he was reluctant to join her. I wondered if he was new to the Cathedral of Learning. Yesterday, 30 October 2019, he appeared on camera for the first time.

Just before 4pm Morela jumped into the nest and called to another peregrine. The male stayed off-screen for a minute, then jumped down to bow with her.

The male she’s been courting is Terzo!

Terzo has been the resident male peregrine at Pitt since his arrival in March 2016. I recognized him on camera by the unique heart-shaped white patch on the left side of his face and his black/red color band. No, I couldn’t read his band numbers in the video (Terzo is Black/Red N/29) but I believe he’s the only male peregrine in the world with that face pattern + Black/Red bands.

So now we know that the peregrine couple at the Cathedral of Learning is Morela & Terzo. For the first time in years I’m excited about the upcoming nesting season. Courtship will intensify in January. Egg laying is due in mid to late March.

Stay tuned on the National Aviary’s snapshot camera at the University of Pittsburgh. Streaming video from the National Aviary will resume in early 2020.

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine Fledging at 62nd Street Bridge

On Wednesday July 3, Joe Stavish of Tree Pittsburgh saw an immature peregrine standing on a rock pile in Tree Pittsburgh‘s parking lot below the 62nd Street Bridge. Joe emailed me:

I found an immature peregrine in the parking lot at Tree Pittsburgh (under 62nd street bridge) on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. We have noticed [peregrine] adults flying around the tree nursery this spring. This one was a bit clumsy moving around the rock pile but ultimately flew off. I could not see any band on the legs. Not sure if it came from the 62nd street bridge but perhaps!

Joe Stavish email, 5 July 2019

Here’s a Google Street View of that end of 62nd Street. Tree Pittsburgh is beyond the chain link fence on the left side of the image, though it didn’t exist when Google took this photo.

At this point (early/mid July) it’s too late to find the peregrines’ nest but keep an eye out for them beginning next January at the 62nd Street Bridge.

NOTE! A nestbox was installed on the bridge in January 2008. If it’s still on the bridge the peregrines might be using it.

In January 2008 a nestbox was installed at the 62nd Street Bridge (photo from PGC). Is the nestbox still there?

Blue Jays Nesting

Blue jay gathering rootlets to line its nest (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

This spring a pair of blue jays nested in my backyard and fledged a single youngster before Memorial Day.

The fledgling was short-tailed, perky and adventuresome, often standing wide-eyed in exposed open places. His parents followed him everywhere and seemed to say, “Be careful! Don’t stand out in the open like that!”

But the fledgling was too naive. By the third day he went missing, undoubtedly dead. His parents started to build a new nest.

They scouted together in my backyard, gathering moss and rootlets. According to the nest description in the Petersen Field Guide to Birds’ Nests blue jay nests are …

Bulky, well hidden in crotch or outer branch of coniferous or deciduous tree, 5-50 ft above ground, commonly 10-25 ft. Built by both sexes of thorny twigs, bark, mosses, string, leaves; lined with rootlets.

The second nest is so well hidden that I didn’t find it, but here’s what it would look like (photo by Henry T. McLin).

Blue jay on nest (photo by Henry T. McLin on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The pair has time to raise a second brood, especially if the female laid eggs in the first week of June. From first egg to fledging takes 38 to 45 days:

  • Blue jay egg laying takes 4-6 days (one egg per day, clutch of 4-6)
  • Incubation lasts 17-18 days
  • Nestlings fledge in 17-21 days.
Blue jay family in the nest (photo by Carol Vinzant on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

I hope to see baby blue jays around July 15. I’m wishing them better luck this time! See more news below(*).

p.s. There’s a story behind the blue jay family in the nest above. Click here to read.

(photo credits, Creative Commons non-commercial licenses on Flickr: Gathering nesting material by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren. On nest by Henry T. McLin. Nest with babies by Carol Vinzant)

(*) Unfortunately the second brood failed, too. I saw a nestling on the ground, too young to fly, on July 7. I repeatedly placed it up high in the vicinity of the nest but the nestling kept hopping back down to the ground. Eventually it hid under the lip of our bird bath.

Blue jay baby on ground, 7 July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

All Five Have Flown

Dori perched on the shield at 3rd & Wood (photo by Lori Maggio)
Dori perched on the shield at 3rd & Wood (photo by Lori Maggio)

As of 8:25am this morning, 12 June 2019, Lori Maggio reports that the peregrine nest at Third Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh looks empty. She found 4 of the 5 youngsters and — great news! — the one on the Rescue Porch this morning has a MOTUS nanotag so we’ll know where he goes!

The tagged bird is probably the one rescued from 304 Wood Street on Monday. Because he’s tagged & returned we know he isn’t injured.

Thankfully everyone waited for the Game Warden to arrive & rescue the bird. Thanks to MOTUS we will know where he goes. Click here to read more about the nanotags.

(photo by Lori Maggio)

UPDATE at 11:15a, 12 June 2019 (while I wait in an airport): 4th bird found down in a bus shelter on Boulevard of Allies & taken to Rescue Porch at 11:10am on 12 June 2019.

Fledgling Rescue #4 at the bus stop (photo by Amanda Anderson)

UPDATE at 5:15p, 12 June 2019: 5th downed peregrine found standing on Dollar Back steps on Third Avenue. PGC called to rescue. I’m waiting to hear if this one gets nanotagged.

So as of 13 June 2019 there have been 5 rescues of 5 birds. They could still land on the street so keep an eye out for downed peregrines in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Three Down, Two to Go

Two chicks hadn’t flown yet, 10 June 2019, noon (photo by John English)

Tomorrow I’m leaving town on a two-week birding trip so here’s the latest Downtown peregrine news just before I go.

3 fledged, down, and rescued. 2 to go. As of Monday 11 June at 5pm, three of the five nestlings have flown, but all of them landed on the ground and had to be rescued. Frankly, this site is way too low for a peregrine nest. The rescues were …

Saturday 8 June, 2:15pm

Fledgling #1 on the Rescue Porch, 8 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Fledgling #1 flew from the nest and eventually landed on Third Avenue. Retrieved by Animal Control, the bird was returned to Downtown Pittsburgh by Deputy Game Warden Bob Fickley and placed on the Rescue Porch. As of noon on Monday June 10 this bird was flying from rooftop to rooftop. More info and photos of him here.

Sunday 9 June, 8:30pm

Fledgling #2 at Lawrence Hall, 9 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Fledgling #2 left the nest and made it to the Boulevard of the Allies where he was found standing on the roof of a car at 8:30pm. The owners of the car wanted to leave but the bird just stood there. Point Park Police corralled the bird and placed him on the Rescue Porch. Thank you, Point Park Police!

Monday 10 June, 4:30pm (At Fledge Watch we saw 4 peregrines including the adults but couldn’t find Fledgling #3.)

Louie watching two chicks at the nest, 10 June 2019 (photo by John English)

Early Monday morning Lori Maggio saw Fledgling #3 on the third floor ledge of Lawrence Hall but he wasn’t seen again until evening rush hour, standing near the bus lane at 304 Wood Street. The PA Game Commission dispatched an officer at 4:24p. Meanwhile the bird attracted a crowd. Volunteer Michael Leonard guarded the bird until Deputy Game Warden Jonah Thompson arrived. Thank you, Michael!!

There are two more to go and some may need to be rescued multiple times. Keep an eye out in Downtown Pittsburgh and call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 if you find a peregrine on the ground. Corral the bird and wait patiently until the officer arrives.

By the way, it is really important that the PGC retrieves these young peregrines. If they are healthy PGC will fit the bird with a MOTUS nanotag and we’ll find out where they go. Read more here.

Dori and Louie confirmed in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Dori on the green bar, 20 May 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Lori Maggio’s photos have confirmed that the adult peregrines at this site are still Dori and Louie.

Dori’s bands were confirmed by photos on June 9 and May 20. Dori’s bands are black/green M/93.

Dori’s bands, 20 May 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Louie’s bands were confirmed on Sunday June 9 while he was feeding a fledgling on Lawrence Hall.

Louie feeds a fledgling on Lawrence Hall, 9 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Closeup of Louie’s black/green band with sideways 4 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Bands with sideways numbers are more than a decade old so a single sideways 4, above, is enough to know it’s Louie. He’s black/green 4*/E*.

Louie is 17 years old — very old for a wild peregrine falcon. He must have inherited his longevity from his mother Dorothy who lived to be 16 at the Cathedral of Learning.

UPDATE AT NOON, 11 June 2019: 4 have fledged, 1 still at nest.

(photos by John English and Lori Maggio)

One Fledged, FOUR To Go

First fledgling at the Rescue Porch, Downtown Pittsburgh, 8 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Since May we thought there were four chicks at the Downtown peregrine nest on Third Avenue. We’ve counted them several times and several ways but we were fooled. Yesterday we found out there are five!

On Saturday morning the first chick flew from the nest and eventually landed on Third Avenue. A passerby called Pittsburgh Animal Control … who took the bird to a rehabber … who confirmed he had no injuries and called the Game Commission. Deputy Game Warden Bob Fickley retrieved the fledgling from the rehabber, took the bird back Downtown, and placed him on the Rescue Porch. (Thank you, Bob Fickley!) By the time the bird got home he’d been to the suburbs and back.

Peregrine fledglings who land on the ground must be placed up high to start over. The Third Avenue fledglings go to the Rescue Porch because (1) the nest is inaccessible, (2) the porch is as close as we can get to the nest — across the street and within sight of it, and (3) the porch is a better place to start over because it’s 70 feet higher than the nest. Sometimes the parents perch on the railing to watch the nest. They definitely notice when a fledgling is there.

At 2:30p Lori Maggio stopped by Third Avenue and found the fledgling perched on the railing (photo above). Then she went to Mt. Washington to take long distance photos of the bird on the railing and the remaining chicks at the nest.

I arrived at 5pm and expected to see 1 bird on the porch (yes) and 3 birds at the nest opening but I counted four. 1 + 4 = 5!

Lori’s photos also show one on the Rescue Porch and …

One peregrine fledgling on the Rescue Porch as seen from Mt .Washington, 8 June 2019 around 3pm (photo by Lori Maggio)

… four at the nest.

Four chicks at the peregrine nest as seen from Mt. Washington, 8 June 2019 around 3pm (photo by Lori Maggio)

Oh my! It’s going to be a busy week.

(photos by Lori Maggio)

June 7 News From Downtown

Four peregrine nestlings visible Downtown, 7 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Yesterday during Downtown Fledge Watch all four peregrine chicks lined up at the nest opening. One of their parents was visible so they whined … of course!

Whining loudly (photo by Lori Maggio)

The adult (we think it was Dori) stopped by for a visit. Lori Maggio captured her leaving the nest.

Where did she go?

A moment at Fledge Watch on Third Avenue, 7 June 2019 (photo by John English)

She was high atop Oxford Center, just out of sight of the nest ledge. No more whining.

On top of Oxford Center (photo by John English)

Stop by Third Avenue any time to watch the peregrines. We expect them to fledge in the next week, June 8-15.

If a juvenile lands on the ground during its first day of flight (normal at this site, unfortunately) it will just stand there and attract a crowd. Keep an eye out for a juvenile on the ground, usually in the vicinity of Wood St – Third Ave – Smithfield St – Blvd of Allies – Fourth Ave. 

UPDATE, Sat June 8, 2:15pm: The first fledgling landed on the ground. It’s healthy and in good condition so Deputy Game Warden Bob Fickley placed it on the Rescue Porch at Lawrence Hall.

If you find a downed peregrine call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 so they can come rescue the bird and put it up high to start over.

Official Fledge Watch continues and is weather dependent. You can show up anytime on your own.

Download the flyer here.

Download the Flyer here

(photos by Lori Maggio and John English)

Downtown and Tarentum

Three of four peregrine chicks at the Downtown Pittsburgh nest, 6 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Downtown Pittsburgh’s four young peregrines are getting ready to fledge. Here’s what three of them looked like yesterday when Lori Maggio stopped by. One of the adults watched from above on the Lawrence Hall gargoyle.

Adult peregrine near the Downtown nest, 6 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Join us today, 7 June 2019, noon-1p, at Downtown Pittsburgh Peregrine Fledge Watch. We’ll be on Third Avenue between Wood & Smithfield. Click here for more information.

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River

Peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 6 June 2019 (photo by Dave Brooke)

The Tarentum Bridge peregrines have three very active chicks this week, walking and wing-exercising on the bridge pier.

Susan Krouse, who watches them often, writes: “I first saw a chick standing on the front ledge of the nestbox on Sunday June 2. Then on Monday morning June 3 I saw two outside it, one near the box opening and one on the middle of the pier, far from the box. I eventually saw 3 chicks all outside the box. These 3 are exploring out on the pier more each day. There’s also a significant amount of wingercise….wing spans seem huge!

Dave Brooke stopped by last evening to photograph them. Their mother paused with the chicks, below. (You can recognize the mother because her breast is very spotted.)

Three peregrine chicks with adult at Tarentum Bridge, 6 June 2019 (photo by Dave Brooke)
Peregrine chicks at Tarentum Bridge, 6 June 2019 (photo by Dave Brooke)

The Tarentum nestlings will fledge around June 15. For best looks, visit the Tarentum Boat Launch while they’re still in sight before they fledge. Click here for a map.

(photos credits: Downtown Pittsburgh by Lori Maggio, Tarentum by Dave Brooke)