Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

The Traveling Nest

The Rivers of Steel Explorer (photo from Ryan O’Rourke)

3 August 2022

What do you do when your nest and babies sail away without you? A house finch couple on Pittsburgh’s North Shore have learned to wait for the boat to come home.

Male and female house finches, Nov 2010 (photo by Steve Gosser)

This spring a pair of house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) were very quick to build a nest atop a loud speaker on the aft deck of the Rivers of Steel Explorer, docked behind the Carnegie Science Center. By the time the crew caught up with them the female had finished the nest and laid eggs, so the nest had to remain undisturbed until it was empty.

House finch nest on top of loud speaker on Rivers of Steel Explorer vessel, 29 July 2022 (photo by Ryan O’Rourke)

When would it be empty? Not yet. In August? In September?

House finches are masters at back-to-back nesting, raising three to six broods per year. As the young approach fledging the male takes charge of them while the female starts the next round of egg laying. On the Explorer the female doesn’t pause between one brood and the next.

When I met the Explorer finch family on 26 July they had already raised several broods and were caring for young approximately two days old. While our tour waited on deck for the boat to depart the father fed three tiny nestlings. They are growing fast! Here they are three days later on 29 July.

Close up of house finch nest, 29 July 2022 (photo by Ryan O’Rourke)

Our tour pulled away from the dock and I forgot about the house finches for 90 minutes while we traveled Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Mother and father house finch were absent but they had not forgotten. Waiting on shore they were so attuned to the habits of the Explorer that when the vessel maneuvered to dock they raced across the channel to the aft deck. “The kids are home!”

The Traveling Nest is one of many birding highlights on Rivers of Steel Explorer tours. Captain Ryan O’Rourke explained, “In addition to hosting a bird-watching cruise with the National Aviary, part of our educational program for students includes a lesson in birding and how birds can be indicators of the health of our rivers.”

And then there are rare birds that the Explorer is first to see. On 26 April 2022 O’Rourke reported 13 American avocets on the Monongahela River at Station Square. I chased these birds and missed them. Wish I’d been on the boat!

Next month you can join Rivers of Steel and the National Aviary for Riverboat Birding on the Explorer, 3 September 2022. Sign up below or click here.

(photos by Ryan O’Rourke and Steve Gosser)

Cooper’s Hawk Family Grows Up

Juvenile and adult Cooper’s hawks, Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

25 July 2022

This April Charity Kheshgi and I noticed Cooper’s hawks nesting in Frick Park and wondered when their young would fledge. In “Cooper’s Hawk Nesting Questions” I concluded the young would fly by June 22-26 at the latest. They were even later than that because…

This month we checked on their progress every few days. On 3 July the pair had four thriving youngsters who were walking on branches and making short hops. (Not fledged yet?) By 8 July the young could fly but they refused to leave the vicinity of the nest.

All four were still there on 14 July, flying well and begging near the nest. “Feed me!” Their father baby-sat, above, while their mother was out hunting. The young were very alert, especially when they saw “mom” coming home.

Two of four juvenile Cooper’s hawks, Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Two juvenile Cooper’s hawks near their former nest in Frick Park, 14 July 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

July 14th was the last time we saw all six family members together. Five days later they had dispersed. The Cooper’s hawk family had grown up.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Merlins Nest in Pittsburgh!

Adult female merlin at Chatham University, Pittsburgh, 21 July 2022 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz)

24 July 2022

Since the winter of 2016-2017 many of us have visited Schenley Park golf course at dusk from late December to late February to watch one to three merlins come in to roost.

Merlins (Falco columbarius) are small fast falcons about the size of pigeons, though pigeons outweigh them. Like their peregrine cousins, merlins declined because of DDT and their population retracted into Canada’s boreal forest. After DDT was outlawed, they recovered slowly and in 1995-2014 began to take up residence further south. Some began nesting in towns and cities.

This year it was Pittsburgh’s turn. On 18 March 2022 Malcolm Kurtz saw and heard two merlins vocalizing at Chatham University as if they intended to nest. Would they? Unlikely. Most eastern merlins nest in Canada. They had never nested in Allegheny County.

Four months later on 18 July Malcolm saw proof that they’d raised a family — a juvenile with parents at Chatham.

County record! Merlins are nesting in Pittsburgh!

Merlin family at Chatham University, juvenile in the center, 21 July 2022 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz)

Why Chatham?

Birds of the World, Merlin account explains: “Merlins do not build a nest and make few if any modifications to an old corvid or hawk nest. In cities, they nest in conifers in residential areas, school yards, parks, and cemeteries. High availability of safe nesting sites (corvid nests in spruces) and high prey abundance (house sparrows) appear to be two main reasons for urban populations of merlins.”

Yes, I’ve seen plenty of house sparrows in the merlins’ territory.

Merlin family at Chatham University, juvenile in the center, 21 July 2022 (photo by Malcolm Kurtz)

How long will the juvenile merlin hang around?

Again from Birds of the World, Merlin account, “Fledglings remain dependent upon adults and remain near nest sites for 1 to 4 weeks. They often hunt for dragonflies, which are abundant in July and August and may half-heartedly chase potential prey species or pigeons.”

Will the Chatham merlins be back next year? Perhaps nearby but not in the same nest. Merlins rarely use the same nest in two consecutive years. 

Watch for Malcolm Kurtz’s article on the merlins in an upcoming issue of Three Rivers Birding Club’s newsletter, The Peregrine. Check out his photos on Instagram.

(photos by Malcolm Kurtz)

p.s. Sounds! Here are examples of what merlins sound like in their nesting territory. Be alert for these calls in your neighborhood March-to-August.

Alarm near the nest, Xeno Canto 666137:

Female calling after mating with male, Xeno Canto 642023:

Adults and begging juvenile, Xeno Canto 642023:

Dori & Terzo Successful Downtown

Fledgling on a roof at Third Avenue, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

28 June 2022

Back in mid-May I thought it unlikely that Pittsburgh’s Downtown peregrines would have a successful nesting season. Terzo was seen with a new unbanded female and Dori, at 16 years old, had low prospects for a healthy youngster. But I was wrong.

Yesterday morning Lori Maggio stopped by Third Avenue to look for peregrine activity and found three: Terzo, Dori, and a loud fledgling. The youngster had fledged to a safe zone across Third Avenue and was whining loudly.

Terzo whined back. (Read the captions for the story.)

Terzo responds to the fledgling. His bands are visible in a zoomed photo, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Fledgling whining to his parents at Third Avenue, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Terzo picked up the prey and delivered it to the fledgling.

Terzo with food for the fledgling, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Meanwhile the female watched from one of the gargoyles on Lawrence Hall. Lori couldn’t get a photo of her bands but I can tell this is Dori. Her face and chest markings match this positive ID photo of Dori.

Dori watches from a gargoyle on Lawrence Hall, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

On 29 May I saw two nestlings through my scope from Mt. Washington. Yesterday Lori didn’t see a second youngster but it may have been silent.

Here’s hoping the loud fledgling did well on his next flight.

(photos by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine Post-Fledge News, 26 June

Fledgling at prison water tower as male comes in with prey, Eckert Street peregrines, 22 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

26 June 2022, Updated 27 June

In late June young peregrines are learning to hunt before they leave home in July. Here’s an update for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Cathedral of Learning, Univ of Pittsburgh

Kate looks for young peregrines on Webster Hall & St. Paul’s Cathedral steeple (photo by Rick St. John)

The peregrine chicks that hatched two months ago have learned how to hunt but still wait in Oakland to beg from their parents. The youngsters’ favorite haunts are St. Paul’s Cathedral steeple, Webster Hall roof, Heinz Chapel steeple, and of course the Cathedral of Learning. In the photo above I’m watching two juvies on Webster Hall roof while Ecco monitors them from St. Paul’s. Since June 16 or 19 I have seen only two of the three juveniles, both females.

Downtown Pittsburgh, Third Avenue

Fledgling at Third Avenue roof, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Lori Maggio visited Third Avenue around 8am on 27 June and saw three peregrines: Dori, Terzo and a fledgling. Read more here.

Monaca Bridges, Ohio River: Mark Vass saw a single peregrine on 25 June.

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge, Ohio River: Mark Vass saw one peregrine on 11 June.

Sewickley Bridge, Ohio River: Mark Vass saw one peregrine on the bridge on 12 June. Jeff Cieslak photographed one on 8 June.

Solo peregrine at Sewickley Bridge, 8 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Eckert Street / McKees Rocks Bridge area, Ohio River

Juvie peregrine flies with prey, adult peregrine follows, 25 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The Eckert Street juvenile peregrines are learning how to hunt! Yesterday Jeff Cieslak watched the parents fly by holding prey as if to say, “Come get it!” The youngsters chased and grabbed, including this one grappling with a pigeon. Their favorite place is now the water tower at Western Penitentiary (SCI Pittsburgh) next to the Ohio River.

Adult peregrine on the prison water tower (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

This family has a wide selection of food because they live so close to the river. On 17 June I found a prey item in two pieces in Don’s Diner parking lot: Body-with-legs and head-with-a-stray-leaf. Green heron.

Green heron in pieces, peregrine prey at Eckert Street, 17 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Westinghouse Bridge, Turtle Creek

Female peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge with prey for juvie, 26 June 2022 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

UPDATE: On 26 June Dana Nesiti was lucky to see both the female and the lone juvenile peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge. The juvie was whining for food. The female brought some.

Clairton Coke Works

Dana Nesiti reports on 21 June: “I inquired about the falcons at the Clairton Coke works and was told that 2 of the juvies were caught on the ground and put back up on the quenching tower and all 3 are flying good now.”

62nd Street Bridge / Aspinwall / Highland Park Bridge

62nd Street and Highland Park bridges as seen from underneath Aspinwall RR bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

On 19 June 2022 Mark Vass saw three peregrines at the Highland Park Bridge including an adult feeding a juvenile. When I stopped by on 25 June I saw one adult. Mark’s observation confirms that peregrines bred in this stretch of the Allegheny River but we don’t know where.

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River

Female peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 2 June 2022 (photo by Dave Brooke)

The nestlings at the Tarentum Bridge fledged earlier than the other sites and were flying really well when Steve Valasek and his kids visited on 17 June. They saw four peregrines fly by!

Here’s a summary for southwestern Pennsylvania, all in one place.

(photos Rick St. John, Kate St. John, Jeff Cieslak, Dana Nesiti, Dave Brooke)

How to Find a Fledgling Peregrine

Blue jay harasses juvenile Pitt peregrine 5 Jun 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

8 June 2022

Now that the young Pitt peregrines have begun to fly you’ll have an opportunity in the next 5-7 days to see them up close on campus — maybe even as close as Charity Kheshgi saw one last year (above).

How do you find them?

Walk around campus near the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel and keep your eyes and ears open. Small birds will help, as the blue jay is doing above. Check out all the tips.

After they’ve flown for about a week they leave for other buildings and are really hard to find.

Flying Leaps!

Silver Girl takes a flying leap toward the snapshot camera, 6 June 2022 (photo from the snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

7 June 2022

There are First Flight updates at the end of this article.

Yesterday the young Pitt peregrines practiced their flight skills by making short flying leaps to nearby ledges. The snapshot camera captured their antics, sometimes quite close!

Today they won’t be so active because it’s raining all day. Wet feathers are heavy so young birds who’ve never flown don’t make their first attempt in the rain. Today’s Fledge Watch is canceled because …

UPDATES between bouts of rain:

FLEDGLING UPDATE: 9:30am and noon from rooftop in North Oakland: It appears one of the chicks fledged this morning to the high side of the Cathedral of Learning, facing Heinz Chapel. (My guess is Red Boy.) Why I think this: Morela is babysitting in unusual places on 40th and 38E patio ledge. Morela’s behavior is a Fledge Watch Tip, described here.

FLEDGLING UPDATE: 12:30 to 1:00pm on a quick walk to Schenley Plaza: Two juvenile females were on the nestrail flapping, leaping, skimming the nestrail. At 1:00pm the darker one (I think Silver Girl) launched from the nestrail and flew a lot! Morela & Ecco both zoomed in & herded her back to the CL. (Ecco dropped his talons to herd her.) She landed on the netting at SE 26 & is cooling off, probably getting her heartbeat back to normal.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Flying at Westinghouse

Mother peregrine has food ready as a reward for first flight, Westinghouse Bridge, 5 June 2022 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

6 June 2022

Yesterday at the Westinghouse Bridge Dana Nesiti captured a photo series that shows us a young peregrine in first flight. He almost didn’t capture it at all, as he describes below.

6-5-2022 Westinghouse Bridge. We have a fledge!! When I got there early the female was sitting in front of the scrape. The juvie came out and hopped down the arch turned around and went back to the scrape. … I put my teleconverter on and the juvie flew, completely catching me off guard. It flew and disappeared under the bridge. The female came back and landed on the handrail to the left of the scrape. She looked around and when she took off she had prey … flew to a cache site and went back on the handrail. The juvie flew out and up over the bridge and I lost it. I had to pack up but did one more walk scanning the bridge and I found the juvie fleeping up the very center arch.

Dana Nesiti at Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page

It’s easy to tell which bird is which in the slideshow. The mother bird is charcoal gray and white and is banded, Black/Blue 48/N from Indiana. The youngster is brown and cream colored, unbanded. He’s also quite awkward compared to his mother. (The slideshow repeats.)

  • Mother peregrine watches youngster, Westinghouse Bridge, 5 June 2022 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

And what is “fleeping?” Looks like “fly-leaping” to me.

Thanks, Dana, for the great photos!

(photos by Dana Nesiti)

Yesterday at Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch

Two young peregrines on the nestrail at Cathedral of Learning, 4 June 2022 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

5 June 2022

Yesterday the young peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning were up on the nestrail exercising their wings. We think one may have fledged in mid-afternoon.

Charity Kheshgi arrived at 11:00am and saw an adult bald eagle fly over, too high to inspire Morela to attack so there were no fireworks like these in 2012.

Red Boy was particularly active, running, flapping and levitating from the nestrail. At the end of each run he would pause, then walk back to his starting point and run again. The top photo shows him at the starting point with his sister.

Since the peregrines match the building, I’ve circled them in yellow in these photos by John English.

  • Two juveniles on the nestrail, 4 June 2022 (photo by John English)

Their parents watched from nearby. The photo below shows four members of the family, Morela and Ecco at left and right with two juveniles in the middle.

  • Four peregrines perched at Cathedral of Learning, 4 June 2022 (photo by John English)

But the fifth may have been in the picture too. Notice that as Morela is looking in the gully, one of the juvies is perched in the keyhole.

  • Morela watches a juvie in the gully, 4 June 2022 (photo by John English)

After we left Michelle Kienholz watched for a couple of hours. Around 2:50pm she saw a flutter of brown wings off the nestrail and then an adult flew. This is just the sort of quick confusing activity that heralds a fledging taking off for the first time. Was it Red Boy making his first flight, followed by a babysitting adult?

We’ll have to count heads at Fledge Watch today from 11:00am to 12:30pm. The weather will be perfect. We might even stay longer if we’re inspired. Join us (info here)!

p.s. If you come on your own, here’s a guide on where to look for the juvies: Where is the Nest at Pitt?

(photos by Michelle Kienholz and John English)

Peregrine News at Every Nest, 2 Jun

Fledgling at Tarentum Bridge, 30 May 2022 (photo by Steve Gosser)

2 June 2022

Activity is frantic at Pittsburgh area peregrine nests as the 2022 nesting season races to a close in the next few weeks. Here’s the news from all the nests.

Cathedral of Learning, Univ of Pittsburgh

Talk about frantic! Here’s yesterday in-a-minute at the Cathedral of Learning.

Two chicks in Downtown Pittsburgh, Third Avenue

LOUSY PHOTO, but I saw 2 chicks and 1 adult, Third Ave nest, 29 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 29 May I viewed the Third Avenue nest from Mt Washington near the Mon Incline. My lousy digi-scoped photo does not capture the two chicks and one adult I saw roaming the nest. The chicks are younger here than those at other nests.

Four at Eckert Street

Four peregrine chicks at Eckert Street, 1 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Jeff Cieslak counted four chicks yesterday at the Eckert Street nest. They’re just a little bit younger than the Pitt peregrines.

One at Westinghouse

One chick at Westinghouse Bridge, 28 May 2022 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Every time Dana Nesiti visits the Westinghouse Bridge he sees only one chick, as shown on 28 May.

Three at Clairton Coke Works

  • Aerial view of Clairton Coke Works (photo from gasp-pgh.org)

On 25 May, Dana Nesiti accompanied Game Warden Doug Bergman to Clairton Coke Works to view the newest and most industrialized peregrine nest in western Pennsylvania (slideshow above). I’ve added two views of the coke plant to show the quench towers where the birds are nesting (red arrow). Learn more about this nest in Mary Ann Thomas’s article at Trib-Live.

Three Fledging at Tarentum

Fledgling peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 30 May 2022 (photo by Steve Gosser)

On 30 May Steve Gosser found that one of the three youngsters had flown at the Tarentum Bridge. The next day Dave Brooke confirmed there was still only one, but by now there are probably more. Stop by the Tarentum Bridge to see three young peregrines learn to fly.

And just in case you prefer text to pictures, here’s the summary for southwestern Pennsylvania.

(photos by Steve Gosser, the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, Kate St. John, Jeff Cieslak, Dana Nesiti, Mark Dixon)