As loud as blue jays are all year they are very secretive when they nest, so sneaky that it’s hard to find a nest unless you see them build it.
Last week I was lucky to see four pairs of blue jays working on nests in Schenley Park. Both participate in the project though the male does more gathering while the female does more shaping.
Each phase of nest construction uses different materials. You can assess a pair’s progress by noting what they gather.
The outer shell is made of strong fresh twigs which they yank from live trees.
The middle may include bark, moss, lichen, dry leaves, grasses, mud, bits of paper, cloth, string or plastic.
The cup lining is made of tough rootlets and sometimes wet, partially decomposed leaves.
I found a pair in Schenley Park working on the outer shell when I noticed a blue jay vigorously pulling on a long twig until it broke from the tree. He flew up to a crotch in a nearby tree where his lady was waiting to add it to the foundation.
Two blue jays jousted over this valuable mud puddle. One held a muddy clump in his beak while he chased the other away. The second jay persisted.
Others pulled rootlets from an overturned tree, apparently in the final stage of construction.
Blue jays will travel 1,000 feet to gather nest material and even more for good rootlets, so I wasn’t surprised when I lost track of them when they flew away.
At the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest Morela and Ecco have been incubating four eggs all night, all day, and in all kinds of weather since 23-24 March. Incubation is boring except for the weather events.
Recurring heavy snow showers moved through in Pittsburgh on April Fools’ Day (1 April). Morela kept dry under the nestbox roof until the wind blew the snow at her.
Here’s her reaction to an intense snow shower. Was she scowling?
Yesterday, 4 April, it was so hot that Morela was able to expose the eggs for five minutes while she panted and sunbathed.
Morela incubates all night. Ecco helps out by arriving every morning before dawn. On 31 March he had a message for her. Was he telling her where he stored her breakfast? Was he saying “No need to hurry back” ? Who knows.
Every day is the same. There’s always a bird on the nest. The pair switches off several times a day.
News from last Saturday 27 March: This year for the first time since 2014 all three eggs hatched at the Hays nest. The first two (H13 and H14) hatched 18 hours apart on 23 March. The last (H15) hatched on 27 March. In this snapshot from 3rd Hatch Day the oldest is four days old, the youngest is seven hours old.
Allegheny River: Rt 422 Graff Bridge Kittanning, Armstrong County
Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:
Morela laid her fourth egg yesterday at 3:38pm (real time, 3:42pm camera time). As you can see from the 24 March timelapse video, she and Ecco rarely step away from the eggs. Morela stood up at 3:38pm to lay the fourth egg then settled down again as soon as it dried.
Best viewing of the Third Avenue nest site is from Grandview Avenue on Mt Washington next to the Monongahela Incline. On 20 March Jeff photographed a peregrine perched inside the nook. At that point it appeared they were choosing this location, not Gulf Tower.
Yesterday afternoon, 24 March, I confirmed nesting. When I set up my scope I immediately saw a peregrine in the back left corner standing in the about-to-lay-an-egg posture. As I waited and watched she laid at egg at 3:23pm, paused, raised her foot, then carefully stepped around it and stood waiting for it to dry. Dori laid her egg just 15 minutes before Morela laid hers.
Jeff Cieslaks’ photo insets from Tuesday at 5:43p show an incubating peregrine where the egg was laid … so maybe I saw Dori laying her last egg.
Monongahela Watershed: Westinghouse Bridge
Dana Nesiti photographed the Westinghouse Bridge peregrines mating on 21 March 2021. They are certainly planning to nest!
Male peregrine flies toward female, Westinghouse Bridge, 21 March 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Male peregrine lands on female
Female watches as male flies away
Monongahela River, Speers Railroad Bridge:
The Speers Railroad Bridge peregrines have been identified thanks to photos by Joe Ciferno and Dana Nesiti. Both birds are banded:
Female – 07/BS Black/Green, banded on 5/18/2017 on the Commodore Barry bridge over the Delaware river in Chester, Delaware County, PA.
Male – 68/AC Black/Green, banded on 5/23/2012 at the Cathedral of Learning University of Pittsburgh Allegheny County, PA.
Ohio River, McKees Rocks Bridge: No news. Observers needed!
Ohio River, Neville Island I-79 Bridge: No peregrines due to construction. The underside of the bridge is completely covered. No nest access.
Ohio River, Ambridge Bridge: Peregrines are present throughout the year. Karen Lang has recently seen a single bird, apparently the male, perched on the bridge — Sunday 22 March at 4pm and Wednesday 24 March at noon. Perhaps this pair is incubating.
Ohio River, Monaca Railroad Bridge:
Jeff Cieslak was in Monaca on 21 March and photographed the peregrines perching and flying around the superstructure. Sometimes they are hard to see.
Allegheny River, 62nd Street Bridge to Aspinwall Railroad Bridge: No peregrines. One was present in January and February but no sightings since then.
Allegheny River, Tarentum Bridge:
Dave Brooke’s 16 March photo shows a peregrine very low in the nestbox. (Can you see her?) It appears this pair is already incubating.
Allegheny River, Rt 422 Graff Bridge, Kittanning:
On 14 March I walked under the Graff Bridge at Manorville and immediately saw a peregrine perched on the upriver side. Peregrines are present. Are they nesting?
Observers needed! Visit these sites and tell me what you see.
(photos by Kate St. John, National Aviary falconcam at Cathedral of Learning, Jeff Cieslak, Dana Nesiti, Joe Ciferno, Dave Brooke)
Meanwhile at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, 3.5 miles away, Morela laid her third egg yesterday morning. Peregrines typically lay 3-5 eggs so Morela may lay more. We won’t know until we see it.
The peregrine timelapse video below shows the adults may be incubating, though I wonder about Morela’s 90 minutes on the perch from 4p – 5:30p. If incubating has begun the hatch date will be a month from now, approximately April 20-24.
Interestingly, though the peregrines started nesting a month later than the eagles they will more than catch up in the end. The Pitt peregrine nestlings will fly at least a week before the Hays eaglets.
The Hays eagles schedule this year is …
First eagle egg laid = 12 February 2021
First eagle egg hatched, first chick = 23 March 2021
First flight expected = guessing June 11 – 20
The Pitt peregrines’ schedule is …
First peregrine egg = 17 March 2021
First peregrine hatch (most will hatch on the same day) = approximately 20-25 April.
First flight expected = guessing 30 May to 4 June.
Soon the Hays bald eagle nest will have active fluffy chicks while the Pitt peregrines will embark on The Big Sit. For the next month it will be more interesting to watch the eagles than the peregrines.