Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

First Feeding, April 22

  • Hope sees Terzo bringing food

While we wait to find out if another peregrine chick has hatched overnight at the Cathedral of Learning …

This year’s first chick was fed yesterday afternoon, but his mother’s back blocked the streaming camera so you probably couldn’t see it. Here’s a slideshow from the National Aviary’s snapshot camera.

p.s. The snapshot camera is at this link. It shows the current still photo.

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

First Egg Hatches at Pitt

First nestling at Cathedral of Learning, 2019 (screenshot from the National Aviary falcon cam)

Hooray! The first egg hatched at the Cathedral of Learning this morning, April 22, at about 9:32a. (And his mother, Hope, did not harm him!)

HAPPY UPDATE, 22 APRIL 2019, 4:30pm:

The first chick hatched successfully and was not harmed. The slideshow below shows the hatchling and his parents on Monday 22 April 2019 from 9:32 to 9:42 am. Here’s a summary of the action:

  • Terzo (father bird) is on the nest at the moment the chick is first visible at 9:32am
  • Hope (mother bird) arrives at 9:38:07 to trade places with Terzo.
  • Hope carries the chick away from the scrape at 9:38:45. She does not harm it. She carries it back to the nest. (This was the only dangerous moment.)
  • Hope prepares to brood the chick at 9:41:56. We can see that the chick is fine.
  • Hope settles on the nest at 9:42:35. The coast is clear for this chick.
  • Terzo looks at the first Pitt peregrine hatchling, 22 April 2019, 9:32am

When Terzo arrives to trade places with Hope at 12:45pm, we can see the chick standing up, white and fluffy, in the slideshow below.

  • Hope sleeps while brooding the chick and incubating the eggs, 22 April 2019, 12:42:53

The first chick hatched without incident. We know from three years’ experience that Hope only kills a chick when it first hatches. Once she begins to brood it, the chick is safe.

There are four more eggs to go, so keep in mind …

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

I’ll keep you posted.

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

Mallard Moms Are On The Nest

Only two weeks ago the mallard flock at Duck Hollow was large and busy with males and females feeding in pairs. Back then the flock was usually 20+ birds but now it’s half that size and mostly male. The females are missing. They’re on the nest.

Female mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) nest on the ground laying one egg per day until the clutch is complete, about 10 eggs.

Though she doesn’t build the nest the mother mallard pulls nearby vegetation toward her body to line the nest bowl. When she begins incubation she plucks down from her breast to surround the eggs and cover them while she’s gone. The eggs hatch in 28 days.

Only the females incubate eggs while the males watch from afar. Except for a recess in early morning and late afternoon, female mallards are hidden all day — if they’ve chosen a good nest site.

In urban settings the ladies choose some creative places, as in the video above and this photo under a stairway in Madison, Wisconsin.

Mallard nesting under a stairway in Madison, Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Three days before they hatch the mallard chicks call back and forth with their mother from inside the eggs. On hatch day all of them emerge within 6-10 hours. Next morning their mother leads them to water for their first swim. See all of this in Ian Oland’s video, above.

So don’t be surprised when you don’t see female mallards at Duck Hollow in early April. Right now the mother mallards are on the nest.

(video by Ian Oland on YouTube. photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Golden Camouflage

European golden plover in Iceland (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The world’s three species of golden plovers — European (Pluvialis apricaria), American (P. dominica) and Pacific (P. fulva) — are so stunning in golden breeding plumage that they stand out when we look at them. How do these ground-nesting birds avoid predation when they look so obvious?

They’re wearing golden camouflage.

Above, a European golden plover is easy to see from the side, but blends into the background in the photo below, matching the tundra.

European golden plover blends into the background (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Speckled golden plumage hides them while they’re incubating. (American golden plover below)

American golden plover matches the ground (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And their chicks are perfectly camouflaged to match the tundra habitat. Can you find the chick in the photo below?

Who knew that gold can look like moss?

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals. Embedded tweet from @CrowsAndCompany)

An Acceptable Cliff

Adult peregrine falcon at Presque Isle State park, 2012 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Most of us watch peregrine falcons that nest in cities because that’s where most of us humans spend our time. Inevitably, this leads us to believe that peregrines are city birds that want to be near people, but this isn’t so. What nesting peregrines really want is an inaccessible cliff.

There aren’t many peregrine cliffs in Pennsylvania and none of them are in the western part of the state. All of Pennsylvania’s natural nest sites are steep river cliffs like this one at the Delaware Water Gap.

Delaware Water Gap (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

However, we sometimes create cliffs that are acceptable to peregrines though they look like holes to us. Here’s a rocky cliff that peregrines might use if people weren’t actively digging it. It’s a quartz-porphyry quarry in Germany.

Großsteinberg quarry, Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Among the many abandoned quarries in the U.K., this old chalk quarry at Greenhithe, Kent looked good to peregrines and they claimed it as their own.

It also looked good to developers who built Bluewater Shopping Centre below the cliffs.

The peregrines don’t mind the mall and the mall’s amenities make it a great place to watch peregrines, as seen in this BBC video from 2013.

For peregrine falcons, an old quarry is an acceptable cliff.

(peregrine photo by Steve Gosser. Remaining photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

p.s. In 2018 two of Pennsylvania’s 54 peregrine nests were located in quarries, both in the eastern part of the state.

Peregrines Are Dramatic

Beauty with two eggs, 2 April 2019 (photo from @Rfalconcam)

In 2007 Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning peregrines, Dorothy and Erie, hatched and raised a young female who settled in Rochester NY in 2009 to raise a family. Her name is Beauty and she’s been in Rochester ever since.

This year Beauty laid two eggs as of 2 April 2019 with a third egg due tomorrow, April 4.
Watch her online at rfalconcam.

Beauty’s life is calm nowadays but seven years ago she survived a nesting season so incredible that it resembled a Peyton Place soap opera. In Rochester NY in 2012 …

  • A male rival fought Beauty’s mate, Archer, until he was too wounded to survive.
  • A rival female peregrine, Unity, beat up Beauty and sent her to rehab for seven weeks. (Beauty didn’t know what we knew: Unity was her niece.)
  • The victorious male peregrine, DotCa, tried bonding with Unity. She laid an egg.
  • Then Unity died in a car accident!
  • Beauty was released from rehab only 50 miles away …
  • … and flew home to her nest where she found …

Whose Egg Is This???

Beauty returns, 6 April 2012 (image from rfalconcam)

Click on this link or the photo to read the whole story.

Peregrines lead dramatic lives.

Peregrine Update, 26 March

Terzo prepares to incubate five eggs, 24 March 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine falcons in southwestern Pennsylvania lay eggs from March through early April. By the last week of March some pairs have already begun to incubate while others are still courting and mating.

Here’s the latest news from eleven sites near Pittsburgh where peregrine falcons have been confirmed or could be nesting.  If you live near one of these sites, stop by and let me know what you see — or don’t see. We need news from the sites marked (**).
1. Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh
2. Downtown Pittsburgh, near Point Park University
3. Westinghouse Bridge, Allegheny County, over Turtle Creek
4. Elizabeth Bridge, Allegheny County, Monongahela River (**)
5. McKees Rocks Bridge, Allegheny County, Ohio River (**)
6. Neville Island I-79 Bridge, Allegheny County, Ohio River
7. Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge, Beaver County, Ohio River
8. Monaca-East Rochester -or- Monaca-to-Beaver RR Bridge, Beaver County, Ohio River (**)
9. Hulton Bridge / Harmar, Allegheny County, Allegheny River (**)
10. Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny-Westmoreland County, Allegheny River
11. Route 422 Graff Bridge, Kittanning, Armstrong County, Allegheny River (**)


Cathedral of Learning, Univ. of Pittsburgh

Of all the peregrine sites in Pittsburgh, the Cathedral of Learning is the easiest one to watch because the nest is on camera. Hope laid five eggs March 11-21, 2019. Now she and her mate Terzo are incubating. In the March 25 Day In A Minute video above you can see their daily routine. Hope spends the night on the eggs, Terzo brings food (off camera) at dawn, Hope leaves, and Terzo takes over incubation. Then they switch off periodically.

During the day Terzo spends a lot of time on the eggs. Can you tell the difference between Hope and Terzo? Here are some identification clues as you watch them on camera.

Their eggs will hatch during the week of April 21-27, 2019 — but don’t get excited to watch them hatch. Every year Hope kills and eats some of her chicks while hatching. Very unusual and very abnormal!! I always advise folks not to watch. It is upsetting.

Downtown Pittsburgh

Louie at the nest area, 8 March 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

This year Dori and Louie are nesting on Third Avenue opposite Point Park University’s Lawrence Hall because the Gulf Tower is unavailable. This means they aren’t on camera.

Lori Maggio confirmed that peregrine eggs were still in progress Downtown on March 21 because she saw the pair mating that day.


Westinghouse Bridge

Westinghouse Bridge peregrines about to mate, 17 March 2019 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dana Nesiti visited the Westinghouse Bridge many times in early March and usually found the pair mating — as shown in his March 17 photo above. On March 24 John English and I visited the bridge and heard a peregrine calling. Soon the male arrived and went back and forth to the (hidden) nest area. Eventually he stayed inside and the female flew out and around the valley. Perhaps this pair is incubating now.

Elizabeth Bridge (defunct)

Elizabeth Bridge, early May 2018 (photo by Elizabeth Cain)

Last year a pair of peregrines nested in a cubbyhole in the upper arc of the Elizabeth Bridge. Unfortunately, that location is very unsafe for fledglings and all of their offspring landed on the roadway and were hit by cars.

This year while the bridge is still under renovation PennDOT blocked the cubbyholes. No peregrines have been seen for several weeks now, but we need additional confirmation that they aren’t nesting there. If you live nearby or use this bridge please look for peregrines and let me know what you see — or don’t see.


McKees Rocks Bridge

Pair of peregrines at McKees Rocks Bridge, 4 March 2019 (photo by John Flannigan, Jr)

Peregrines have nested at the McKees Rocks Bridge for many years but are always hard to monitor because the bridge is so large. John Flannigan captured a distant photo of the pair on March 4, 2019. More monitors are needed. Please contact me if you’re interested.

Neville Island I-79 Bridge

Peregrine pair at Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 2015 (photo by John English)

Peregrines have nested successfully at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge since at least 2012. This spring Anne Marie Bosnyak saw them mating at dusk on March 19 so we know eggs were in progress a week ago. This pair may be incubating now.

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge

Ambridge Aliquippa Bridge (photo & map from Wikimedia Commons)

NEW LOCATION! In late February and early March Mark Vass reported a peregrine — and then a pair — perched on the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge over the Ohio River. This bridge is a logical place halfway between two peregrine sites, Neville Island and Beaver, but its superstructure is “made of air” — open trusses with crossbars — so it’s hard to imagine where a nest could be. Last week Karen Lang began checking the bridge and has seen a peregrine every time she’s looked — March 20 and 25.

Monaca, Rochester, Beaver area

Railroad bridge over the Ohio River from Monaca to Beaver (photo by Kate St.John)
Railroad bridge over the Ohio River from Monaca to Beaver (photo by Kate St.John)

Peregrines have usually nested on a bridge in the Monaca – East Rochester – Beaver area but no one is monitoring them this year. Can any of you help?


Hulton Bridge, Harmar

The new Hulton Bridge over the Allegheny River at Oakmont (photo from Gannett Fleming, the Civil & Structural Engineering firm for this bridge)

In January Gina Gilmore photographed a banded female peregrine hanging out near the Hulton Bridge on the Harmar side. Since then many observers have visited there because the Harmar bald eagles have laid eggs — but there’s no news of a peregrine. Has anyone seen a peregrine at Harmar lately? Please let me know.

Tarentum Bridge

Male peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 25 March 2019 (photo by Dave Brooke)
Female peregrine in the nestbox at Tarentum Bridge, 25 March 2019 (photo by Dave Brooke)

Further up the Allegheny River there’s a lot of peregrine activity at the Tarentum Bridge. Yesterday morning, March 25, Dave Brooke stopped by to take pictures and saw the pair mating. The Tarentum female is very loud so you can’t miss her even if you can’t see her. Perhaps incubation will begin soon. (p.s. the male is banded and has a clear chest; the female is unbanded and has a spotted breast)

Graff Bridge, Kittanning

U.S. Route 422 bridge over the Allegheny River at Kittanning, PA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Route 422 bridge over the Allegheny River at Kittanning, PA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Peregrines have nested successfully on the Graff Bridge (Route 422) at Kittanning for at least four years but no one is currently monitoring the site. Please let me know if you’re interested.

(photo credits: Cathedral of Learning: national Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, Downtown Pittsburgh by Lori Maggio, Westinghouse Bridge by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA, Elizabeth Bridge by Elizabeth Cain, McKees Rocks Bridge by John Flannigan, Jr, Neville Island I-79 Bridge by John English, Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge from Wikimedia Commons, Beaver-Monaca RR Bridge by Kate St. John, Hulton Bridge from Gannett Fleming, Tarentum Bridge by Dave Brooke, Graff Bridge from Wikimedia Commons)

Tree Swallows Soon

Tree swallows fighting over a nest box (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

You might not see any tree swallows in Pittsburgh yet, but there are flocks in the north at Custards, Geneva Marsh and the Linesville Fish Hatchery.

Last Tuesday March 19 Patience Fisher and I were amazed by the millions of midges in the air at Custards. There were so many that they coated my car and attracted hundreds of tree swallows that wheeled over the marsh.

Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are short distance migrants who spend the winter as close to us as coastal North Carolina. The males tend to migrate first and arrive on the breeding grounds to claim territory and fight over nest sites, including bluebird boxes. When the females arrive they pair up quickly and place a little nesting material in their chosen nest site. The pair won’t nest for a few weeks but they like to stake their claim early.

Keep an eye out for tree swallows in the days and weeks ahead … and hope for warm weather so they have enough insects to eat.

Tree swallows are coming soon.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

First Hatch at Hays Bald Eagle Nest, March 23

First nestling at Hays bald eagle nest, 23 March 2019 (screenshot from Bald Eagles in Western PA – Audubon Facebook page)

Yesterday, 23 March 2019, was a big day at the Hays bald eagle nest. At 8:48am Audubon of Western PA confirmed a pip in one of the three eggs. The egg hatched at 1:14pm.

As usual, the mother bald eagle supervised the hatching process while the father waited for her to tell him ‘all clear.’ What does a father eagle do while he’s waiting? Dana Nesiti of Eagles of Hays PA was on the trail yesterday morning and saw a behavior new to him. He wrote:

… the male grabbed a branch, dropped it while flying and then swooped down and caught it out of the air. Never saw that before.

Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook
Male bald eagle drops a stick that he’s carrying to the nest (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)
… and then he catches it in the air (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

When the male got the ‘all clear’ he came to the nest to see the chick. Click here for ASWP’s video of the newly hatched chick with mother and father. (The chick is directly below the female.)

For now we will get only glimpses of the chick on camera while his parents keep him warm and incubate the remaining two eggs. But we’ll see him during feedings, as shown at top.

Watch the Hays bald eagle nest on the Audubon Society of Western PA Hays Nest Camera. Join the conversation on YouTube or Facebook.

Two eggs to go. Will both of them hatch? Wait and see.

UPDATE, 25 March 2019, 4pm: Second egg hatched at the Hays bald eagle nest.

(photo at top from Bald Eagles in Western PA – Audubon Society of Western PA on Facebook; in-flight photos by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)