Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

Nests Over Water

Green heron, Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)
Green heron, Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)

Why does this bird have his crest raised?

Perhaps someone came too close to his nest.

Green herons (Butorides virescens) are shy waders in swampy thickets, preferring to fish in the shadows and nest alone.  Because of their secretive nature it’s always surprising to find a nest.

When green herons return to Pennsylvania in the spring they’re already paired up for nesting.  The male chooses the location, usually in a small tree over water, giving preference to last year’s site if it was successful.  He starts to build the nest but as soon as his lady gets the hint his job is to bring the sticks as she places them.  Then she lays 4-5 eggs.

Green heron nesting in Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)
Green heron nesting in Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)

With this dual building effort it’s amazing that the structure is sometimes so thin that you can see the eggs through it from below.

That is, if you can find the nest.  Green herons don’t want you to.  They fly away loudly if you come too close.  Typically they sound like this (Xeno Canto 147343 by Paul Marvin at Viera Wetlands, FL)

… but if they’re really annoyed they are much louder (Xeno Canto 145806 by Paul Marvin at Viera Wetlands, FL)

Right now most of Pennsylvania’s green herons have young in the nest and the parents are busy bringing food.  At 16-17 days old the chicks will climb out of the nest — or swim if they have to.  They’ll fly at 21-22 days old.

Stay alert for the sight and sound green herons.  You might find a nest over water.

Bob Kroeger found these herons in Florida.

 

(photos by Bob Kroeger of South Dennis, MA. Bob photographs birds for fun and shares them on Facebook. Here’s his business website.)

Tarentum Peregrines: The Week To Watch

June 15, 2018:

The Tarentum peregrine family is already fun to watch. Now the excitement is ramping up.

Back on June 5, Gerry Devinney captured this video of the adult peregrines escorting an osprey away from their nest.  On June 8 Mary Ann Thomas wrote about them here: Tarentum Peregrines Defend Their Nesting Success.

Last Tuesday evening, June 12, the first nestling ventured out of the nestbox to ledge walk and exercise his wings.

We don’t know the chicks’ exact ages but they’re somewhere between 32-36 days old today. Young peregrines fledge at 38-45 days old.  These birds will fly soon, maybe within a week!

Visit the Tarentum boat launch to watch the youngsters get ready to fly.  Click here for a map.

UPDATE, June 15, 6:10pm:  Rob Protz reports that there are three (3!) young peregrines out of the nestbox this evening.

 

(video by Gerry Devinney)

Tiny Rails

  • A Virginia Rail out in the open. Why is it visible? (Mittry Lake, AZ, 23 April 2018. photo by Steve Valasek, botheringbirds.com)

The further south you go, the earlier the birds nest.  In late April we’re excited that Virginia rails (Rallus limicola) have just returned to Pennsylvania.  In southern Arizona they already have families.

Steve Valasek found this out when he went looking for black rails (a very rare bird!) at Mittry Lake in Yuma County, Arizona on 23 April.  He didn’t find a black rail but he did find tiny rails that were black.

When he spotted a Virginia rail out in the open he wondered, ” Why isn’t it hiding like they normally do?”  In this slideshow of his photos you’ll find out why.

Read about Steve’s adventure on his blog: Virginia Rails.  See full size photos here.

 

p.s. The Second Breeding Bird Atlas of Pennsylvania says the median egg date for Virginia rails in our state is 6 June. Since the eggs are incubated for 19 days and the chicks are precocial (they walk from the nest), the right time to see a Virginia Rail family in Pennsylvania would be early July. Good luck! They’re usually impossible to find.

(photos by Steve Valasek)

Peregrines at the Graff Bridge

Adult peregrine at Graff Bridge, Manorville, 7 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Adult peregrine at Graff Bridge, Manorville, PA, 7 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday Patience Fisher and I went birding in Clarion County. On the way back I said, “Let’s go look at peregrines.”

Promising a view of peregrine falcons can ruin one’s credibility but I was hoping to see them at the Rt 422 Graff Bridge near Kittanning.  I thought they’d be there but their nesting status hadn’t been confirmed yet.  So why not try?

As soon as we got out of our cars in Manorville I heard and saw a begging juvenile calling from the power tower.  Before I could get him in the scope he left the tower, pursuing another peregrine.

We walked the Armstrong Trail in the direction the two birds flew.  Finding the adult pictured above was easy.  She was perched on the bridge catwalk, looking down into the trees below, and kakking.  Elsewhere under the bridge — not nearby — we heard another begging juvenile.

Success!  I borrowed Patience’s cellphone to digiscope the adult.

We certainly saw one adult and one juvenile. I think the distant begging sound was a second juvenile.  Here’s how I reached that conclusion:

Guess #1:  The first juvenile pursued the adult to that area of the bridge but he landed below in a place she considered unsafe, so she was kakking to tell him to move.  I’ve seen this kind of interaction at Pitt.  Kakking means “I see danger.”  Kakking without dive-bombing means the danger is not a predator to be driven away — so the danger is something else.

Guess #2: I think there are two juveniles.  The other begging call was far away from the original action and its tone sounded like a juvenile who thought it couldn’t/wouldn’t fly to pursue the adult.

Guess #3:  The adult was female.  This is the shakiest guess of all.  Could have been the male.

If you’d like to see these birds for yourself, visit the viewing area soon.  Click here for directions.

 

(photo by Kate St. John; thanks to Patience Fisher for loaning her cellphone)

Watch Nesting Ospreys

Feeding the chicks at the Hellgate osprey nest, 5 June 2018 (photo from Cornell Lab Hellgate Osprey cam)
Feeding the chicks at the Hellgate osprey nest, 5 June 2018 (photo from Cornell Lab Hellgate Osprey cam)

If you miss seeing nesting peregrines on camera here’s a raptor family to watch online.  As of last night (June 5), there were two chicks and one egg still to go at an osprey nest in Montana.

The nest is in Hellgate Canyon next to the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana.  It looks like a very public place but the birds are right next to the river.  The Hellgate valley is so narrow here that the river, the railroad, some businesses, and Interstate 90 are all close by.  We see and hear I-90 traffic in the background. (Click here for a map of the site.)

Louis and Iris are devoted parents whose lives are sometimes complicated by terrible weather and threats from challengers.  And yet they persist.  In this video clip Louis brings Iris a fish to eat while she was incubating last week.  Click here for a 36 minute video of the first chick’s first feeding.

The chicks are tiny.  There’s plenty to see.  Tune in here to watch their progress at the Hellgate Osprey nest.

 

p.s. If you watch before 7:15a Pittsburgh time, you’ll see that the sun hasn’t risen yet in Montana!

(photo from tweet of Cornell Lab’s Hellgate Osprey nestcam)

Peregrine Update, June 5

Hope leaves with prey while a juvenile lunges from behind, 2 June 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Hope leaves with prey while a juvenile lunges from behind, 2 June 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Peregrine nesting season is in transition.  Some nests have fledged, others are still in progress.  Here’s an update from last week’s most active peregrine sites in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

Peregrine watching was exciting near Heinz Chapel last weekend.

Peter Bell’s video above (Pitt Peregrines Facebook page) shows how close the birds were. As he says, “The challenge of photographing peregrines … they’re comfortable up high and far away. This is Hope on Heinz Chapel – what is considered extremely low, about 250 feet up.”

Peter snapped the top photo around 3:30p on Saturday (June 2) as Hope flew away from two aggressive juveniles on the Heinz Chapel roof.  She was carrying prey but she wouldn’t let them have it because it was part of her lesson plan.  Ignoring the lesson, they rushed her.

I joined Peter at 4p and we walked — sometimes ran — to follow the action in the air. Overhead two really loud juveniles whined for food, flew at breakneck speed, and chased their mother.  On the ground, wedding after wedding emerged from Heinz Chapel and posed for photos by the lawn.

Eventually the two dramas nearly collided. Dangling prey, Hope flew from Heinz Chapel toward the Cathedral of Learning urging a juvenile to flip upside down to receive it.  He flipped, she dropped it, and … he missed!  Good thing it hit the lawn and instead of the bridesmaids!

The two youngsters fledged May 29 and 31, spent the first few days landing on the Cathedral of Learning, then graduated to Heinz Chapel and Alumni Hall.  By yesterday afternoon, June 4, the entire family was hard to find.  They’re further away from home as the parents teach the young how to hunt.

 

Westinghouse Bridge over Turtle Creek, Monongahela watershed, Allegheny County

Young peregrine ledge walking at Westinghouse Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
Young peregrine ledge walking at Westinghouse Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

John English and I visited the Westinghouse Bridge around noon on Sunday June 3 and found the juveniles ledge walking and shouting at their mother, “Feed me!”  We eventually saw the entire family — both adults flying and three juveniles on the arch.

In the photo below, a juvenile has his head turned away to look at his mother. You can see the “eye spots” on the back of his head that are meant to fool predators.

With his head turned away to look at his mother, juvenile peregrine shows the "eye spots" on the back of his head, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
With his head turned away to look at his mother, juvenile peregrine shows the “eye spots” on the back of his head, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

 

Elizabeth Bridge, Monongahela River, Allegheny County

Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

John and I then drove up the Monongahela River to look for peregrines at the Elizabeth Bridge.  From our vantage point at the waterfront we saw two adults and heard a youngster begging from the nest area but we didn’t see any juveniles.  What we didn’t know is that a juvenile had flown recently because …

Around 2pm a young peregrine was seen on the road in the center of the bridge’s northbound lane but traffic in the construction zone was too intense to stop (reported here by Walter Marchewka).  Fortunately Philip Tyler was able to retrieve the bird and take him to rehab. The youngster hit his head quite hard and is being treated for head trauma. (Click here for Philip Tyler’s report on Facebook.)

UPDATE, Tuesday afternoon, June 5:  Sadly another juvenile peregrine was found dead on the bridge deck (road surface) this morning.  Game Warden Doug Bergman retrieved its body.

 

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, Allegheny-Westmoreland Counties

View of Tarentum Birdge nestbox area, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)
View of Tarentum Birdge nestbox area, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)

Amber VanStrien has good news from the Tarentum Bridge last weekend.  Using her zoom camera from the nearby upstream park she photographed two chicks moving around in the nest box.

Peregrine nestlings at Tarentum, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)
Peregrine nestlings at Tarentum, 3 June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)

If you’d like to see this family for yourself, click here for a map.

 

(photos by Peter Bell, Pitt Peregrines on Facebook; John English, Pittsburgh Falconuts on Facebook; Amber VanStrien)

Red-Tailed Hawks Getting Ready To Fly

Young red-tailed hawk nearly airborne, 3 June 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)
Young red-tailed hawk nearly airborne, 3 June 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)

The Pitt peregrines have flown. The young red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park are getting ready to go. Here are photos of their recent activity by Gregory Diskin.

The youngsters are fully feathered now, ledge walking and wing exercising.  On June 3, one of them flapped so hard he was nearly airborne.

Young red-tailed hawk exercising his wings, 3 June 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)
Young red-tailed hawk exercising his wings, 3 June 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)

When they aren’t busy exercising, they gaze at their parents who often perch in a large sycamore tree across the way.

Young red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park, almost ready to fly, 2 June 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)
Young red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park, almost ready to fly, 2 June 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)

And they watch intensely as their parents fly.  “So that’s how it’s done.”

Red-tailed hawk takes off from the nest as a chick watches, 30 May 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)
Red-tailed hawk takes off from the nest as a chick watches, 30 May 2018 (photo by Gregory Diskin)

For more photos of the hawk family’s progress, click here to see Gregory Diskin’s album.

 

(photos by Gregory Diskin)

Pitt Peregrines Are Ledge Walking

Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Yesterday the Pitt peregrine chicks reached the milestone we’ve been waiting for: They started to ledge walk.

When we arrived at Schenley Plaza on Sunday morning we found both chicks on the “railing” — the wall above the nest. The railing is an excellent place to exercise their wings and eventually take off on their first flight.

Yesterday’s focus was exercise or “wing-ercise.”

One chick exercises his wings while the other one watches with his head turned upside down (photo by Peter Bell)
One chick exercises his wings while the other one watches with his head turned upside down, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Wing exercises! 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Wing exercises! 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

The chicks like this location because they can see for miles and whine for food. Notice how their mouths are open in the photo at top.  They’re shouting.  We could hear them at Schenley Plaza!

Eventually their shouting paid off.  One of their parents delivered a meal (parent on left holding black bird) and the two chicks raced over to eat it.

Adult peregrine delivers a meal to two chicks at Pitt, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Adult peregrine delivers a meal to two chicks at Pitt, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Join us at Fledge Watch, today through Wednesday (except in rain/thunder).  Check the Events page for details and in case of cancellation.

Or come down to Schenley Plaza any time in the next couple of days and to see the young birds.  Here’s where to look.

 

(photos by Peter Bell, Pitt Peregrines Facebook page)

 

Brief News From Pitt Fledge Watch

Pitt peregrines, juvenile and Terzo at the bulwark, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines, juvenile and Terzo (yellow circles) in the vicinity of the nest, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

There wasn’t a lot of activity yesterday at Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

Our most exciting moment was when Terzo landed on the bulwark above the nest and a juvenile hopped up to perch in one of the keyholes.  Circled in yellow in John English’s photo above, the juvenile is on the left, Terzo is on top of the wall.

Here’s a closeup of the juvenile in keyhole#2 — very brown.

Pitt peregrines: Juvenile in keyhole#2, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines: Juvenile in keyhole#2, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

And here’s Terzo.

Pitt peregrines: Terzo on the bulwark, watching the "kids" below, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines: Terzo on the bulwark, watching the “kids” below, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

The downy white feathers on the wall are probably fluff from a prey-plucking episode near Terzo’s perch.

You can see that the “gully” is quite long in the top photo. The juvenile in the keyhole walked from the area near Terzo (keyhole#5) to the spot where he’s perched (keyhole#2).  The young have a lot of space to move around.

Based on their (lack of) activity on Friday, I think the chicks will wait a couple of days before they fly.

 

(photos by John English)

UPDATE on May 26, 2018, 9:30am:  Both youngsters were back on the nest!  Now that they know how to get up and down they’ll try both places.

Both youngsters are back in the Pitt nest, 26 May 2018, 9:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Both youngsters are back in the Pitt nest, 26 May 2018, 9:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt Fledge Watch: They Are Male

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, 2013
Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, 2013 (photo by John English)

It’s been hard to schedule this year’s Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch because I can’t guess when the chicks will fledge. Their first flight depends on their sex — males fledge earlier than females — and now I’ve learned that this year’s chicks are male.

Here’s the Pitt Fledge Watch schedule, then I’ll tell you about the male/female thing.

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch Schedule, 2018

When:  Friday, May 25 through Wednesday May 30, 11:30a – 1:30p. (Sun. May 27 is 11a-1p) Click here for the calendar.
Where: At the Schenley Plaza tent. Click here for a Google map.  Parking is free on Sundays.
Who:   Join me and/or John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts to watch peregrines and swap stories.
Except …  We will not be there in rain or thunder.  Also, Fledge Watch will end when they’re flying and hard to track.  (Example: If they fly on Tuesday we won’t be there on Wednesday.)

! Check the Events page for updates before you come to Schenley Plaza !

Why the two “female” chicks are male:
Pitt peregrine chick on Banding Day, 11 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrine chick on Banding Day, 11 May 2018 (photo by John English)

Are they male?  Yes.  Here’s why.

Among peregrine falcons, females are always larger than males.  At banding age the weight of peregrine chicks indicates their sex. The rough rule of thumb is:  Under 700 grams is male, greater or equal to 700 grams is female.

On Banding Day May 11 at the Cathedral of Learning, the Pitt chicks’ weights were borderline.  In that case, chicks are given the larger (“female”) bands so that the rings won’t bind if they turn out to be female.

As time passed and we saw them mature on camera Dan Brauning and Art McMorris emailed me with a revision.  Both chicks are male.

It doesn’t matter that they have larger “female” bands.  These chicks are listed as male in PA Game Commission records.

 

(photos by John English)