Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

Piping Plovers Dance For Love

Piping plover at West Meadow Beach, NY (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

7 July 2020

For such a tiny shorebird, male piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) have an elaborate courtship dance. The best part of it — the “tattoo” — was tweeted last Friday by the Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program.

There’s more to the dance than that. In the run-up to copulation the male

  • Calls to his mate while scraping a nest in the sand, tossing away twigs and debris.
  • Approaches her in a low gliding crouch with his head below the horizontal.
  • Pauses near her, raises his head up high and beats a tattoo with his feet, faster and faster, closer and closer.
  • When he’s ready he mounts, still moving his feet up and down while on her back. He may stay in this position without copulating for more than a minute.
  • After or during copulation he may grab her by the nape of the neck. Though this looks vicious she doesn’t seem to mind.
  • And then they walk away and preen.

You can see all of these behaviors in this longer video from Montrose Beach, Illinois.

If all goes well, the dance results in some very cute baby birds.

Piping plover chick at West Meadow Beach, NY (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

What Peregrine Season Might Have Been

Return of the Peregrine Trailer from Brian McClatchy on Vimeo.

5 July 2020

Pittsburgh’s peregrine nesting season was disappointing this year, from the failed on-camera nest at the Cathedral of Learning, to the many un-monitored nests during the COVID-19 shutdown.

As compensation here’s the trailer for a beautiful 2013 video, The Return of the Peregrine, filmed in Germany.

This is what peregrine season might have been. Fingers crossed for next year!

(video embedded from Vimeo)

Not The Soap Opera We Thought

Ecco with Morela at the Pitt peregrine nest, 3 March 2020

2 July 2020

This spring the unresolved rivalry between two male peregrines — Terzo and Ecco — at the Cathedral of Learning made for a disappointing nesting season but generated a lot of speculation. Now that we know more about the Downtown peregrines we can lay one bit of speculation to rest.

Back on 15 March when Terzo and Ecco’s rivalry was spinning like a revolving door, I was surprised to see the Downtown female peregrine Dori appear on camera at Pitt. At the time I couldn’t help wondering, “Is the unbanded male Dori’s new mate who is shopping in Oakland because he doesn’t like the Downtown site?” … This led to speculation that Ecco was two-timing between the two nests. No, he is not.

Ecco has not been two-timing between Pitt and Downtown because (1) he’s not Dori’s mate and (2) he would have been way too busy Downtown to visit Morela at certain critical times.

Dori’s mate: On 28 June we learned from Lori Maggio’s photos that the Downtown male peregrine is banded. (Ecco is not banded.)

Adult male peregrine with silver colored right leg band, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Close-up of silver colored right leg band on Downtown Pittsburgh adult peregrine, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Critical timing: Here’s one example.

We learned on 28 June that the Downtown peregrine nest produced at least two young, probably more, who fledged approximately 25 to 30 June 2020. Parent peregrines are always extremely busy during the fledging period as they watch, feed and protect their naive young. During that period the Downtown adults had no time to make jaunts to other territories.

Meanwhile at Pitt, Ecco spent a busy day courting Morela multiple times on 25 June.

Morela and Ecco, 25 June 2020, 7:32am

Even if we didn’t know Dori’s real mate, this timing indicates Ecco has nothing to do with the Downtown nest.

So, Ecco isn’t two-timing. Frankly he’s having trouble being a successful one-timer.

My apologies for sending us all down this speculative rabbit hole. I should have brushed off Dori’s visit as curiosity on her part. I’ve seen other females visit the Pitt nest during turbulent times. Magnum visited twice in 2016 during Hope’s first turbulent year.

As much as I know peregrines I never learn that they’re surprising.

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

A Dose of Love

Barred owl chicks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t know about you but I really need uplifting news today. Here’s a dose of motherly love and cuteness as two barred owl chicks (Strix varia) grow up.

Thanks to The Dodo and Cornell Lab of Ornithology for brightening our day.

Barred owl mother and chick (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Young Peregrines Are Fledging Downtown

Juvenile peregrine practicing for first flight, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)

29 June 2020

Because of the COVID-19 shutdown there have been few eyes on the street in Downtown Pittsburgh so I was grateful when Point Park University police called me on Friday afternoon, 26 June 2020, with news of the Third Avenue peregrine nest. Unfortunately they had found a dead peregrine falcon fledgling. The good news is there are youngsters Downtown and they’re learning to fly. Maybe there are more. On Sunday morning 28 June Lori Maggio went Downtown to find out.

At 9:30am Lori texted me to report a youngster whining on the nest ledge and an adult watching from a gargoyle on Lawrence Hall.

Juvenile peregrine at the Third Avenue nest ledge, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Begging juvenile peregrine, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Begging at the Third Avenue nest ledge, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)

The youngster was watching this adult who has a silver right leg band (color band is hidden from this view). This is not Dori. Her right leg band is pink. In addition, this bird doesn’t look like Dori and its plumage looks male to me — sharply contrasting head, tail, wings and pale back. If I’m right, the Downtown male is banded.

Adult peregrine with silver colored right leg band, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Adult peregrine, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Close-up of silver colored right leg band on Downtown Pittsburgh peregrine, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)

As Lori watched, the youngster exercised her wings and made some practice flights along the ledge.

Juvenile peregrine wing-ercizing, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Wing-ercizing, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Pre-flight practice, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Hop, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Juvenile peregrine hops while testing his wings, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2020-06-28 (photo by Lori Maggio)

At 2pm I joined Lori at Third Avenue and we walked around looking for peregrines. There was still one juvenile at the nest ledge plus an adult on top of Oxford Center.

Interestingly, the adult intently watched a spot we could not see in the vicinity of Forbes and Cherry Way, staring at it for at least half an hour before flying away. This sort of intense watching is usually a sign that the parent peregrine is watching a juvenile. If so, there were at least three young at the Downtown nest this year.

This morning Lori is at Third Avenue again, observing one adult plus the youngster on the nest ledge. I hope she can get a photo of the color band!

(photos by Lori Maggio)

Baby Birds Jump Into Life

Merganser chick contemplates his launch (screenshot from PBS NATURE video)

Across Pennsylvania breeding birds are hatching eggs and feeding young. As the nestlings grow the nests become crowded, a sure sign that the babies will leave soon.

Baby birds in hollow trees have an amazing way of leaving the nest: they climb up the inside of the hole and jump! This is true of chickadees, screech-owls, woodpeckers and wood ducks. But ducklings have no flight feathers and they jump away. That’s OK, they’re built for it.

This 3.5 minute PBS NATURE video shows a family of common mergansers (Mergus merganser) taking the plunge.

Though the video doesn’t show it, the ducklings waddle to the water where their mother calls and waits for them.

(screenshot and video from PBS NATURE)

Remember When: The Car-Surfing Peregrine

Peregrine fledgling on the roof of a pickup truck, 30 May 2013 (photo by Ericka Houck, National Aviary)

When a young peregrine lands on the ground on his first flight he doesn’t yet have the upper body strength to flap and get airborne. He has to be rescued and put on a high perch to start over.

In Downtown Pittsburgh the Third Avenue nest site is so low that fledglings land on the ground every year. Thankfully, passersby call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 to rescue the downed birds.

Downtown’s fledglings are often found on the sidewalk but sometimes a bird gets creative. Last year one waited at the bus stop. Seven years ago a fledgling landed six feet off the ground on a pickup truck roof rack. Then things got interesting.

Read about 2013’s car-surfing peregrine in this vintage article: Fledged For A Ride.

(photo by Ericka Houck, National Aviary, 30 May 2013)

Peregrine Chicks At Westinghouse

Two chicks peer from the nest area at Westinghouse Bridge, 27 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dana Nesiti has been keeping up with the peregrine family at the Westinghouse Bridge by photographing them every few days. On Wednesday 27 May 2020 he saw the chicks for the first time, pictured above near the edge of the nest area.

Their success is due to the care and feeding supplied by their parents, Hammond (male) and Ms. Indiana (banded female from South Bend, Indiana, 2016). This slideshow of Dana’s 17-24 May photos shows how the pair cooperates to bring in food.

  • Hammond delivers prey to Indiana at the Westinghouse Bridge, 17 May 2020 (photo by Dana Nestiti)

Thanks to Dana Nesiti for the photos!

This Is The Week!

2 of the 4 young peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 27 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

28 May 2020

If you want an easy look at young peregrine falcons the next week is the time to do it. Four youngsters at the Tarentum Bridge are ledge walking and will make their first flight some time between May 31 and June 7.

Yesterday I visited the Tarentum Boat Ramp and digi-scoped these photos with my cellphone. All four youngsters were preening fluff from their feathers and walking along the middle bridge pier. The top photo has three birds in it; the third is hidden behind his siblings.

Peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 27 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 27 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The fourth youngster walked over from the nestbox and jumped up to the step.

Ledge-walking peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 27 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile their mother watched from the far pier. She turned her head away just as I snapped this photo.

Adult peregrine on the far pier, babysitting from a distance, 27 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The youngsters are changing fast. Just two days earlier they were much whiter as seen in John English’s photos from Memorial Day, 25 May 2020. Next week they’ll be completely brown.

Three young peregrines visible near the Tarentum nestbox, 25 May 2020 (photo by John English)
The Tarentum Bridge nestbox and two young peregrines from slightly upriver, 25 May 2020 (photo by John English)

The youngsters will fly soon so visit the Tarentum Bridge now through June 7. Click here for a map. This is the week to see them!

Learn more about the process of first flight at Peregrine Progress: First Flight.

(photos by Kate St. John and John English)

That Was Quick

Morela is no longer incubating her eggs though she roosts nearby, 23 May 2020 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

23 May 2020

Yesterday morning when I wrote about Morela incubating alone I said she would eventually stop. Little did I know that she already had.

In yesterday’s Day-in-a-Minute video she’s away from the nest most of the day, then perches nearby when present. She’s certainly not incubating.

Morela will eventually stop visiting the nest. So ends the nesting season.

The eggs will remain until it’s time for us humans to perform nest and camera maintenance next December or January.

(photo and vides from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)