Here are two seaside bird cams to watch while we wait for Pittsburgh’s eagles and peregrines to lay eggs in the coming months.
Above, a northern royal albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) couple nests on camera at Taiaroa Head Nature Reserve in New Zealand. The pair have lots of combined experience — he’s 21 years old, she’s 25 — so they know their egg, laid in Nov 2019, is due to hatch at the end of this month (January 2020).
Since New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of Pittsburgh it’s best to watch from noon to midnight Eastern Time if you want to see the birds in daylight. This is a perfect schedule if want to kickback at the end of the day. See the northern royal albatrosses at their nest on Cornell Lab’s Royal Albatross bird cam.
Just one time zone ahead of Pittsburgh, the female Bermuda cahow (Pterodroma cahow) rejoined her mate at their nest on Nonesuch Island, Bermuda on 10 January 2020. Almost immediately she laid her single egg. Watch their reunion in this short video.
Morela has made brief visits to the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest every day this week. Snapshots from the National Aviary’s falconcam show her bowing and calling to her mate Terzo. He hasn’t joined her yet but don’t worry, he’s around. I saw him kiting in the wind yesterday.
On Sunday 12 January 2020 Morela spent five minutes bowing and calling.
When Terzo didn’t join her she stepped forward to look around, “Where is he?”
On Monday 13 January she had just finished eating when she stopped by for a visit. Notice the bulge in her crop as she bows and calls.
And yesterday, 14 January, she stopped by for only a minute.
The top photo is a once-a-minute snapshot from the (soon to be) streaming camera. It shows what’s happening there right now. You have to refresh your browser to see if it changes.
When there’s a peregrine on camera I save the photo to my hard drive or cellphone. Then I refresh the browser.
In January the nest is usually empty but I know when a peregrine is there because I follow @pittpefaALERT on Twitter. Every tweet from @pittpefaALERT is a 15-second “change” image showing what’s different at the nest. Changed pixels are shown in red. Here’s what they look like and what they mean.
Tweets that don’t matter: At dawn and dusk and on partly cloudy days the change is just sun and shadow. Here are two sun and shadow changes — red images with straight edges.
When a peregrine shows up: The change image may look like a bird (left image below) and it certainly has curved lines (right). Here are two peregrine tweets.
When I see a tweet that looks like a peregrine I go to the FALCONCAM – CL Snapshots link. The snapshots refresh every 60 seconds. If I’m nimble I can capture the first one.
At mid-morning on New Years Day, the sun came out, the temperature rose above freezing and the winds gusted to 29 mph — perfect weather for Pitt’s peregrine falcons to stretch their wings.
In the early afternoon Morela visited the nest for twenty minutes. At first she bowed as if to her mate, Terzo, but he didn’t appear on camera. She scraped at the gravel, watched and waited, then preened on the front perch. This is Morela’s longest visit to the nest since she arrived at the Cathedral of Learning last September.
Streaming video isn’t available yet but the snapshot camera captures photos every 15 seconds. I’ve put the best ones in the slideshow below.
The best place to see Morela and Terzo this month is in the air above the Cathedral of Learning. Watch for their breath-taking courtship flights as they prepare to nest in March.
p.s. Morela visited the nest for only a minute yesterday, 2 Jan 2020.
Though female peregrines don’t lay eggs until March, peregrine couples maintain their pair bond throughout the year. In winter they perch together, fly together, and occasionally meet at the nest for a ritual called the ledge display.
Early Monday morning December 2, Terzo and Morela bowed at the Cathedral of Learning nest for a long time — six minutes. Their photo above is in black-and-white because the falconcam was still in “night” mode. The sky was that overcast!
Streaming video is not available yet but the snapshot camera captured color photos every 15 seconds. I’ve made them into a video below, condensing six minutes into only 37 seconds.
The video shows that Terzo and Morela follow the expected ritual. After the first bow Terzo moves to the back of the box. The couple bows and sways and you can see their beaks open as they say “ee-chup.” (Halfway through, Terzo moves to the back right corner and is temporarily out of view.) Terzo leaves first, then Morela. The male always leaves the nest first so the female can make herself at home … and lay eggs some day.
Each of them returned later: Morela alone at 10am. Terzo alone at 11:08am to dig the nest scrape at its usual place under the roof.
Will Morela choose Terzo’s scrape for her eggs in March? Or will she use the scrape she’s been making at the front of the nestbox?
I suspect she’ll go with Terzo’s suggestion. She’ll appreciate having a roof when it rains.
November is courtship time for one of the rarest seabirds on earth.
The Bermuda petrel (Pterodroma cahow) or cahow (pronounced ka-HOW) ranges across the Atlantic Ocean, returning to land only once a year to court and breed at Bermuda.
Cahows nest in dark burrows which they access only at night, so secretive that they were presumed extinct until 1951 when the last 17-18 pairs were discovered on an isolated Bermuda island.
Every year the odds are against an egg becoming an adult. However the birds’ long breeding lives, 30-40 years, ensure the species will survive as long as there are safe places to nest — and that’s the rub. Rats were eradicated from their breeding colonies but many of the burrows are on islands threatened by hurricanes and sea level rise.
Since 2001 the Cahow Recovery Program has been setting up safe breeding burrows on Nonsuch Island and translocating a few pre-fledgled birds to the burrows in hopes they will return there to breed when they reach maturity at 3-6 years of age. So far so good. There are now 15 pairs on Nonsuch, two of which use burrows equipped with live streaming Cahow cams under infrared light.
November is the time to watch the cameras at Cornell Lab’s Bermuda Petrel Cams. The pairs return to their burrows, prepare the nest, court and copulate. In the video below a pair touches beaks and preens in the courtship behavior called allopreening.
Watch the Cahow cams this month, especially at night. The birds are most active on the darkest nights of the New Moon.
Cahows leave their burrows in December, then the female returns in January to lay her single egg. If all goes well a chick will fledge in July.
The long process of creating and raising a single cahow chick has just begun.
p.s. Here’s an amazing fact about cahows: Notice that the birds have tube-like noses. These structures take the salt out of saltwater so they can drink it. They sneeze the salt out of their noses. There are more amazing cahow facts here.
On Friday afternoon, 1 November 2019, Terzo called to his new mate Morela to court with him at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, “Come bow with me!”
Morela arrived immediately and became so wrapped up in courtship that she didn’t realize she was crowding Terzo into the back of the box. When he had no room to bow, Terzo stopped courting and left the nest.
Morela turned and called, “Come back!”
This was a brief courtship display even though it may look as if Terzo was running away. How do we know it wasn’t aggression? Here’s the difference between courtship and a fight.
In courtship you will see two birds, one much larger than the other, bowing and “ee-chupping” in squeaky voices. This is a very ritualized Ledge Display with a pattern of who-does-what: the male arrives and leaves first; they bow and ee-chupp; the female stays after he leaves. The ritual steps of the Ledge Display are described at:Familiarities On The Cliff.
Just before 4pm Morela jumped into the nest and called to another peregrine. The male stayed off-screen for a minute, then jumped down to bow with her.
The male she’s been courting is Terzo!
Terzo has been the resident male peregrine at Pitt since his arrival in March 2016. I recognized him on camera by the unique heart-shaped white patch on the left side of his face and his black/red color band. No, I couldn’t read his band numbers in the video (Terzo is Black/Red N/29) but I believe he’s the only male peregrine in the world with that face pattern + Black/Red bands.
So now we know that the peregrine couple at the Cathedral of Learning is Morela & Terzo. For the first time in years I’m excited about the upcoming nesting season. Courtship will intensify in January. Egg laying is due in mid to late March.
On Wednesday July 3, Joe Stavish of Tree Pittsburgh saw an immature peregrine standing on a rock pile in Tree Pittsburgh‘s parking lot below the 62nd Street Bridge. Joe emailed me:
I found an immature peregrine in the parking lot at Tree Pittsburgh (under 62nd street bridge) on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. We have noticed [peregrine] adults flying around the tree nursery this spring. This one was a bit clumsy moving around the rock pile but ultimately flew off. I could not see any band on the legs. Not sure if it came from the 62nd street bridge but perhaps!
Joe Stavish email, 5 July 2019
Here’s a Google Street View of that end of 62nd Street. Tree Pittsburgh is beyond the chain link fence on the left side of the image, though it didn’t exist when Google took this photo.
At this point (early/mid July) it’s too late to find the peregrines’ nest but keep an eye out for them beginning next January at the 62nd Street Bridge.
NOTE! A nestbox was installed on the bridge in January 2008. If it’s still on the bridge the peregrines might be using it.