Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

Blue Jays Building Nests

Blue jay gathering nesting material (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

11 April 2021

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.

Valuable nesting material in a puddle, Schenley Park, 9 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Others pulled rootlets from an overturned tree, apparently in the final stage of construction.

Blue jays gather rootlets like these to line their nests (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

Learn more about blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) nesting in this 11 minute video by Lesley The Bird Nerd. Then watch closely as they gather nesting material. Perhaps you’ll find the nest.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Kate St. John)

Roadrunners Are Songbirds

Greater roadrunner, Imperial County, CA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

9 April 2021

Roadrunners coo!

Who knew?

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, tweets from Wendy @geococcyxcal)

In Snow and Sun and Dark of Night

Morela sleeps while incubating, 4 April 2021, 5:48am

5 April 2021

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.

Snow squall in Pittsburgh while Morela incubates, 1 April 2021, 9:42am

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 sunbathes, 4 April 2021, 2:08pm

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.

Ecco arrives to relieve Morela, 31 March 2021, 6:44am
What is Ecco telling Morela? … “I left your breakfast in the cache area”

Every day is the same. There’s always a bird on the nest. The pair switches off several times a day.

While you wait for hatch day on the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, check out this FAQ on When Will The Eggs Hatch?

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

Three Is Not a Crowd at Hays

Feeding time for 3 eaglets at the Hays bald eagle nest, 30 March 2021 (snapshot from ASWP’s Hays eaglecam)

31 March 2021

Yesterday was a great day to watch the three eaglets at the Hays bald eagle nest. It was warm and sunny so the nestlings were very active. The oldest (H13) even challenged his mother. “Feed me!” She gave him a stern look.

Today we’re in for all-day rain and falling temperatures to a low of just 24 degrees on Friday morning. At 6:30am today, rainwater beaded up on mother eagle’s back as she brooded them.

The eaglets are still so tiny that three is not a crowd — yet — at the Hays bald eagle nest. Watch them at ASWP’s Hays Bald Eagle Nestcam.

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.

Hays bald eagle nest on 3rd Hatch Day, Saturday 27 March 2021 (snapshot from ASWP’s Hays eaglecam)

(photos and video from ASWP’s Hays Bald Eagle Nestcam)

Male Ducks Use Their Heads

Male common goldeneye (photo by Steve Gosser)

28 March 2021

In early spring male ducks use their heads to put on a show for the ladies. What most impresses their females? For many it’s a toss of the head.

During courtship common goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) seem to have rubber necks. Click here to see their vigorous head tossing.

Among hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) the head tossing is enhanced by their white hoods? Click here to see.

Male hooded mergansers, 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

(photos by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine Update, Southwest PA, 25 March

Morela and Ecco are up there, Cathedral of Learning 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 March 2021:

Peregrine falcons in southwestern Pennsylvania are very active in the month of March so this is the perfect time for a regional update before the birds “disappear” during incubation.

This year we are watching — or not watching — 11 sites.

  1. Pittsburgh: Cathedral of Learning, Allegheny County
  2. Pittsburgh: Downtown, Allegheny County
  3. Monongahela Watershed: Westinghouse Bridge, Allegheny County
  4. Monongahela River: Speers Railroad Bridge, Washington County
  5. Ohio River: McKees Rocks Bridge, Allegheny County, NO NEWS
  6. Ohio River: Neville Island Bridge, NO PEREGRINES DUE TO CONSTRUCTION
  7. Ohio River: Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge, Beaver County
  8. Ohio River: Monaca Railroad Bridge, Beaver County
  9. Allegheny River: 62nd Street to Aspinwall Railroad Bridge, NO PEREGRINES NOW
  10. Allegheny River: Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny & Westmoreland Counties
  11. Allegheny River: Rt 422 Graff Bridge Kittanning, Armstrong County

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:

Morela with 4 eggs, 24 March 2021 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Unit 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.

Hatch day is expected sometime between April 20-25. We don’t have any history with Morela but I do have history with Dorothy so my guess is April 24-25. Click here for details on my calculation.

Watch Morela and Ecco “live” on the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.

Downtown Pittsburgh:

Peregrine in the Third Avenue nook, 20 March 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

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.

Third Avenue, incubating peregrine, 23 March 2021, 5:43pm (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Monongahela Watershed: Westinghouse Bridge

Peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 21 March 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

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)

Monongahela River, Speers Railroad Bridge:

Peregrine pair at Speers Railroad Bridge, 21 February 2021 (photo by Joe Ciferno)

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:

Peregrine on the Monaca Railroad Bridge, 21 March 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Jeff Cieslak was in Monaca on 21 March and photographed the peregrines perching and flying around the superstructure. Sometimes they are hard to see.

Peregrine at Monaca Railroad Bridge, 21 March 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

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:

Peregrine incubating, Tarentum Bridge nestbox, 16 March 2021 (photo by Dave Brooke)

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:

Kittanning Bridge, May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

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)

4 Eggs at Pitt Peregrine Nest

Morela lays her 4th egg, 24 March 2021, 3:42pm (camera time)

Peregrine falcons lay 3-5 eggs per clutch. Four is the norm.

This afternoon Morela laid her fourth egg of 2021 at 3:38pm (real time, 3:42pm camera time) so it is likely that her clutch is now complete.

Meanwhile Downtown I watched from Mt. Washington through my scope as Dori laid an egg at the 3rd Avenue site at 3:23pm.

It was a busy day for Pittsburgh’s peregrines.

Tune in tomorrow for peregrine news from the active sites in southwestern Pennsylvania area.

Meanwhile, watch the peregrines at the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.

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

Eagles and Peregrines Are On Different Schedules

First eaglet of 2021 in the Hays bald eagle nest, 23 March 2021 (photo from ASWP’s Bald Eagles of Western PA Facebook page)

23 March 2021

This week’s events at two Pittsburgh raptor nests show us that bald eagles and peregrine falcons are on different schedules during the breeding season.

At the Hays bald eagle nest the first eaglet of 2021 hatched early this morning. Audubon of Western PA announced that the eaglet broke out of his egg overnight and emerged at 3am, 23 March 2021. The “baby picture” above is from the ASWP Facebook page.

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.

Follow the Hays bald eagles at Bald Eagles in Western Pennsylvania – Audubon Society of Western PA on Facebook. Watch them live at ASWP: Hays Nest.

Watch the Cathedral of Learning peregrines at the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.

(photo of first Hays eaglet from ASWP Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page, video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

3 Eggs at Pitt Peregrine Nest

3 eggs at Pitt peregrine nest, 22 March 2021 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

22 March 2021

There are now three eggs at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. Morela laid the third egg today, 22 March 2021, at 6:36 am.

Morela lays her 3rd egg of 2021, 22 Mar 2021 6:36am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Ecco must have been watching closely. He came down to greet her less than a minute later.

Ecco greets Morela immediately after she laid her 3rd egg, 22 Mar 2021, 6:37am

Will she lay four? Watch the action on the streaming camera at the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh.

2nd Peregrine Egg at Pitt, 19 March, 8:27p

Morela with two eggs, 19 Mar 2021, 8:27pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

20 March 2021

Morela laid her second egg last evening around 8:27pm. Around midnight she took a break at the front perch so they were easy to see.

Two eggs, 20 Mar 2021, 12:44am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Watch them on the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh.

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