Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

Peregrine Update, Jan 2021

Banded peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 28 Nov 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

10 January 2021:

In the next 10 weeks peregrine falcons will court and claim nest sites in southwestern Pennsylvania, then lay eggs mid-March to early April. Right now through mid-March is the best time to see them. Here’s an update on recently active sites and information on locations where observers are needed. Get outdoors and look for peregrines! I hope you can help.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:

It’s easy to watch peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning because they’re on camera. The snapshot camera captured Morela and Terzo courting on 8 Jan 2021 as shown in the slideshow above. Stop by Schenley Plaza and look for them on or above the building. The streaming camera will start running in February.

Downtown Pittsburgh:

Third Ave nest site, used for the past 3 years (photo by Kate St. John)

If I was to bet where the Downtown peregrines will nest this year, I’d say there’s a 90% chance they’ll be at the Third Avenue site, shown above, where they’ve nested for the last three years. Though the roof rehabilitation project is done at the Gulf Tower, the nestbox probably hasn’t been reinstalled. I’m awaiting news from the Game Commission. Meanwhile, observers are needed Downtown! Let me know if you see anything.

Gulf Tower, location of nest as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)
Gulf Tower nestbox last used in 2017 (photo by John English)

OHIO RIVER, Neville Island I-79 Bridge — no nest in 2021 and 2022.

PennDOT’s rehabilitation of the Neville Island I-79 Bridge will encompass the full length of the bridge through the 2021 and 2022 peregrine nesting seasons. Peregrines will be excluded from the bridge during that entire time so they can’t start to nest and then fail. We hope the bridge pair finds an alternate site nearby, but we won’t know where they are until we look for them. Observers needed! Look for peregrines in the Ohio Valley. Be alert for battles over an existing site.

OHIO RIVER, Monaca Railroad Bridge:

  • Peregrine on South Tower, Monaca Railroad Bridge, 4 Jan 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Speaking of the Ohio Valley, on 4 Jan 2021 Jeff Cieslak found a peregrine pair at the Monaca Railroad Bridge, perching, bowing and flying as shown in the slideshow above. If you’d like to see for yourself, stop by the north shore of the Ohio River in Beaver and Bridgewater PA at the sites marked by Jeff Cieslak on the map below.

OHIO RIVER, Ambridge Bridge:

Ambridge Bridge, 20 Feb 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Again in the Ohio Valley, Mark Vass saw a peregrine at the Ambridge Bridge on 3 Jan 2021. This bridge had an active pair in spring 2020 though nesting was not confirmed. Watch this bridge for more excitement.

TURTLE CREEK, Westinghouse Bridge:

Peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

The Westinghouse Bridge pair is gearing up for nesting as seen by Dana Nesiti on 2 Jan 2021. Click here for more photos.

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Tarentum Bridge:

Male & female peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 29 Dec 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

Both peregrines were at the Tarentum Bridge when Dave Brooke stopped by on 29 Dec 2020. Click here for more photos.

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Rt 422 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)

Margaret and Roger Higbee saw a peregrine at the Graff Bridge on 6 Jan 2021 (and also in December). Peregrines have nested here since 2016. Stop by to see for yourself.

Two other bridges were active in 2020 / 2019 which may be active this year as well. Observers are needed at:

  • OHIO RIVER, McKees Rocks Bridge, active in 2020
  • ALLEGHENY RIVER 62nd Street Bridge, active in 2019, not in 2020.

Get outdoors and see peregrines! Let me know what you find.

(photos by National Aviary snapshot camera at Cathedral of Learning, Kate St. John, John English, PENNDOT, Jeff Cieslak, Dana Nesiti, Dave Brooke, Wikimedia Commons)

Pitt Peregrine Nestbox Gets a New Roof

5 January 2021

As promised in early December, Dan Hosier of the National Aviary returned to the Pitt peregrine nestbox yesterday and installed a new roof. It took him only 15 minutes to clear away the old pieces and attach the roof and awning. The snapshot camera captured his movements, sped up in the 8-second video above.

When Dan was done he took this photo of the roof, a rare chance to see the nestbox from the peregrines’ perspective.

New roof on Pitt peregrine nestbox, 4 Jan 2021 (photo by Dan Hosier, National Aviary)

Morela and Terzo saw it too and visited the nestbox twice during the afternoon. Morela tried out the new roof with her typical leap to the awning after leaving the nestbox. In the slideshow below, Terzo looks up while Morela is on the roof. You can see her talons at the edge of the awning.

  • Morela arrives at the nestbox, 4 Jan 2021, 12:58pm

Very soon — next month! — the National Aviary falconcam will start streaming again. Don’t forget to support the streaming camera to keep it running! Click here to donate to the National Aviary today.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh; nestbox photo by Dan Hosier)

Peregrines Are Thinking of Spring

Female peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

3 January 2021

Now that the days are getting longer our local peregrine falcons are staying close to home and defending their territories. Pittsburgh has six more minutes of sunlight since the winter solstice. Peregrines are thinking of spring.

Westinghouse Bridge:

Yesterday, 2 Jan 2021, Dana Nesiti found both peregrines at the Westinghouse Bridge. The female watched from the catwalk (above) while the male carried a snack.

Male peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge carrying a snack, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Male peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge with prey, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Tarentum Bridge:

Male and female peregrines at the Tarentum Bridge, 29 Dec 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

On Tuesday 29 December, Dave Brooke found both peregrines perched on the same beam at the Tarentum Bridge. The female is the same spotted-breast bird who has nested there since 2018.

Female peregrine with spotted breast at Tarentum Bridge, 29 Dec 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

Cathedral of Learning:

Ecco and Morela, 26 Dec 2020 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At the Cathedral of Learning three peregrines have visited the nest since the winter solstice. Ecco and Morela courted during Christmas week, 22-26 December, shown above.

Then on Christmas Bird Count day I saw two males chasing while Morela waited at home. Terzo must have won the chase. He and Morela courted last week and Terzo has been present ever since.

Morela and Terzo courting, 28 Dec 2020 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 30 Dec 2020 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Will either one of the males finally win the territory this spring? Or will both persist and the nest fail again?

Your guess is as good as mine.

(photos from Westinghouse Bridge by Dana Nesiti, Tarentum Bridge by Dave Brooke, and from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Remember When: Hays Eaglecam Is 7 Years Old

PA’s first eaglecam was installed at Hays in December 2013 (screenshot from Hays on YouTube)

Seven years ago this month Pennsylvania’s first eaglecam was installed at the Hays bald eagle nest site.

On Throw Back Thursday take a trip down memory lane in this vintage article from 27 December 2013: Pittsburgh Has PA’s First Eaglecam!

p.s. The eaglecam is Live at: Hays Bald Eagle Nest at Audubon Society of Western PA

(screenshot from YouTube video of Hays eaglecam, December 2013)

Cleaning the Pitt Peregrine Nest and Cameras

  • Bob Mulvihill arrives at the nestbox, 7 Dec 2020, 8:56am

8 December 2020

Perhaps you have noticed that the Cathedral of Learning nestbox is clean and the old eggs are gone. As predicted, we performed annual maintenance on the Pitt peregrine nestbox and falconcam yesterday morning.

Due to the COVID surge in Allegheny County, four of us briefly met in the Cathedral of Learning lobby then only two, Bob Mulvihill and Dan Hosier from the National Aviary, went upstairs with the security guard to access the ledge. Joseph Pastorik and I watched outdoors at Schenley Plaza to see if the peregrines would show up. They did not.

As you can see from the snapshot camera, Bob collected the old eggs, cleared the nest surface, and cleaned the cameras. The nestbox roof has fallen apart so Bob pulled away the hanging bits. Meanwhile Dan measured the roof so he can construct a replacement. Bob and Dan will return in a week or three to install the new roof.

Are the peregrines still around? You bet. Morela (female), Terzo and Ecco (two males) have all shown up in the last five days. Check out these comparison snapshots.

Ecco and Morela, 3 Dec 2020, 14:16
Morela, 3 Dec 2020, 14:15 (large, peachy, no bands)
Ecco, 3 Dec 2020, 14:16 (smaller, dark with white chest, no bands)
Terzo, 5 Dec 2020, 14:00 (pale back and head, dark wingtips and tail tip, banded)

Expect another human visit to the nest to replace the roof. Then we’ll all stay away, hoping that Morela, Terzo and Ecco can work out their complicated relationship and have a successful nesting season.

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

Watch Royals Nest in New Zealand

Northern royal albatross, New Zealand (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 December 2020

Summer has returned to the southern hemisphere, the northern royal albatrosses are back at Taiaroa Head, and the Royal Cam is running. It’s time to watch the royals nest in New Zealand.

Northern royal albatrosses (Diomedea sanfordi) spend most of their lives wandering the southern Pacific but are loyal to their lifelong mates and their breeding location. They faithfully return to New Zealand every other year in October/November, to lay one egg and raise the chick. The commitment required of both parents takes nearly a year to complete. Then they take the next year off.

At Taiaroa Head, the royal’s only mainland breeding location, New Zealand’s Dept of Conservation reports (DOC) that as of 30 November there are 120 birds on site and 40 pairs have laid an egg.

Every year, DOC chooses a pair to follow on the Royal Cam. This year’s on-camera family is LGL (female) and LGK (male) whose fertile egg was laid on 7 November. At 12 and 11 years old, respectively, they have been together since 2017 and raised a chick named Karere two years ago.

Watch the Royal Family here at Cornell Lab’s Northern Royal Albatross birdcam. Learn more about them at DOC’s Meet the Royal Family webpage. Catch up on the latest news and videos at either website.

While it snows here in Pittsburgh, watch the royals nest in New Zealand.

(photo of northern royal albatross in flight from Wikimedia Commons, photo of LGK by Sharon Broni / DOC; click on the captions to see the originals)

Now The Rain Gets In

18 November 2020

It didn’t rain much last July but when it did I noticed something puzzling on the Pitt peregrine falconcam(*). The nest was getting wet where it ought to be dry. Was the roof leaking?

A week ago the problem became acute when it rained hard all day on 11 November. By the end of the day pieces of brown debris were on the nest surface, probably from the roof. Now the rain really gets in!

If you look closely at falconcam still photos you can see papery pieces of roof hanging from above, erosion in the right corner where the rain drips, and debris from the roof on the nest surface.

Though we can’t see the roof from either camera, a snapshot of the awning gives us a hint of the roof’s condition. The red circle shows a place that lost its waterproof coating, exposing the under layer. The awning is deteriorating too, though more slowly.

The nestbox was built and installed in late 2007 (or early January 2008) after the Cathedral of Learning was spray-washed. I believe the box and walls are made of solid plastic but the roof and awning appear to be a composite material that has been weathering for 13 years.

This fall we’ll arrange for repairs so the nestbox is in good condition for the 2021 nesting season. Like maintaining a very small home, repairs are inevitable.

(*) Streaming of the Pitt peregrine falconcam is seasonal. It ended for the year on 31 July 2020.

(snapshots from the National Aviary falconcams at Univ of Pittsburgh)

If You Think Cowbirds Are Bad …

Just like brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater), common cuckoos (Cuculus canorus) in Eurasia are obligate brood parasites that never raise their young. Cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of smaller birds that foster the cuckoo chicks as their own. A stark difference between cowbirds and cuckoos, though, is their size. Cuckoo chicks can be 10 times larger than their hosts!

Compare the Eurasian reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) feeding a common cuckoo chick, above, to the brown headed cowbird chick with its song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) foster parent below.

Brown-headed cowbird chick begging from song sparrow host (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The cowbird is slightly larger than its host but the cuckoo chick when it leaves the nest will be 10 times the reed warbler’s weight.

This situation can be even more bleak, as shown in a Twitter post by John Deakins.

So if you think cowbirds are bad, consider common cuckoos.

p.s. I asked folks to tell me the identity of the foster parent standing on the chick’s back. Janet Campagna suggests meadow pipit — which looks right to me. Meadow pipits are one of three species most often parasitized by common cuckoos.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons plus an embedded photo from Twitter; click on the captions/tweet to see the originals)

Last Round of Cowbird Babies

Brown-headed cowbird youngster begs from a song sparrow foster parent (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On a late July visit to Washington’s Landing (Herr’s Island) I saw two song sparrow families with begging fledglings. Unfortunately the begging youngsters were brown-headed cowbirds, not song sparrows.

Female brown-headed cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of smaller birds.  Each cowbird chick is raised, not by its own mother, but by foster parents of another species. To make matters worse, cowbird parents lurk near the foster nest to make sure their own baby survives. They remove the host’s eggs or kill the foster parents’ young to give their own chick a better chance.

Cowbirds parasitize many species but are especially fond of song sparrows and yellow warblers. Yellow warblers are well aware of cowbird eggs and will “abandon” the nest by building a new nest on top of the old one. Experienced song sparrows get upset but don’t have an immediate solution.

However, song sparrows have a secret weapon — their breeding season is longer. Their first of two to four broods may begin before cowbirds are ready to lay eggs while the last nest starts after cowbirds are done.

In Pennsylvania brown-headed cowbirds stop laying in early July while song sparrows are still going strong. What I saw at Washington’s Landing was this year’s last round of cowbird babies.

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

The Threesome Continues

27 July 2020

Last Friday Mary Ann Pike noticed that Terzo and Morela were spending a lot of time at the Pitt peregrine nest and commented:

Seems like Morela and Terzo have been swapping shifts at the nest today. I saw Morela this morning, then Terzo early afternoon for a while, now Morela is there again. What a strange situation with Ecco in the mix. I wonder if he hangs around Oakland somewhere when he’s not on camera. It seems like the other 2 must be spending most of their time in Oakland but under normal circumstances they wouldn’t let a third Peregrine hang around.

Mary Ann Pike, 24 July 2020, 4:33pm

We didn’t realize it on Friday but Terzo and Morela were probably vigilant because Ecco was nearby. He appeared on camera before dawn.

In the video below Ecco arrives at 5:33am to bow with Morela. After he leaves Morela pauses for 45 seconds, then we hear a peregrine wailing at 3:28 in the video. The wailing continues intermittently over the next three minutes. Was it Terzo complaining that Ecco was there?

The rest of 24 July was very busy. Morela and Terzo bowed at 8:30a and 3:30p.

Morela and Terzo court, 24 July 2020, 8:30am

Terzo sunbathed and watched for two hours.

Then Morela hung out and preened for three hours. I’m happy to see that Morela’s flipped primary feather is gone.

Terzo and Morela courted at dawn on Sunday morning. There was no sign of Ecco but I’m sure he’ll return.

However, the threesome continues at the Pitt peregrine nest.

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

p.s. The National Aviary falconcam streaming service ends on 31 July 2020. It will resume next February.