Many of you ask about the status of Dori and Louie’s peregrine chicks, taken from their Downtown Pittsburgh nest on 8 May 2018. I have no news of the chicks, but I do know the PA Game Commission planned to hack them at an undisclosed location. Based on the chicks’ age, I think this would have happened in early June.
What is peregrine hacking?
Hacking is a falconry term for the process of introducing captive chicks without parents to independent free flight. The Peregrine Recovery Program used this method to restore peregrines to the wild after they went extinct east of the Mississippi. Every wild peregrine in the eastern U.S. is descended from one or more hacked birds.
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)
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
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.
Elizabeth Bridge, Monongahela River, Allegheny County
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
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.
May 31, 2018: includes 2 photos from yesterday’s update.
We were treated to quite an airshow yesterday at Fledge Watch.
Fledgling #1 made his first flight on May 29 and was flying so well on his second day out that we sometimes mistook him for an adult. He circled the Cathedral of Learning many times and soared into the wind. He also used many perches — the northwest roof merlon, a spot above the yellow lights, the Babcock Room roof and gutter. He even joined his brother on the railing in hopes that food would arrive. It didn’t.
Hope and Terzo circled, swooped and dove. They exchanged prey in mid-air. They put on the best flight show we’ve seen for years but youngster #2 wouldn’t budge. Hope even pulled food from the cache area and dangled it from her talons as she hovered over him. He shouted and flapped his wings … and he stayed put.
The yellow circles below show their locations while this was going on: #1 in the Babcock Room gutter (left), Hope hovering above, #2 on the railing.
If you can’t imagine how #1 got into the gutter, here he is as he makes that decision.
By late afternoon one of them — probably #2 — was so tired that he slept on top of the nestbox.
Fifteen minutes later he was awake and ready for more.
We’re in for rain and thunderstorms for the next four days. Fledge Watch is over.
But life doesn’t stop for the Pitt peregrines. #2 will fledge. The two juveniles will improve their flying skills. They’ll learn to hunt and by early July they’ll leave home.
Long life to both of them. (Don’t try anything dangerous near glass!)
When I arrived at Fledge Watch I saw a peregrine on the parents’ favorite perch — a stone peak at 38SE on the Cathedral of Learning — but it wasn’t one of the parents. Through my scope I saw a dark brown juvenile. He’d made his first flight when we weren’t watching. Of course.
He was the only one visible for about an hour. Then his brother appeared on the wall above the nest (on the “railing”).
Meanwhile their parents, Hope and Terzo, put on a flight show, swooping together, circling the building, climbing and diving. “Here’s how to fly!”
They flew close to their youngsters, “Come on out here!” In Peter Bell’s photo at top, Hope looks at the fledgling as she flies by. Below, he shouts and flaps like crazy when she approaches, but he stays put.
When we left at 1:30p, all four birds were still in their places: the parents in flight and the two youngsters as circled in John English’s photo below.
Michelle Kienholz stopped by after work and the birds’ positions hadn’t changed.
Perhaps the second juvenile will fly today. Stop by Schenley Plaza for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch today — May 30, 2018, 11:30a to 1:30p — weather permitting. We won’t be there if it’s raining.
UPDATE, May 30, 2018, 2pm: As of 2pm the youngster who fledged yesterday was flying well and perching in many places at the top of the building. His brother was still on the railing and hadn’t flown despite great encouragement from his parents. In the photo below: #1 Fledgling lounges in the gutter of the Babcock Room roof, #2 is still on the railing and Hope flies overhead dangling food at them. No one budged.
UPDATE, May 30, 2018, 5pm: At 4:30pm one of the youngsters was so tired he took a nap on top of the nestbox.
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.”
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.
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.
And here’s Terzo.
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.
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:
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.
I thought that the downstairs chick would eventually return to the nest but this morning the opposite happened. When the down under chick got his breakfast the upstairs chick couldn’t stand missing out so he jumped into the gully to be fed.
Now they’re all off camera.
I doubt they’ll bother to come upstairs before they fly.
p.s. Dorothy, the previous female peregrine who lived at the Cathedral of Learning for 15 years, did not feed chicks in the gully. Apparently she wanted all of them together upstairs — and coincidentally on camera. Hope doesn’t play by Dorothy’s rules.