Category Archives: Peregrines

Hacking Young Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)
Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)

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.

The Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Virginia has four decades of experience in hacking peregrines.  Please read their excellent description of hacking, complete with photos from their program.

This brief description, partly drawn from ccbbirds.org, includes National Park Service photos from the Shenandoahs and New River Gorge.

A hack box, above, is prepared and placed on the cliff.  It has:

  • Grill-work on the cliff side so the chicks can see the sky and valley,
  • A door that opens on a safe ledge for wing exercising,
  • A chute for delivering food to the chicks.

Young peregrines are placed in the box after banding and before they are old enough to fly.  The box is kept closed at first for the chicks’ protection from great horned owls and other predators.

Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology)
Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

The chicks are fed using the chute. (They don’t see humans feeding them.)

Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)
Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)

When they are old enough to ledge walk, the door is left open so they can walk out and exercise their wings.  They are still fed using the chute.

Eventually the chicks fly and learn to hunt. Food is delivered to the hack box until they are self sufficient.

Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)
Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)

When the fledglings are self sufficient they fly away (disperse).

We know they disperse far.  Three hacked birds from the Center for Conservation Biology program have come to Pittsburgh to nest.

 

(photos by the National Park Service from the New River Gorge National River hacking program and via the Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

Tarentum Peregrines: The Week To Watch

June 15, 2018:

The Tarentum peregrine family is already fun to watch and now the excitement is ramping up.

Back on June 5, Gerry Devinney captured this video of the adult peregrines escorting an osprey away from their nest.  On June 8 Mary Ann Thomas wrote about them here: Tarentum Peregrines Defend Their Nesting Success.

Last Tuesday evening, June 12, the first nestling ventured out of the nestbox to ledge walk and exercise his/her wings.

We don’t know the chicks’ exact ages but they’re somewhere between 32-36 days old. Young peregrines fledge at 38-45 days old.  These two will fly soon, maybe within a week!

Visit the Tarentum boat launch to watch the youngsters get ready to fly.  Click here for a map.

UPDATE, June 15, 6:10pm:  Rob Protz reports that there are three (3!) young peregrines out of the nestbox this evening.

 

(video by Gerry Devinney)

Peregrines at the Graff Bridge

Adult peregrine at Graff Bridge, Manorville, 7 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Adult peregrine at Graff Bridge, Manorville, PA, 7 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

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 Update, June 5

Hope leaves with prey while a juvenile lunges from behind, 2 June 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Hope leaves with prey while a juvenile lunges from behind, 2 June 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

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

Young peregrine ledge walking at Westinghouse Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
Young peregrine ledge walking at Westinghouse Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

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.

With his head turned away to look at his mother, juvenile peregrine shows the "eye spots" on the back of his head, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
With his head turned away to look at his mother, juvenile peregrine shows the “eye spots” on the back of his head, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

 

Elizabeth Bridge, Monongahela River, Allegheny County

Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

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

View of Tarentum Birdge nestbox area, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)
View of Tarentum Birdge nestbox area, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)

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.

Peregrine nestlings at Tarentum, June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)
Peregrine nestlings at Tarentum, 3 June 2018 (photo by Amber Van Strien)

If you’d like to see this family for yourself, click here for a map.

 

(photos by Peter Bell, Pitt Peregrines on Facebook; John English, Pittsburgh Falconuts on Facebook; Amber VanStrien)

Fly For Food

Three peregrines in one photo, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell))
Three peregrines in one photo, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell))

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.

Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

If you can’t imagine how #1 got into the gutter, here he is as he makes that decision.

Fledgling #1 on the Babcock Room roof, 30 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Fledgling #1 on the Babcock Room roof, 30 May 2018 (photo by John English)

By late afternoon one of them — probably #2 — was so tired that he slept on top of the nestbox.

Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Fifteen minutes later he was awake and ready for more.

Pitt peregrine youngster is ready to go, 30 May 2018 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Pitt peregrine youngster is ready to go, 30 May 2018 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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!)

 

(photos by Peter Bell (Pitt Peregrines on Facebook) and John English (Pittsburgh Falconuts on Facebook). see captions for details)

Pitt Peregrines: One Fledged, One To Go

Hope flies by her fledgling: "I'm looking at you" 29 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Hope flies by her fledgling: “I’m looking at you” 29 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

News from Tuesday May 29, 2018:

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.

Juvenile peregrine on 38SE stone peak at the Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)
Juvenile peregrine on 38SE stone peak at the Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

He was the only one visible for about an hour.  Then his brother appeared on the wall above the nest (on the “railing”).

Pitt peregrines: two juveniles near the nest -- one flown, one to go (photo by Peter Bell)
Pitt peregrines: two juveniles near the nest — one flown, one to go (photo by Peter Bell)

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.

Young fledgling flaps his wings as his mother flies by (photo by Peter Bell)
Young fledgling flaps his wings as his mother flies by (photo by Peter Bell)

 

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.

Two juvenile peregrines, one flew and one to go (photo by John English)
Two juvenile peregrines, one flew and one to go (photo by John English)

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.

Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

UPDATE, May 30, 2018, 5pm:  At 4:30pm one of the youngsters was so tired he took a nap on top of the nestbox.

Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

(photos by Peter Bell (Pitt Peregrines on Facebook), except where noted as John English (Pittsburgh Falconuts on Facebook))

Information about the stone peaks. They are actually called merlons.  38SE is shorthand for 38th floor, southeast corner — which is a gross approximation since the corner points south.

Pitt Peregrines Are Ledge Walking

Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

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.”

One chick exercises his wings while the other one watches with his head turned upside down (photo by Peter Bell)
One chick exercises his wings while the other one watches with his head turned upside down, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Wing exercises! 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Wing exercises! 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

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.

Adult peregrine delivers a meal to two chicks at Pitt, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Adult peregrine delivers a meal to two chicks at Pitt, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Join us at Fledge Watch, today through Wednesday (except in rain/thunder).  Check the Events page for details and in case of cancellation.

Or come down to Schenley Plaza any time in the next couple of days and to see the young birds.  Here’s where to look.

 

(photos by Peter Bell, Pitt Peregrines Facebook page)

 

Brief News From Pitt Fledge Watch

Pitt peregrines, juvenile and Terzo at the bulwark, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines, juvenile and Terzo (yellow circles) in the vicinity of the nest, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

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.

Pitt peregrines: Juvenile in keyhole#2, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines: Juvenile in keyhole#2, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

And here’s Terzo.

Pitt peregrines: Terzo on the bulwark, watching the "kids" below, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines: Terzo on the bulwark, watching the “kids” below, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

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.

Both youngsters are back in the Pitt nest, 26 May 2018, 9:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Both youngsters are back in the Pitt nest, 26 May 2018, 9:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt Fledge Watch: They Are Male

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, 2013
Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, 2013 (photo by John English)

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:
Pitt peregrine chick on Banding Day, 11 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrine chick on Banding Day, 11 May 2018 (photo by John English)

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.

 

(photos by John English)

They’re All Off Camera

21 May 2018, 7:50am:

Last Wednesday one of the Pitt peregrine chicks was bumped into the gully below the nest (see video here).  His mother, Hope, has been feeding him down there.

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.

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)