Category Archives: Peregrines

Courtship and Preparations at the Pitt Peregrine Nest

Ecco and Carla court at the nest, 3 Mar 2024, 1:46pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

4 March 2024

Egg laying season is coming up soon at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest where Ecco and Carla are courting frequently.

Yesterday they held three long courting sessions that included bowing, ee-chupping, and nest preparation. The ee-chup call sounds different for male and female peregrines. Ecco’s voice is squeaky while Carla’s voice is rough and slightly lower in pitch. She’s the one that makes the “huh” sound. You can hear the difference in this 6-minute video. More information on what they are up to is described below.

video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh

After bowing, Ecco left the nest so Carla could make preparations on her own. To limber up she stretched her right wing and leg.

Carla stretches her wing and leg, 3 March 2024 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

To “build” the nest, Carla put her chest against one edge of it and kicked the gravel out with her feet. The nest itself is a bowl in the gravel, called a scrape, for holding eggs so they don’t roll off the cliff. Peregrines don’t use sticks to build their nests.

Carla digs the scrape, 3 March 2024 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

After digging Carla puttered around on the gravel surface, swallowing small pieces of gravel to aid digestion. Birds add gravel to their gizzards to grind the food. Learn more about How Birds Chew at the link.

Carla eats gravel bits to help her digestion, 3 March 2024 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

And when she was done Carla flew away.

Carla flies away, 3 March 2024 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

A few weeks from now, after Carla lays her next-to-last egg, she’ll stay at the nest to incubate.

In the meantime stay tuned for eggs coming in March or early April at the National Aviary Falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh.

Look for Peregrines in the Next 6 Weeks

Peregrine pair at Tarentum Bridge, 19 Feb 2024 (photo by Dave Brooke)

25 February 2024

From now until the middle of April peregrine falcons in southwestern Pennsylvania are courting and claiming territory, perching prominently, and performing conspicuous aerial displays. As soon as they start incubating eggs they’ll become very secretive so if you want to see a peregrine or record breeding activity for the new Breeding Bird Atlas 2024-2029, this is a great time to do it.

Look for peregrines in the next 6 weeks.

The red and blue pin drops, 1 Dec 2023 — 24 Feb 2024, on the eBird map below confirm that the best places to look are near tall buildings or bridges. There are also a few surprising locations such as Mammoth Lake Park in Westmoreland County.

Peregrine sightings in Southwestern PA, 1 Dec 2023 to 25 Feb 2024 (screenshot from eBird Explore)

11 peregrine territories have pairs present since January. Here’s the simpler map.

Peregrine falcon pairs in southwestern PA as of 25 Feb 2024 (map by Kate St. John)

Of those 11 sites, five raised young last year and two more have a long history of nesting (7 boldface names below). The new and promising sites are boldface in the Notes column.

Peregrine Sites to Watch!

Looking for some excitement? Want to add Peregrine Falcon to the PA Breeding Bird Atlas? Check out these “hopefuls” for 2024.

Rt. 40 Bridge in West Brownsville, PA (Washington County). New nest (to us) last year, will they use it this year? Click here to read about this nest.

Female peregrine clutching prey and shouting, West Brownsville Lane Bane Bridge, 26 May 2023 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

East Liberty Presbyterian Church in the City of Pittsburgh. Very hopeful signs at this site! Click here to read all about it.

Location of peregrine focus (potential nest site) at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 12 Feb 2024 (photo by Adam Knoerzer)

West End Bridge over the Ohio River, Pittsburgh. This site often has pairs but no indication of nesting … yet. Click here to read all about it.

Sewickley Bridge over the Ohio River. This site also has pairs but no confirmation of nesting yet.

Peregrine at Sewickley Bridge 11 March 2023 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Monaca bridges over the Ohio River: RR Bridge or Rt51 Bridge. We know there are peregrines here but it’s hard to confirm breeding. Let this be a challenge to you!

Peregrine at Monaca RR Bridge, 9 Jan 2023 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Rt 422 Graff Bridge over the Allegheny River, Kittanning. We know there are peregrines here too, but with few observers we often don’t confirm breeding. Allegheny Valley People, let this be a challenge to you!

And … if you miss finding a peregrine in person you can usually count on a peregrine on camera at the Cathedral of Learning. Today they courted at dawn.

Carla and Ecco bow at dawn at the Cathedral of Learning, today — 25 Feb 2024, 6:52am (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Keep your eyes peeled. Yes, there are peregrines out there!

Please leave a comment if you’ve see anything. I always want to know!

(photo credits are in the captions)

Ecco Likes to Touch Beaks

Ecco and Carla touch beaks, 17 Feb 2024 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

19 February 2024

When last I wrote about the Pitt peregrines the resident female, Carla, was distracted –> While Ecco courts, Carla checks the sky. I was beginning to worry because she was absent from the nest six out of nine days. Fortunately she came back on the 16th and has been present every day.

Since then Ecco has stepped up his courtship moves. He likes to touch beaks and Carla obliges.

Ecco and Carla court at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, 17 Feb 2024 (video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Fingers crossed that everything has settled down.

Find out what happens next on the National Aviary Falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh.

New Peregrine Pair in East Liberty

Peregrines’ favorite location, probable nest site, East Liberty Presbyterian Church (photo by Adam Knoerver)

14 February 2024

Last week when I wrote that Charles Bier had seen two peregrines at Pittsburgh’s East Liberty Presbyterian Church in January, Adam Knoerver responded that he has too.

Last week, out of my office window (which looks at the church from Friendship), I could definitely see a raptor high up and stooping to dive bomb some small birds and wondered if it might be a peregrine. I’ll keep an eye out and see if anything else is brewing.

— message from Adam Knoerver, 7 Feb 2024

Later that day Adam checked onsite and immediately found both peregrines.

Confirmed peregrines at the church just now walking past. One darted off the ledge and flew over me and rejoined the other that was presumably eating (small feathers started to fall down).

— message from Adam Knoerver, 7 Feb 2024

He sent photos of the church steeple with circles indicating the peregrines’ locations. Their favorite spot is behind the “railing” on the west-northwest side, a likely choice for a nest location.

Peregrines’ favorite location, East Liberty Presbyterian Church (photo by Adam Knoerver)

On Monday 12 February Adam saw peregrines circling the steeple and perching on nearby buildings.

Peregrine circling East Liberty Presbyterian steeple, 12 Feb 2024 (photo by Adam Knoerver)

Today I was able to spot what appeared to be the female (larger of the two, so…) perched atop the Walnut on Highland apartment across from the church. The bird has a very distinct and prominent peach-y color at the top of the breast, and the other bird (presumably the male) flew off the tower, circled around, and found another perch high atop the cross.

— Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook post by Adam Knoerver, 12 Feb 2024
Peregrine perched at Walnut on Highland building, 12 Feb 2024 (photo by Adam Knoerver)

Thanks to Adam’s efforts we know there’s a new peregrine pair in East Liberty.

In case you would like to check on them, take a look at the steeple on the west-northwest side that faces S. Whitfield Street.

Google satellite view of East Liberty Presbyterian Church with steeple marked for peregrines
Google Street View of East Liberty Presbyterian Church from 199 S Whitfield St

And in case you’re wondering if the Pitt peregrines can see them, the answer is “Yes but not directly.”

The Cathedral of Learning nest faces south-southeast. The East Liberty peregrines face north-northwest. They are 1.82 miles apart but their view from nest to nest is oblique.

Distance between Cathedral of Learning and East Liberty Presbyterian Church via gmap-pedometer

Thank you, Adam, for keeping us up to date!

Check out the latest news in the private Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group.

(photos by Adam Knoerver; maps from Google Maps)

While Ecco Courts, Carla Checks the Sky

Ecco and Carla court at the Pitt peregrine nest, 2 Feb 2024 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera)

7 February 2024

Courtship season is underway at the Pitt peregrine nest where Ecco and his mate Carla are cementing their pair bond. Apparently they are not the only peregrines in the area.

On 26 January I received news from Charles Bier who was instrumental in establishing the peregrine nestboxes at Gulf Tower and Pitt. Charles saw a pair in East Liberty.

I happened to be in East Liberty on this past January 12th, and I happened to notice 2 peregrines flying into the top of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.  One of the birds landed high on the church tower and the other one did, or flew behind the tower at the same altitude.  I do not know that this was a “pair”, but they were behaving within that context, and at this time of the year they would be focusing on high ledges. 

So, I am wondering if a pair is known to be using this church, or if possibly it could have even been the Cathedral of Learning pair having a lunchtime outing to East Liberty.  I quickly measured out  the direct distance between the CoL and this church in East Liberty and it came out to about 1.9-miles.  Back in the day, this distance would have been regarded as too close for comfort; re: 2 pairs in close proximity (that was an initial concern for the Gulf Tower and CoL pairs, which were about 2.3-miles apart).  In any case, there are many factors involved and I doubt this distance would be a problem for them.

— email from Charles Bier, 26 January 2024

I replied that the Pitt peregrines generally stay close to home to defend their territory at this time of year, so maybe it’s a new pair.

Then, outside my window on Sunday 4 February, I saw a peregrine flying hard toward Shadyside from the direction of the Cathedral of Learning. This falcon was using territorial flappy flight to make itself obvious as it approached another peregrine of the same size — likely both females — circling up in the vicinity of Negley Avenue and Baum Boulevard. This intersection is about halfway between the Cathedral of Learning and East Liberty Presbyterian Church. It might be a boundary line.

The peregrines did not fight. Instead they both circled up apart from each other and went their separate ways.

This is the time of year when peregrines with a less than satisfactory nest site try to claim a better one. The Cathedral of Learning is the best site in town and Carla is new there(*) so of course the challengers are testing to see if she’s up to snuff.

Perhaps that explains why she was so distracted while Ecco was courting her on Saturday 3 February. Though the courtship session lasted 6 minutes, Carla spent 3 minutes looking at the sky. To save you time, I chopped out those (boring) three minutes with a fade.

Ecco and Carla courting at the Pitt peregrine nest, 3 Feb 2024 (video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Has the territorial boundary been settled? Are there challengers on the horizon?

Keep up with all the action on the National Aviary Falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh.

(*) Carla arrived at the Cathedral of Learning in late May last year. She was banded Black/Blue S/07 at her birthplace in Fort Wayne, Indiana in May 2020.

The New Pitt Falconcam is Live!

Ecco and Carla touch beaks as they bow at the Pitt peregrine nest, 5 Jan 2024 (image from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

1 February 2024

Today the National Aviary’s new peregrine falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning has begun live streaming for the 2024 nesting season.  If you’ve followed the stream in prior years you’ll find that this new camera is great for watching Ecco and Carla as they court and raise a family. Click here and scroll down to watch.

Last September the 10 year old camera died after limping for years with a broken microphone and infrared light. It took us a while to notice (no one was watching) so the timing was fortunate. We had three months to get advice on cameras, choose a model, install it and learn how to use it before streaming began.

Long time peregrine fan Kim Getz coordinated the project for Pitt I.T. and it all came together on installation day. Lighthouse Electric removed the old equipment, ran wires, and installed the new microphone and camera. Kim volunteered to clean the nestbox and re-secure the green perches with zip ties. She gives a thumbs up to the snapshot camera when she’s done. Thankfully the peregrines did not harass the crew.

The new camera is quite an improvement over the old one with sharper focus, better reach, and of course audio and infrared night light. The nest view is narrower because it’s a tight space and this camera is about 2 inches closer due to the length of the wall mount arm. (All the new cameras have longer arms nowadays.)

Though we cannot change the camera view when the adult peregrines are present — it spooks them! — the presets in the slideshow below will come in handy when the young explore the gully, the nestrail, and the nestbox roof. The slides begin with Ecco preening on the green perch. Kim ran the camera through its paces when no peregrines were around.

What can we expect on camera this season? Last year was a disappointment with no peregrine eggs and chicks because the female, Morela, became egg bound and died in mid May. Two days after Morela disappeared a banded female peregrine, Carla (Black/Blue S/07, Fort Wayne, IN, 2020), arrived on site and has been there ever since. Late May was too late to nest in 2023 so this year will be Carla’s first nesting season.

Carla and Ecco have been courting and bowing since they met last year and are intensifying their attachment this winter. They bowed and touched beaks last month in these snapshots taken before streaming began. When you watch them in full screen you’ll see tiny bones on the gravel and be able to read Carla’s bands.

Thank You to everyone who helped make this project a success, especially …

  • The National Aviary and their Ornithologist Bob Mulvihill, whose commitment to broadcasting the Pitt peregrines’ nest has provided us with a new camera.
  • Pitt I.T. who assigned Kim Getz to manage the project and provided additional tech assistance. Kim’s knowledge, dedication, and connections within the University made everything flow smoothly.
  • Pitt’s Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences and Rory Carroll, sponsors of the falconcam within the University.
  • Charles Eldermire at Cornell Bird Cams for advice on camera models and Cornell’s experience with their features.

Click here and scroll down to watch the National Aviary Falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning.

It’s Peregrine Season!

p.s. For those of you following my southern Africa trip, today is the day I leave Africa on a 33.5 hour journey home (flights + layovers). I am spending most of my time in the upper troposphere.

Pitt Peregrines: A Look Back at 2023

Ecco and Carla bow at the nest 18 May 2023 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

14 January 2024

As we anticipate peregrine nesting season at University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, let’s take a look back at last year’s highlights. Well actually “low lights.” The nest was not successful last year but the reason why gives us hope for great things for 2024.

Pitt Peregrine Highlights in 2023 (click the links for more detail)

The year began at the Cathedral of Learning with Ecco and Morela, the resident male and female. We hoped for a first egg around St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March.

In early February Morela seemed distracted, obviously checking the sky during a courtship session on the 6th. The distraction continued.

Morela is distracted while Ecco tries to court her, 6 Feb 2023 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

By 21 March Morela had not laid an egg, yet she disappeared for four days so I wondered if there was a female challenger for the nest. When Morela returned on 25 March the intruder did not stay away. For 4-5 weeks Morela tried without success to lay an egg.

Morela looks ready to lay an egg, 23 April 2023, 6:18am (from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

By May Morela was egg bound and increasingly ill. She disappeared forever on 12 May.

Morela looks ill at Pitt peregrine nest, 8 May 2023 5:34pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On 14 May a banded female peregrine, new to the Cathedral of Learning, showed up on camera. Carla hatched at the Indiana Michigan Power Center (IMPC) Building in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2020 and flew here on her own. Carla was named when she was banded (Black/Blue S/07).

Though it was too late to start a family in late May, Carla and Ecco have strengthened their pair bond ever since. This 4 minute video from 30 July, sped up to double-time, shows the pair bowing for an extended period. Notice that there was no sound on the video last year. I promise there will be sound this year!

video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, 30 July 2023

Carla will nest for the first time this spring as we watch her on the National Aviary’s Falconcam that will begin streaming on 1 February.

Until the stream begins, view the nest from the CL snapshot page and get in practice ahead of time. Click here to learn how to tell Carla and Ecco apart.

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

(credits are in the captions)

Remembering a Snowy Winter

Snowy owl at Presque Isle State Park, 29 Nov 2013 (photo by Shawn Collins)

7 January 2024

It’s been 10 years since the spectacular winter of 2013-2014 when snowy owls irrupted in the Lower 48 States. That winter they invaded the Northeastern U.S. and traveled as far south as coastal North Carolina, Florida and Bermuda!

This year a few snowies are visiting the Great Lakes region but the only concentration of owls is in western Canada. You can see the difference in their eBird sightings in these maps of 2013-2014 versus 2023-2024. (Click here to see the eBird Explore map.)

In 2013-2014 there were so many snowy owls that photographers often saw peregrine falcons attacking them. Steve Gosser captured this still shot at Presque Isle State Park in December 2013.

Peregrine falcon attacking snowy owl at Gull Point, Erie, PA, 1 Dec 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Tom Johnson filmed two peregrines harassing snowy owls at Stone Harbor, New Jersey in January 2014.

Peregrines attack snowy owls at Stone Harbor, NJ in Jan 2014 (Video embedded from Cornell Lab on YouTube)

It was also a snowy weather winter. 2013-2014 was very cold with enduring snow on the ground because of the “Polar Vortex.”

This year is much warmer — so much so that yesterday’s snow melted overnight, as seen at the Pitt peregrine nestbox.

Snow melted overnight in Pittsburgh: 6 Jan 2024 afternoon vs 7 Jan morning (via the National Aviary’s snapshot camera)

This winter we’re missing both snowies and snow.

(credits are in the captions)

Celebrating My Favorite Bird on National Bird Day

Dorothy at the Cathedral of Learning on Banding Day, 17 May 2013 (photo by Peter Bell)

5 January 2024

My Audubon calendar had a surprise for me this morning. Today is National Bird Day, a little-known celebration established in 2002 by BornFreeUSA in coordination with the Avian Welfare Coalition. Since both organizations focus primarily on the well being of captive animals and birds, the celebration has not gained much notice in the birding community. However it’s a great excuse to celebrate my own favorite bird.

The peregrine falcon pictured above is the only wild bird I’ve ever been able to recognize and learn as an individual. Dorothy arrived at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning in 2001 at age 2 and had her first successful nest in 2002, the year that National Bird Day was established.

As I got to know Dorothy I learned about her species and became addicted to peregrines. She also taught me a lot about herself and in retrospect the unique characteristics of her generation, the peregrines that repopulated eastern North America.

Dorothy died eight years ago and still is in my heart, especially as nesting season approaches. Here’s a look back at what a great bird she was. Never captive. Always wild.

How Do Peregrines Increase Accuracy? Fly Faster!

Gusto heads into a stoop, 9 Feb 2022 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

3 December 2023

Peregrines are the fastest animal on earth when they dive at 200 mph to catch their prey in flight. In fact they dive even faster when they’re hunting an evasive bird. The higher speed increases turning force so they’re more accurate at catching prey.

In 2005 Ken Franklin went sky diving with a peregrine to clock its maximum freefall speed at 242 mph (389 km/hr).  In 2018 scientists wanted to study the details of the peregrines’ dive, but it was too hard to do in real time, so they created 3D simulations of a stooping peregrine pursuing a European starling.

The simulations showed that optimal speed for catching a bird in straight flight is 93 mph but if the prey is zig-zagging in the sky the best speed is 225 mph.

You’d think that the higher attack speeds would make it more difficult for falcons to adjust to a moving target. But the opposite turned out to be true: The predators were more maneuverable at higher speeds because they could generate more turning force; only then were they able to outmaneuver the highly agile starlings. So stoops don’t just help falcons quickly overtake prey—they also help the predators change directions.

Science Magazine: Peregrine falcons maneuver best when dive-bombing at more than 300 kilometers per hour

Watch how it works in this video from Science Magazine. You’ll need these equivalents as you watch.

  • 300 km/hr = 186 mph
  • 150 km/hr = 93 mph
  • 360 km/hr = 223+ mph. I rounded up to 225 mph
video from Science Magazine on YouTube