If your office is high in the Cathedral of Learning you may have seen a peregrine outside your window.
Since early autumn the new female peregrine, Morela, has made herself at home at Pitt, choosing her favorite vantage points even if they have windows nearby.
Above, she perches in the wind outside Dr. Alan Juffs’ window on Halloween.
Below, she dines on pigeon in early November on the south face of the building, photo by Anonymous.
Morela’s acceptance of human faces in the windows reminds me of her predecessor, Dorothy, who didn’t mind seeing people indoors. I’m sure that quite a few people became peregrine falcon fans when they saw Dorothy outside the window.
Here’s a montage of Dorothy near the windows from 2009 to 2011.
Here are two of Dave’s photos: 9 Nov 2019 (above) and 10 Oct 2019 (below).
As I examined the October photo I noticed that the peregrine’s dotted breast and darkly lined chest look familiar. Few other peregrines look like this, but the female from the Tarentum Bridge does.
For comparison here are two photos of her from last February.
Female at Tarentum Bridge, Feb 2019, two photos by Steve Gosser
Meanwhile Dave’s November 9 photo is not a dotted-breast bird. It is possible though, that it’s the Tarentum male. The female would readily tolerate the presence of her mate but probably not another peregrine.
Compare the top November 9 photo to this one.
Male peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 25 March 2019
Peregrines expand their hunting territory as soon as their youngsters are able to hunt. They expand even further in winter when their primary prey — birds — have left on migration.
It would not be unusual for the Tarentum peregrines to be five miles from their nest site, only minutes away by air. The area has an additional attraction. Ducks gather at the Allegheny River Lock & Dam #5 just upstream from Freeport.
Interesting eBird note: The Freeport Bridge crosses the line where four PA counties meet: Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland. The peregrines could be in any one of 4 counties depending on where they perch.
November is a busy time for raptors on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Migrating red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks pass overhead while the Cathedral of Learning peregrine pair, Terzo and Morela, watch the skies and defend their territory.
Morela is especially vigilant against red-tailed hawks. Months before we knew she was on campus, @PittPeregrines noticed a peregrine kept chasing red-tailed hawks away from the Cathedral of Learning.
Aug 26, 2:40pm — Red-tailed hawk hovering over the 20th Century club is chased north and hit repeatedly by a Pitt peregrine.
Sep 13, dusk — A peregrine leaps off the Oaklander Hotel and chases a red-tailed hawk, grounding it on the lawn at William Pitt Union.
Was she involved in this incident? On Friday Nov 8, Pitt Police and a PA Game Commission Game Warden rescued an injured red-tailed hawk from the patio at Tower B. (The tweet says “falcon” but don’t worry, it’s a hawk. No news on its injury.)
In their photo tweet you can see the Barco Law Building in the background. Kim Getz works there and has been keeping track of the red-tailed hawks that hang out at the Law School. She hopes the injured bird wasn’t this adult that keeps the rodent population under control …
… or this curious youngster.
By 3pm Saturday afternoon, 9 November 2019, I was sure that at least one adult red-tailed hawk was doing just fine. I watched it glide low just below tree height on its way to Frick Fine Arts while Terzo and Morela performed a courtship flight at the Cathedral of Learning.
At 4:12pm Morela made a round of her territory from Schenley Plaza to Heinz Chapel and the Cathedral of Learning.
All is calm. Morela rules.
(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, @PittPolice and Kim Getz)
Now that the female peregrine, Morela, visits the Cathedral of Learning nest nearly every day you may be wondering how to identify her.
Here are her unique traits that you’ll see on camera, listed from easiest to hardest.
1. Morela has no bands on her legs. She often stands with her bare ankles showing.
2. All the normally white places on a peregrine — chest, face and cheeks — are peach-apricot on Morela. Even her belly beneath the stripes is peach-apricot, not white. This is noticeable in all photos.
3. Morela’s breast is clear with no spots or flecks of gray except at the edges (tiny flecks highlighted in photo below).
4. Peregrines have a broken necklace of charcoal gray that forms a frame on their cheeks below the malar stripe. Morela’s necklace is very wide when she turns her head, especially the necklace on her left side (necklace highlighted in photo below).
Morela shares some traits with other peregrines:
Morela is much larger than Terzo. This is a female trait in peregrines.
Morela’s forehead is pale where it meets her beak. Terzo has this trait, too, but Hope did not.
Morela’s head and nape are quite dark. So are Terzo’s.
There is very little color contrast between Morela’s head and back. This is typically a female trait in peregrines. Terzo has much more contrast — dark head, light gray back.
For comparison on camera here are two photos of Terzo in 2016 and 2017. Notice how white he is!
On Friday afternoon, 1 November 2019, Terzo called to his new mate Morela to court with him at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, “Come bow with me!”
Morela arrived immediately and became so wrapped up in courtship that she didn’t realize she was crowding Terzo into the back of the box. When he had no room to bow, Terzo stopped courting and left the nest.
Morela turned and called, “Come back!”
This was a brief courtship display even though it may look as if Terzo was running away. How do we know it wasn’t aggression? Here’s the difference between courtship and a fight.
In courtship you will see two birds, one much larger than the other, bowing and “ee-chupping” in squeaky voices. This is a very ritualized Ledge Display with a pattern of who-does-what: the male arrives and leaves first; they bow and ee-chupp; the female stays after he leaves. The ritual steps of the Ledge Display are described at:Familiarities On The Cliff.
Just before 4pm Morela jumped into the nest and called to another peregrine. The male stayed off-screen for a minute, then jumped down to bow with her.
The male she’s been courting is Terzo!
Terzo has been the resident male peregrine at Pitt since his arrival in March 2016. I recognized him on camera by the unique heart-shaped white patch on the left side of his face and his black/red color band. No, I couldn’t read his band numbers in the video (Terzo is Black/Red N/29) but I believe he’s the only male peregrine in the world with that face pattern + Black/Red bands.
So now we know that the peregrine couple at the Cathedral of Learning is Morela & Terzo. For the first time in years I’m excited about the upcoming nesting season. Courtship will intensify in January. Egg laying is due in mid to late March.
The video clip below is seven minutes long but is only a fraction of Morela’s time at the nest. It begins when she notices something in the air above her. She turns and ee-chups for several minutes, making the sound a female uses to call to a male.
The male did not come to the nest so Morela leapt to the perch above the nestbox to make her exit.
The male’s coy behavior makes me wonder if Terzo has left the Cathedral of Learning. Terzo is quite familiar with the nest and would have called Morela to come into it. Instead, Morela calls to a reluctant male.
Since the male has not been photographed this fall we haven’t confirmed his identity. He’ll have appear on camera before we know who he is.
Now that the new female peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning has been on site for more than six weeks and has actively claimed the nest, it’s clear that she is no longer “new.” Meanwhile, it’s too vague and unwieldy to call her “the female peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning.” So today she gets a name.
As an unbanded peregrine she didn’t come with a name so it was my job to decide what to call her. After many hours of deliberation with my fellow peregrine monitor Karen Lang, the new female peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning has a name: Morela.
It’s a tribute to the pale orange color of her breast, belly and cheeks. Morela means “apricot” in Polish.
This video of Thursday’s activity is long — 8.5 minutes — but it shows the most interesting part of her visit, captured at 10:10am on 17 Oct 2019. The video will seem to run forever. Pretend you’re watching it “live.”
Two more videos round out the 14 minutes, not including the time she sits on the front perch. Click the links for: