Category Archives: Peregrines

Hanging Out at the Nest

Visiting the Pitt peregrine nest, 30 Sept 2022, 9:48am

2 October 2022

Though the breeding season is six months away the Pitt peregrines visit the nest almost every day and bow together to strengthen their pair bond.

Here they are on the last day of September.

  • Arrival at dawn

The streaming camera is off for the season but you can see live snapshots at Cathedral of Learning Falconcam Snaphots.

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

Hot Enough to Sunbathe

Ecco sunbathing at the Pitt peregrine nest, 20 Sep 2022, 1:30pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

21 September 2022

Yesterday’s high in Pittsburgh was 77 degrees but the sun probably felt much warmer at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. Ecco took advantage of the sun to heat his feathers and skin.

Though it looks odd when they do it, birds sunbathe primarily for feather maintenance. The sun’s heat kills feather lice, the tiny parasites that nibble on feathers. The bugs that aren’t killed outright move off the bird’s back to locations where it’s easier to preen them away. National Audubon explains how this works at Hot, Bothered, and Parasite-free.

For additional reasons for sunning see The Spruce: Bird Sunbathing – Why Do They Do It?

Photos: Though the nestbox streaming camera is off for the season, you can see live snapshots at Cathedral of Learning Falconcam Snaphots.

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

Pitt Peregrines at End of Molt

Morela and Ecco greet at their nest, Cathedral of Learning, 27 Aug 2022 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera)

13 September 2022

Peregrine falcons molt to replace all their feathers once a year, but it takes a long time. They can never be flightless, as Canada geese are during their own molt, nor can they lose too many flight feathers simultaneously. Consequently they molt the same tail and wing feather on each side, waiting until the pair is mostly grown in before the next pair drops.

In North America’s mid-latitude temperate zones, peregrines complete their annual molt in 4.5 to 5 months, finishing in September. At the Cathedral of Learning Ecco and Morela are in the home stretch of the bedraggled process.

In the top photo the pair greets each other at the nestbox but mostly they take turns preening on the green perch. In the slideshow Ecco first, then Morela, fusses with flight and body feathers. When Morela shakes three fluffy white feathers fly.

Here are a few ways you can see their molt in progress:

A large wing feather lies discarded on the gravel on 27 August.

Molted wing feather on the gravel, 27 August 2022

As Ecco stretches you can see tail feathers partially grown in and a small gap in the smoothness of his wing. (The white tips on his new tail feathers don’t line up at the end of this tail.)

As Morela preens downy feathers stick to her head. When she shakes, three fluffy white feathers fly off.

Note the molting in progress on Morela’s wings and tail.

Will Ecco and Morela visit the nestbox as often when they have completely finished molting? Maybe not … until January.

Though the nestbox streaming camera is off for the season, you can see live snapshots at Cathedral of Learning Falconcam Snaphots.

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

Working Birds

Peregrine falcon “Charlie” at work at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Feb 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5 September 2022

On Labor Day let’s honor working birds.

Pictured above is a bird at work in 2009, a peregrine falcon named Charlie whose job was to clear birds from the airfield at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. His full crop indicates that he’d already done his job that day but he was looking around anyway, just in case some birds came back.

Charlie is one of several working falcons who make it safe for flights to take off and land at Ramstein. Click on this link to see photos when Ramstein AB celebrated their falcon workers on Earth Day 2018.

And don’t miss this vintage article featuring Rufus, the Harris hawk who patrols Wimbledon. (Includes video!)

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Strengthening Their Pair Bond

24 August 2022

With the breeding season over and their youngsters dispersed the Cathedral of Learning peregrines stay on territory, molt a few more feathers, and quietly preen in the sun. Morela and Ecco have no pressing need to court each other but they strengthen their pair bond by bowing at the nest a couple of times a week.

The bowing session on Sunday 21 August was longer than usual. Watch them in the slideshow above.

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

Screeching All Over Again

  • Ecco: OH NO! SHE'S BACK!

19 July 2022

For ten days, July 8 to 18, the airspace around the Cathedral of Learning was quiet. Literally quiet. No screeching. This year’s young peregrines had finally left home to become independent. What a relief after Silver Girl screeched all day for a handout on 6 July! Ecco and Morela relaxed.

It was too much to hope. When it rained all day on Sunday 17 July with more rain due on Monday the 18th, Silver Girl came home to beg from Ecco rather than hunt on her own in the rain.

Oh no! She’s back! Ecco retreated to the nestbox but departed as Silver Girl arrived. Screeching! Screeching! She hopped up to the snapshot camera and continued screech.

Here’s what she sounded like in case you’ve forgotten the noise.

Silver Girl screeches for a handout, 18 July 2022

My husband heard her screeching again at St. Paul’s Cathedral steeple at 7pm.

The weather will be sunny for the next five days without any all-day rain for the foreseeable future. Silver Girl will leave again but will she become truly independent? It remains to be seen.

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

Time To Molt

Ruby-throated hummingbird molting in August in Illinois (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

12 July 2022

Feathers are vital to a bird’s survival but they wear out and have to be replaced by molting. The best time to do this is when feathers are not urgently needed for migration, courtship or warmth. That makes summer the time to molt. Here are a few examples.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), above, have to look flashy at the start of the breeding season so they molt their body feathers from June to August. On the wintering grounds they molt flight feathers in preparation for their strenuous spring migration. Look closely at ruby-throats this summer and you’ll see that their body feathers are not as perfect as they were in May.

Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) wrap up their last brood of the season in mid summer and begin to molt in mid July. By August they will look very ragged, male and female shown below. Some will be bald.

Male northern cardinal molting in June (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Female northern cardinal molting in August (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Male and female peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) molt at slightly different times. Females molt their primary wing feathers while they’re incubating eggs (March-May) because their mates are doing all the hard flying to provide food. The males molt their primaries in July after teaching the young to hunt.

Birds molt the same flight feather on each side of the body so that flight remains balanced. Morela’s wings look sleek while she’s sunbathing because she replaced her wing feathers a few months ago.

Morela’s wing feathers are not in molt, 10 July 2022 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

However she is molting her two central tail feathers. Click on the photo below for a highlighted version showing the two growing feathers.

Morela is molting her central tail feathers, 10 July 2022 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Meanwhile Ecco is looking very ragged (below). I saw him flying yesterday with a feather obviously growing in on each wing.

Ecco is molting, 9 July 2022 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Have you noticed that Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are not grazing in their usual upland haunts? They are staying near water because they cannot fly while they molt all their primary feathers at once.

Not-molting vs. molting appearance during flightless period in Canada geese (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Read about their flightless period here.

For adult birds, summer is the time to molt.

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

Screeching All Day

Silver Girl complains at the Cathedral of Learning nestbox, 6 July 2022 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

7 July 2022

Parenthood can be trying especially when grown children who were briefly independent return home and complain that you’re not feeding them enough. Pitt peregrines Morela and Ecco are going through this with their two female youngsters, Yellow Girl and Silver Girl.

Last weekend Yellow Girl demanded a handout. Then a brief respite of silence ended this week with intensive screeching. I heard it yesterday morning as I walked past Phipps Conservatory and searched the sky for a young peregrine chasing an adult. Nothing.

What I heard was Silver Girl at the nest, a third of a mile away, screeching at the top of her lungs as shown in the video below. At the start you can hear Ecco chupping and whistling while Silver Girl screams. She calmed down for a moment but it didn’t last. She screeched off and on all day.

Weaning these youngsters from parental care is a very noisy activity.

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

Yellow Girl Demands A Handout

Yellow Girl looking for a handout, 2 July 2022 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

UPDATE 7 July 2022: Both young peregrines have been screeching. Silver Girl screamed all day on 6 July.

3 July 2022

By late June two of this year’s juvenile Pitt peregrines remained in Oakland. Sometimes they waited for their father Ecco to bring food. Sometimes they left campus to go hunting. Eventually I saw only the adult peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning.

Then on 30 June something changed. Michelle Kienholz saw and heard a noisy juvenile begging loudly. Yesterday morning my husband heard lots of peregrine begging from St. Paul’s Cathedral steeple.

Cathedral of Learning in the distance beyond St. Paul’s Cathedral steeples (photo by Kate St. John)

By 4:30pm the falconcam showed that Yellow Girl had come home for a handout and Ecco was having none of it.

Here’s an edited sequence of events. I have spared you 8 minutes of screeching.

Ecco is letting Yellow Girl know that it’s time to fend for herself.

(peregrine photo and video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh; St. Paul’s steeple and Cathedral of Learning photo by Kate St. John)

Sad News About Red Boy

Red Boy hams it up at the snapshot camera, 6 June 2022 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

28 June 2022

This morning at around 10:30am Red Boy, the juvenile male from this year’s Pitt peregrine nest, was found dead on the runway at the Allegheny County Airport, apparently hit by a plane. Game Warden Doug Bergman called with his band numbers Black/Green 03/BZ and the fact that he still had the red tape on his USFW band that gave him the nickname “Red Boy.”

Red Boy on banding day, 26 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Red Boy was always inquisitive and ready to go. He was the first to fledge and the first to leave home around 17 June. On the map he flew 6+ miles due south and found a place with plenty of birds that are easy to catch when they fly across the runways.

Red Boy was already on his big adventure. Unfortunately, he had no idea how quickly a plane could overtake him.

Sad as this is it is not unexpected. Young peregrines have a 62.5% mortality rate in their first year of life. Read more at Musings on Peregrine Mortality.

p.s. The lack of news about equipment damage leads me to believe that the plane was fine after the encounter … but see the comment from Dick Rhoton.

(photos by Kate St. John and from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)