Category Archives: Peregrines

In Snow and Cold

Morela and Ecco bow at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 8 Jan 2022, 9:10am

9 January 2022

This morning in Pittsburgh it’s rainy and foggy and 41oF but yesterday …

Yesterday morning it was sunny and 12oF with an inch of snow in the nest when Ecco and Morela decided to meet at the Cathedral of Learning.

The sun was so bright that they were hard to see.

  • Ecco arrives, his head in the sunshine

In 10 minutes they were gone.

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

Morela Casts a Pellet

Is Morela shouting? No (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

28 December 2021

Earlier this month Morela preened at the nest and frequently paused to raise her beak and open wide (photo at top). She was not shouting. She was casting a pellet.

Like other birds of prey, the peregrine’s digestive system gathers indigestible bits of feather and bone into a pellet in the gizzard. When the pellet is big enough the bird regurgitates it. If you found a peregrine pellet it would not be as interesting as an owl pellet because it is just fractured bits and pieces. Peregrines don’t swallow their prey whole like owls do.

It is rare to witness the actual casting. The snapshots show Morela preparing to cast the pellet but we never see it leave her body. She looks our way when it’s over.

In May 2020 the Richmond, Virginia falconcam captured video of their unbanded female casting a pellet near the nest. Though it looks to us as if she’s sick, what she’s doing is completely normal and necessary.

Learn more about peregrine pellets and see photos of them at the Richmond VA peregrine page.

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

Pitt Peregrines Near the Solstice

Morela and Ecco bow to each other on Christmas Eve 2021 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

26 December 2021

Around the winter solstice the Pitt peregrines are well aware the days are shorter. They make the most of every minute.

For instance, on 19 December they bowed at the nest at 9:45am.

Then Morela shook off some downy feathers and preened for half an hour.

In mid afternoon 50 pigeons poured off the top ledge of this building in such a tight ball that I suspected a peregrine had caused it. Not just one peregrine. There were two! Morela and Ecco were cooperatively hunting, a sign of their close pair bond.

Pitt peregrine hunting zone, December 2021

Morela dove to break the flock’s ball while Ecco chased the loners that missed rejoining the group. This went on for at least 20 minutes with so many near misses that I began to think the peregrines were having fun as they worked together for their dinner. When it was over the pigeons drifted back to the ledge, unconcerned.

The pigeons are improving their flying skills. So are the peregrines.

p.s. Morela spent more than two hours preening and hanging out at the nest on Wednesday 22 December and the pair bowed together on Christmas Eve (at top). On sunny days check the snapshot camera to see if she’s there. Unfortunately we’re in for several days of rain this week.

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

Peregrine Goings On in Early December

12 December 2021

The Cathedral of Learning peregrines remain on campus all winter, keeping tabs on their territory making it safe for future nesting.

On Friday I saw an adult red-tailed hawk circling up over the museum and thought for his sake, “You’re asking for it!” Sure enough, both peregrines popped off the Cathedral of Learning and zoomed down to relentlessly dive on the hawk until he flew low between buildings at Carnegie Mellon.

Scaffolding has been rising at Heinz Chapel but I paid no attention until a peregrine found it interesting. On Wednesday 8 December I noticed a dot on the top rung. Through binoculars I identified Morela checking out the new view (circled).

What’s that dot on top of Heinz Chapel scaffolding? A peregrine! 8 Dec 2021 (photos by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile Morela and Ecco are thinking of spring even though the winter solstice is more than a week away. Their abbreviated bonding rituals are becoming more elaborate as they bow they turn their heads, nearly touch beaks. Both have been digging the scrape(*) and Morela sometimes pauses to stand in it.

Here’s a selection of their goings on in early December.

  • Ecco waits for Morela to arrive

p.s. The scrape (*) is the depression in the gravel where Morela will lay her eggs.

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

Pair Bonding in Late November

Morela and Ecco nearly touching beaks, 28 Nov 2021

29 November 2021

Despite the fact that egg laying is more than three months away, Ecco and Morela have been visiting their nest at the Cathedral of Learning. Yesterday the camera captured them pair bonding and nearly touching beaks.

You can tell the two birds apart by size and plumage contrast. Morela is larger and her body, wings and tail colors are essentially uniform (on left above). Ecco is smaller with a sharp contrast between his gray body and the dark/black tips of his wings and tail.

Peregrines are brightening our gloomy winter days.

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

Hello, Morela!

Morela looks in a window at the Cathedral of Learning, 19 Oct 2021 (photo by Dr. Alan Juffs)

22 October 2021

Last year’s work-from-home COVID restrictions kept most University of Pittsburgh faculty, staff and students away from campus. The peregrines could perch anywhere on the Cathedral of Learning with no one to see. Now everyone is back and the peregrines are observing people inside the building. On Tuesday morning Morela looked into Dr. Alan Juffs’ window from a favorite dining ledge where he first saw her back in 2019.

Hello, Morela!

The peregrines eat at this perch but also cache food for future meals. When Morela left the ledge, Juffs photographed some cached prey.

Peregrines’ cached prey on a Cathedral of Learning ledge, 19 Oct 2021 (photo by Dr. Alan Juffs)

Mike Fialkovich helped me identify the two birds in this pile. On the left an American woodcock, on the right an eastern meadowlark.

Neither of these prey species lands on campus because both require wilder habitats. American woodcocks live in young forests and shrubby fields, meadowlarks require grasslands. However both are migrating over the Cathedral of Learning this month. They migrate at night.

Peregrines capture their prey in flight so to catch these birds they would have been hunting at night in the glow of the city lights.

By Thursday morning the meadowlark had been eaten, the woodcock was still cached.

(photos by Dr. Alan Juffs, University of Pittsburgh)

Earthquake At The Nest

Peregrine at 367 Collins during earthquake in Melbourne, Australia, 22 Sept 2021 (screenshot from live stream at 367 Collins)

7 October 2021

The end of September was eventful for the peregrine falcons nesting at 367 Collins in Melbourne, Australia. Just eight days before their eggs hatched a rare earthquake shook the nest.

Large earthquakes are unusual in Australia so it was surprising when a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck near Mansfield, Victoria at 9:15am on Wednesday 22 Sept 2021(*). It rattled Melbourne 65 miles away.

USGS map of Australia earthquake on 21 Sep 2021, 23:15:53 UTC

When the earthquake began the male peregrine was on the nest incubating four eggs. At first he crouched low but as it continued he jumped up, looked around, and flew away with a wail. Watch him return to the nest in less than two minutes.

Incubation was successful and the chicks hatched on 30 September (watch video here). The “kids” have been growing rapidly ever since, thanks to many feedings. Here’s a recent feeding, Thursday morning 7 Oct 2021 at 7:15am(*).

Watch the Melbourne peregrines live on YouTube at 367 Collins Falcons.

When you do, keep in mind the large time zone difference between Melbourne and Pittsburgh. The feeding shown above occurred in Pittsburgh at 4:15pm on Wednesday.

(*) indicates date & time is local to Melbourne, Australia.

(screenshot from live stream at 367 Collins, videos embedded from YouTube)

Upside Down or Backwards

Peregrine flying upside down, Stammy at Youngstown, Ohio in 2011 or earlier (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

29 Sep 2021

There aren’t many birds on Earth that can fly upside down or backwards.

Peregrine falcons, like fighter jets, are powerful precision fliers that can fly upside down if they want to. Though we usually miss seeing it, Chad+Chis Saladin have photographed several episodes.

Above, more than a decade ago a peregrine nicknamed Stammy nested in Youngstown, Ohio after hatching at the Cathedral of Learning in 2003. When he was a youngster I saw his father Erie do a back flip and fly upside down in front of his “kids” on the nest rail. In the photo above, Stammy shows what he learned from his dad.

Below, you might be fooled that this peregrine is flying normally because of the position of its wings and head. Wrong! It’s upside down. Notice that its dark back is facing the ground while its white-and-gray underside is facing up. The bird twisted its head almost 180 degrees to focus on prey while it dives. Perhaps this optical illusion is why we don’t realize peregrines are flying upside down right in front of us.

An optical illusion: this peregrine is flying upside down (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin, 2017)

Peregrines can flap while they’re upside down, then turn sideways to right themselves.

  • Flying upside down (photos by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Hummingbirds break all the rules. They’re the only birds that can fly both upside down and backwards. Here are two videos from southern California that show hummingbirds in …

backwards flight …

… and upside down.

Our hummingbirds have left for the winter but there are still plenty of them in the southern tier. Watch hummingbird feeders from southern California to Florida to see them fly upside down and backwards.

(peregrine photos by Chad+Chris Saladin at C&C’s Ohio Peregrine Page, tweet from Wendy @geococcyxcal, YouTube video from Taofledermaus)

Bowing and Bathing at the Pitt Peregrine Nest

Morela and Ecco, 23 Sept 2021 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

23 September 2021

Though courtship season is four months away and egg laying won’t begin until March, Morela and Ecco have been cementing their pair bond by bowing at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest nearly every day. Sometimes one remains at the nest to preen.

On Wednesday 22 September it was warm and windy as a line of storms approached from the west. When Ecco and Morela bowed at 11am, Morela became distracted. “What’s that?”

“What’s that?” says Morela on 22 Sep 2021 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Ecco stayed behind to catch some sun on his back.

Ecco opens his wings in the hot sun, 22 Sep 2021 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Late in the afternoon the rain began in Oakland in small shower-like drops. Morela opened her wings to bathe.

Morela begins to bathe in the rain, 22 Sep 2021 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Watch the pair’s activities in this 2-minute video: Bowing and bathing at the Pitt peregrine nest.

Check the snapshots here to see if the peregrines are on camera.

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