Category Archives: Peregrines

Peregrine Update, Jan 2021

Banded peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 28 Nov 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

10 January 2021:

In the next 10 weeks peregrine falcons will court and claim nest sites in southwestern Pennsylvania, then lay eggs mid-March to early April. Right now through mid-March is the best time to see them. Here’s an update on recently active sites and information on locations where observers are needed. Get outdoors and look for peregrines! I hope you can help.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:

It’s easy to watch peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning because they’re on camera. The snapshot camera captured Morela and Terzo courting on 8 Jan 2021 as shown in the slideshow above. Stop by Schenley Plaza and look for them on or above the building. The streaming camera will start running in February.

Downtown Pittsburgh:

Third Ave nest site, used for the past 3 years (photo by Kate St. John)

If I was to bet where the Downtown peregrines will nest this year, I’d say there’s a 90% chance they’ll be at the Third Avenue site, shown above, where they’ve nested for the last three years. Though the roof rehabilitation project is done at the Gulf Tower, the nestbox probably hasn’t been reinstalled. I’m awaiting news from the Game Commission. Meanwhile, observers are needed Downtown! Let me know if you see anything.

Gulf Tower, location of nest as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)
Gulf Tower nestbox last used in 2017 (photo by John English)

OHIO RIVER, Neville Island I-79 Bridge — no nest in 2021 and 2022.

PennDOT’s rehabilitation of the Neville Island I-79 Bridge will encompass the full length of the bridge through the 2021 and 2022 peregrine nesting seasons. Peregrines will be excluded from the bridge during that entire time so they can’t start to nest and then fail. We hope the bridge pair finds an alternate site nearby, but we won’t know where they are until we look for them. Observers needed! Look for peregrines in the Ohio Valley. Be alert for battles over an existing site.

OHIO RIVER, Monaca Railroad Bridge:

  • Peregrine on South Tower, Monaca Railroad Bridge, 4 Jan 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Speaking of the Ohio Valley, on 4 Jan 2021 Jeff Cieslak found a peregrine pair at the Monaca Railroad Bridge, perching, bowing and flying as shown in the slideshow above. If you’d like to see for yourself, stop by the north shore of the Ohio River in Beaver and Bridgewater PA at the sites marked by Jeff Cieslak on the map below.

OHIO RIVER, Ambridge Bridge:

Ambridge Bridge, 20 Feb 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Again in the Ohio Valley, Mark Vass saw a peregrine at the Ambridge Bridge on 3 Jan 2021. This bridge had an active pair in spring 2020 though nesting was not confirmed. Watch this bridge for more excitement.

TURTLE CREEK, Westinghouse Bridge:

Peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

The Westinghouse Bridge pair is gearing up for nesting as seen by Dana Nesiti on 2 Jan 2021. Click here for more photos.

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Tarentum Bridge:

Male & female peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 29 Dec 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

Both peregrines were at the Tarentum Bridge when Dave Brooke stopped by on 29 Dec 2020. Click here for more photos.

ALLEGHENY RIVER, Rt 422 Graff Bridge, Kittanning:

U.S. Route 422 bridge over the Allegheny River at Kittanning, PA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Route 422 bridge over the Allegheny River at Kittanning, PA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Margaret and Roger Higbee saw a peregrine at the Graff Bridge on 6 Jan 2021 (and also in December). Peregrines have nested here since 2016. Stop by to see for yourself.

Two other bridges were active in 2020 / 2019 which may be active this year as well. Observers are needed at:

  • OHIO RIVER, McKees Rocks Bridge, active in 2020
  • ALLEGHENY RIVER 62nd Street Bridge, active in 2019, not in 2020.

Get outdoors and see peregrines! Let me know what you find.

(photos by National Aviary snapshot camera at Cathedral of Learning, Kate St. John, John English, PENNDOT, Jeff Cieslak, Dana Nesiti, Dave Brooke, Wikimedia Commons)

Pitt Peregrine Nestbox Gets a New Roof

5 January 2021

As promised in early December, Dan Hosier of the National Aviary returned to the Pitt peregrine nestbox yesterday and installed a new roof. It took him only 15 minutes to clear away the old pieces and attach the roof and awning. The snapshot camera captured his movements, sped up in the 8-second video above.

When Dan was done he took this photo of the roof, a rare chance to see the nestbox from the peregrines’ perspective.

New roof on Pitt peregrine nestbox, 4 Jan 2021 (photo by Dan Hosier, National Aviary)

Morela and Terzo saw it too and visited the nestbox twice during the afternoon. Morela tried out the new roof with her typical leap to the awning after leaving the nestbox. In the slideshow below, Terzo looks up while Morela is on the roof. You can see her talons at the edge of the awning.

  • Morela arrives at the nestbox, 4 Jan 2021, 12:58pm

Very soon — next month! — the National Aviary falconcam will start streaming again. Don’t forget to support the streaming camera to keep it running! Click here to donate to the National Aviary today.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh; nestbox photo by Dan Hosier)

Peregrines Are Thinking of Spring

Female peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

3 January 2021

Now that the days are getting longer our local peregrine falcons are staying close to home and defending their territories. Pittsburgh has six more minutes of sunlight since the winter solstice. Peregrines are thinking of spring.

Westinghouse Bridge:

Yesterday, 2 Jan 2021, Dana Nesiti found both peregrines at the Westinghouse Bridge. The female watched from the catwalk (above) while the male carried a snack.

Male peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge carrying a snack, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Male peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge with prey, 2 Jan 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Tarentum Bridge:

Male and female peregrines at the Tarentum Bridge, 29 Dec 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

On Tuesday 29 December, Dave Brooke found both peregrines perched on the same beam at the Tarentum Bridge. The female is the same spotted-breast bird who has nested there since 2018.

Female peregrine with spotted breast at Tarentum Bridge, 29 Dec 2020 (photo by Dave Brooke)

Cathedral of Learning:

Ecco and Morela, 26 Dec 2020 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At the Cathedral of Learning three peregrines have visited the nest since the winter solstice. Ecco and Morela courted during Christmas week, 22-26 December, shown above.

Then on Christmas Bird Count day I saw two males chasing while Morela waited at home. Terzo must have won the chase. He and Morela courted last week and Terzo has been present ever since.

Morela and Terzo courting, 28 Dec 2020 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 30 Dec 2020 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Will either one of the males finally win the territory this spring? Or will both persist and the nest fail again?

Your guess is as good as mine.

(photos from Westinghouse Bridge by Dana Nesiti, Tarentum Bridge by Dave Brooke, and from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Not Much To Show For a Gray Week

Unusual clouds at sunrise, 30 December 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

2 January 2021

Since last Sunday Pittsburgh has been warm, wet and overcast except for a single sunny day, 29 December, which I largely spent indoors (foolish me!). I don’t have much to show for a gray week.

The next morning, 30 December, dawned with thin ragged clouds, a tantalizing end to sunshine.

On New Year’s Eve I took a three hour walk in Schenley Park and stopped to look for the Pitt peregrines. There’s a peregrine perched on this building. Can you see it?

There’s a peregrine on this building. Can you see it? Pittsburgh, 31 Dec 2020, 11:43am (photo by Kate St. John)

Zoomed in, the peregrine is on the right hand leaf-stem. Morela matches the building.

Peregrine falcon on the leaf-stem, 31 Dec 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Later she spent an hour at the nestbox.

Morela at the nestbox, 31 Dec 2020, 2:20pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Morela preening at the nestbox, 31 Dec 2020, 2:34pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

New Year’s Day 2021 was a washout. No photos. No peregrines. (I tried to find them. no luck) It rained most of the day.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Merlins, Peregrines, Crows and an Oriole

Merlin at Homewood Cemetery, 26 Dec 2020 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

28 December 2020

Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count dawned bitter cold (13o F) and overcast on Saturday 26 December 2020. The weather was daunting, city roads were snow-covered, and birds were very hard to find. Though the official count isn’t in yet, there were notable exceptions less than three miles from my home — merlins, peregrines, 20K+ crows and a Baltimore oriole.

MERLINS (Falco columbarius): As of this writing 5 merlins were seen in the count circle on 26 December. Michelle Kienholz’s merlin at Homewood Cemetery (above) was typical of those seen at dusk, always perched high on a snag. Frank Izaguirre reported two at Calvary Cemetery and Mike Fialkovich saw two at Schenley Park golf course. I was at the golf course at dusk, counting crows, so I kept an eye on one of Mike’s merlins. It didn’t leave its perch until 20 minutes after sunset.

PEREGRINES (Falco peregrinus): So far, four peregrine falcons were seen in the count circle. By sheer luck I saw 3 of them.

On Saturday morning I was gazing out the dining room window when I saw two male peregrines fly by chasing each other. Yard Birds! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Terzo-and-Ecco chase. Ecco and Morela bowed at the nest at 7:33a (slideshow below). I also saw Morela at the Cathedral of Learning gazing in the direction the males flew.

  • Morela, 12/26/2020, 7:33a (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

CROWS: Counting crows is always a challenge despite our best laid plans. At dusk at the Allequippa Street Parking Garage, Claire Staples and Joe Fedor counted crows arriving from the north, west, and Allegheny Valley. At Schenley Park golf course I counted them flying in from the east. (The eastern group can’t been seen from Allequippa Street.)

It was so cold! The crows felt it too and used different flight paths than the day before. Erf! Even so, the three of us counted 20,000 to 24,000 crows.

Here’s what they looked like at Allequippa Street on 18 Dec 2020, photos by Mary Brush.

Crows near the Petersen Center, 18 Dec 2020 (photo by Mary Brush)
Crows near the Petersen Center, 18 Dec 2020 (photo by Mary Brush)

BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula): Most likely the rarest bird of the count was the Baltimore oriole at Izaguirre’s feeder in Oakland. Frank and Adrienne have been keeping him happy since he showed up on 20 December. In Frank’s photo below he’s slurping jam from the top of the suet cake. Yay!

Baltimore oriole at Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count, 26 Dec 2020 (photo by Frank Izaguirre)

In the typical absurdity of 2020, the weather on the day after the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count was partly sunny and 47oF.

As least we saw more than a few good birds.

(photos by Michelle Kienholz, Mary Brush and Frank Izaguirre)

Remembering A Falcon Sweep

Dorothy bathing at Duck Hollow during the 2013 Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count (photo by Michelle Kienholz, 28 Dec 2013)

26 December 2020

The success of a Christmas Bird Count really depends on the weather. If the weather is good the birds are active and easy to find. In bad weather — heavy rain, snow, fog, high winds — birds are scarce.

Today is the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in the circle shown below. At 8am it’s 14 degrees F with gusty winds, overcast skies and light snow showers. It feels like 2 degrees F. What birds will I find in my city neighborhood under these conditions? Not many I fear.

Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count circle (map from audubon.org)

Seven years ago the 2013 Pittsburgh CBC had a Falcon Sweep at a single location. In one half hour there was a peregrine falcon (Dorothy), a merlin, and an American kestrel at Duck Hollow — all the possible Falco species — described in this 2013 article: Take Me To The River.

Merlin bathing in the Mon River, 28 Dec 2013 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

Today if I’m lucky in bad weather I’ll see a peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning and a merlin at dusk in Schenley Park. It would be a miracle if I saw a kestrel.

For old times sake, here’s a kestrel in June 2016 at an unusual city location.

American kestrel at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest on 9 June 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

More news later. Brrrr!

(photos by Michelle Kienholz and the National Aviary falconcam that used to be at Gulf Tower)

Support the National Aviary FalconCam!

Morela hopes you’ll support the National Aviary & the falconcam

15 December 2020

If you enjoy watching the National Aviary’s peregrine falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning please donate toward its support!

The COVID-19 pandemic has ranged from difficult to devastating for every public venue in the U.S. including the National Aviary. The Aviary relies on visitors for much of its income but visitors are few and far between during the pandemic and sometimes — as is happening now until January 4 — the Aviary must close because of COVID-19 restrictions. They care for their birds even while money is tight. The streaming falconcam feels like a luxury.

Now is the perfect time to make your gift because an anonymous donor is matching every dollar donated through January 2021, up to $100,000! Your donation will be doubled!

Put a smile on Morela’s face.

Support the National Aviary and the peregrine falconcam. Click here to donate.

Thank you in advance for your support.

(photo of Morela from the National Aviary falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning with Santa hat courtesy of John English)

p.s. To specifically mention the falconcam in your donation you can check mark “Give in Honor of…” on the donation screen and write in the Pitt peregrine falconcam.

Cleaning the Pitt Peregrine Nest and Cameras

  • Bob Mulvihill arrives at the nestbox, 7 Dec 2020, 8:56am

8 December 2020

Perhaps you have noticed that the Cathedral of Learning nestbox is clean and the old eggs are gone. As predicted, we performed annual maintenance on the Pitt peregrine nestbox and falconcam yesterday morning.

Due to the COVID surge in Allegheny County, four of us briefly met in the Cathedral of Learning lobby then only two, Bob Mulvihill and Dan Hosier from the National Aviary, went upstairs with the security guard to access the ledge. Joseph Pastorik and I watched outdoors at Schenley Plaza to see if the peregrines would show up. They did not.

As you can see from the snapshot camera, Bob collected the old eggs, cleared the nest surface, and cleaned the cameras. The nestbox roof has fallen apart so Bob pulled away the hanging bits. Meanwhile Dan measured the roof so he can construct a replacement. Bob and Dan will return in a week or three to install the new roof.

Are the peregrines still around? You bet. Morela (female), Terzo and Ecco (two males) have all shown up in the last five days. Check out these comparison snapshots.

Ecco and Morela, 3 Dec 2020, 14:16
Morela, 3 Dec 2020, 14:15 (large, peachy, no bands)
Ecco, 3 Dec 2020, 14:16 (smaller, dark with white chest, no bands)
Terzo, 5 Dec 2020, 14:00 (pale back and head, dark wingtips and tail tip, banded)

Expect another human visit to the nest to replace the roof. Then we’ll all stay away, hoping that Morela, Terzo and Ecco can work out their complicated relationship and have a successful nesting season.

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

Five Weeks of Peregrine Activity

  • Terzo, 20 Oct 2020 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

21 November 2020

Now that I live in Oakland I see the Pitt peregrines when I walk around the neighborhood. Morela is a regular, of course. Last week Terzo appeared almost every evening at 4:30pm, circling the Cathedral of Learning and zooming up to a high perch. It’s a joy to see him.

I began to wonder if he was the only male peregrine at Pitt but a look at five weeks of snapshots indicates Ecco has been present, too. I’ve put their appearances in the slideshow above.

The calendar shows that Terzo is more frequent: Terzo = blue, Ecco = green. Amazingly, both of them were present on 22 October 2020.

Visits to the Pitt peregrine nest by Terzo (blue) and Ecco (green), Oct & Nov 2020 (calendar layout from timeanddate.com)

We still have two male peregrines at Pitt. It’s still not a normal year.

(snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh. Blank calendar from timeanddate.com)

Now The Rain Gets In

18 November 2020

It didn’t rain much last July but when it did I noticed something puzzling on the Pitt peregrine falconcam(*). The nest was getting wet where it ought to be dry. Was the roof leaking?

A week ago the problem became acute when it rained hard all day on 11 November. By the end of the day pieces of brown debris were on the nest surface, probably from the roof. Now the rain really gets in!

If you look closely at falconcam still photos you can see papery pieces of roof hanging from above, erosion in the right corner where the rain drips, and debris from the roof on the nest surface.

Though we can’t see the roof from either camera, a snapshot of the awning gives us a hint of the roof’s condition. The red circle shows a place that lost its waterproof coating, exposing the under layer. The awning is deteriorating too, though more slowly.

The nestbox was built and installed in late 2007 (or early January 2008) after the Cathedral of Learning was spray-washed. I believe the box and walls are made of solid plastic but the roof and awning appear to be a composite material that has been weathering for 13 years.

This fall we’ll arrange for repairs so the nestbox is in good condition for the 2021 nesting season. Like maintaining a very small home, repairs are inevitable.

(*) Streaming of the Pitt peregrine falconcam is seasonal. It ended for the year on 31 July 2020.

(snapshots from the National Aviary falconcams at Univ of Pittsburgh)