Category Archives: Peregrines

Quick Visit

It’s been a quiet week at the Pitt peregrine nest. As far as I can tell, Morela visited just once and for only three minutes. Here’s a quick slideshow from Wednesday 22 January 2020.

This month the peregrines are busy in the airspace above Fifth and Forbes in Oakland. To see them in action, stop by the Cathedral of Learning.

Keep looking up. 🙂

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

Peregrine Success Story, Feb 4

In case you missed it at Wissahickon Nature Club last month, here’s another opportunity to learn about peregrine falcons in western Pennsylvania.

Join me on Tuesday, 4 February 2020 at the Todd Bird Club in Indiana County, PA where I’ll present Peregrine Falcons: An Environmental Success Story.

From their extinction in eastern North America in the 1960s, to their recent removal from the Endangered Species list in Pennsylvania, the peregrine falcon’s success story is an inspiration to us all.

When: Tuesday, 4 February 2020, 7:00+pm. Arrive by 7:00 to socialize. Refreshments are provided.

Where: Blue Spruce Lodge in Blue Spruce County Park, located just off Route 110 east of the town of Ernest, PA.

This meeting is free and open to the public.

(peregrine photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Daily Visits to the Nest

Morela bows at the nest, hoping that Terzo will join her, 12 Jan 2020, 10:55a

Morela has made brief visits to the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest every day this week. Snapshots from the National Aviary’s falconcam show her bowing and calling to her mate Terzo. He hasn’t joined her yet but don’t worry, he’s around. I saw him kiting in the wind yesterday.

On Sunday 12 January 2020 Morela spent five minutes bowing and calling.

Morela at the nest, 12 Jan 2020, 1056a
Morela calls to Terzo, 12 Jan 2020, 1058a

When Terzo didn’t join her she stepped forward to look around, “Where is he?”

Morela looking around for Terzo, 12 Jan 2020, 11:00a

On Monday 13 January she had just finished eating when she stopped by for a visit. Notice the bulge in her crop as she bows and calls.

And yesterday, 14 January, she stopped by for only a minute.

The snapshots are tantalizing … and silent. I can hardly wait until the National Aviary starts streaming the falconcam in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for that happy day!

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

p.s. Here’s how I capture these photos. Warning it’s technical!

Instant photos are at this link on my blog’s Resources panel: FALCONCAM – CL Snapshots.

The top photo is a once-a-minute snapshot from the (soon to be) streaming camera. It shows what’s happening there right now. You have to refresh your browser to see if it changes.

When there’s a peregrine on camera I save the photo to my hard drive or cellphone. Then I refresh the browser.

In January the nest is usually empty but I know when a peregrine is there because I follow @pittpefaALERT on Twitter. Every tweet from @pittpefaALERT is a 15-second “change” image showing what’s different at the nest. Changed pixels are shown in red. Here’s what they look like and what they mean.

Tweets that don’t matter: At dawn and dusk and on partly cloudy days the change is just sun and shadow. Here are two sun and shadow changes — red images with straight edges.

Two tweets from @pittpefaALERT showing changes in light at the Pitt nest

When a peregrine shows up: The change image may look like a bird (left image below) and it certainly has curved lines (right). Here are two peregrine tweets.

When I see a tweet that looks like a peregrine I go to the FALCONCAM – CL Snapshots link. The snapshots refresh every 60 seconds. If I’m nimble I can capture the first one.

Good luck!

Getting Ready For The Nesting Season

On Friday afternoon January 3 Bob Mulvihill, his son Anthony, and I visited the Cathedral of Learning to make sure the falconcams are ready for the 2020 nesting season. Bob checked the cameras, wiped the weather-proof domes, and removed those reddish circles from the nest.

We saw Morela on our way into the building, perched on a gargoyle spout on the 32nd floor. She stayed where she was. The day was too foggy to be flying high.

Yesterday, January 4, was still foggy and rainy but Morela was intent on courting with Terzo. At 10am she called from the nest, “Come court with me.”

Morela calls Terzo, 4 Jan 2020, 10am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At noon she and Terzo bowed for two minutes. Terzo is in the back corner below (notice his bands). Morela has her back to us.

Terzo (in corner) and Morela bow at the nest, 4 Jan 2020, nearly noon (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The peregrines, too, are getting ready for the nesting season. I can hardly wait for the falconcam to start streaming next month.

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

Twenty Minutes At The Nest

Morela visits the Cathedral of Learning nest, 1 Jan 2020 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At mid-morning on New Years Day, the sun came out, the temperature rose above freezing and the winds gusted to 29 mph — perfect weather for Pitt’s peregrine falcons to stretch their wings.

In the early afternoon Morela visited the nest for twenty minutes. At first she bowed as if to her mate, Terzo, but he didn’t appear on camera. She scraped at the gravel, watched and waited, then preened on the front perch. This is Morela’s longest visit to the nest since she arrived at the Cathedral of Learning last September.

Streaming video isn’t available yet but the snapshot camera captures photos every 15 seconds. I’ve put the best ones in the slideshow below.

The best place to see Morela and Terzo this month is in the air above the Cathedral of Learning. Watch for their breath-taking courtship flights as they prepare to nest in March.

p.s. Morela visited the nest for only a minute yesterday, 2 Jan 2020.

Morela bows and calls to Terzo, 2 Jan 2020 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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

Young Peregrine Flies By Duck Hollow

Duck Hollow, where Nine Mile Run meets the Monongahela River, is a good place to find unusual birds in Pittsburgh. Just after Thanksgiving Robert Warnock saw a young peregrine falcon harassing the gulls and posted these photos in the Duck Hollow Facebook group.

When I saw the photos a few weeks later I was so excited. This peregrine is banded Black/Green with blue tape on the USFW band. Can we find out who it is? Unfortunately, additional zooming couldn’t make the bands readable.

In the next photo I briefly hoped the mark above the bird’s back was a MOTUS harness but Not! It’s a ripple on the water. Oh well.

As expected, the peregrine didn’t stick around but you never know when we might see it again. Watch for those distinctive white stripes on the head and the dark belly. By the time we see this bird again it may have grown back the missing tail feather(s).

What a lucky moment at Duck Hollow! Thanks to Robert Warnock for the pictures.

(photos by Robert Warnock)

p.s. Here’s the back story: When I first saw Warnock’s photos all the clues pointed to the 2019 MOTUS peregrine from Downtown Pittsburgh. I checked with Art McMorris, Patti Barber, and Dan Brauning at the PA Game Commission, but without band numbers none of us could be certain of the bird’s identity. To tantalize you, here’s a photo of Pittsburgh’s MOTUS peregrine in June 2019. What do you think?

MOTUS nanotagged juvenile peregrine, Downtown Pittsburgh at USX Tower, 19 June 2019 (photo by Jason Walkowski)

Why Do Peregrines Dive So Fast?

Peregrine tucked for a dive (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Peregrine falcons are famous as the fastest animal on earth, diving at more than 200 miles an hour (320 km/h) to capture prey.

Most of the time they don’t travel that fast and are still successful hunters. What prompts a peregrine to stoop at top speed?

A PLOS study in 2018 revealed that high speed isn’t just for catching up to prey. It makes peregrines more accurate!


(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Courtship in December

Terzo and Morela court at the Cathedral of Learning, 2 Dec 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Though female peregrines don’t lay eggs until March, peregrine couples maintain their pair bond throughout the year. In winter they perch together, fly together, and occasionally meet at the nest for a ritual called the ledge display.

Early Monday morning December 2, Terzo and Morela bowed at the Cathedral of Learning nest for a long time — six minutes. Their photo above is in black-and-white because the falconcam was still in “night” mode. The sky was that overcast!

Streaming video is not available yet but the snapshot camera captured color photos every 15 seconds. I’ve made them into a video below, condensing six minutes into only 37 seconds.

The video shows that Terzo and Morela follow the expected ritual. After the first bow Terzo moves to the back of the box. The couple bows and sways and you can see their beaks open as they say “ee-chup.”  (Halfway through, Terzo moves to the back right corner and is temporarily out of view.) Terzo leaves first, then Morela. The male always leaves the nest first so the female can make herself at home … and lay eggs some day.

Each of them returned later: Morela alone at 10am. Terzo alone at 11:08am to dig the nest scrape at its usual place under the roof.

Terzo digging the nest scrape under the roof, 2 Dec 2019, 11:08 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Will Morela choose Terzo’s scrape for her eggs in March? Or will she use the scrape she’s been making at the front of the nestbox?

I suspect she’ll go with Terzo’s suggestion. She’ll appreciate having a roof when it rains.

Additional resources at these links:

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

Peregrines: A Hopeful Story, Dec 12

Peregrines are a great environmental success story, from their extinction in eastern North America in the 1960s, to their recent removal from the Endangered Species list in Pennsylvania.

Join me on Thursday, 12 December 2019 at the Wissahickon Nature Club where I’ll present the history and habits of peregrine falcons in western Pennsylvania. 

When: Thursday, 12 December 2019, 7:30pm. Doors open at 7:00pm. Come early to chat and eat Christmas cookies at our annual cookie exchange.

Where: Wissahickon Nature Club at the Fern Hollow Nature Center, 1901 Glen Mitchell Road, Sewickley, PA 15143-8856

This meeting is free and open to the public.

MOTUS Peregrines On The Move

Downtown Pittsburgh juvenile peregrines. Bird on left has a MOTUS tag, 20 June 2019 (photo by Lori Maggio)

In June 2019 the Pennsylvania Game Commission fitted 10 of the state’s fledgling peregrines with MOTUS tracking devices to study where they go and how many survive their first year of life. Five months later the network has data locations for three (or maybe five) of them.

Keep in mind that only a few data points have been captured, the MOTUS data is still preliminary, and false positives sometimes occur. That said, here’s what we know so far.

Harrisburg female, Red, 46/BS (ID# 24660)

The path of the Harrisburg female peregrine (Red, 46/BS, ID#24660) looks quite promising. She flew first to Nockamixon (19 Sept), then west and south to Lamb’s Knoll (2 Oct) and Newtowne Neck near Compton, Maryland (4 Oct). The enhanced map below includes her banding location in Harrisburg. Click here for her path on the Motus website which does not include her banding location.

Map of Harrisburg Red peregrine, ID#24660, enhanced from MOTUS tracking map

Harrisburg male, White, 22/BZ (ID# 24662)

Initial data on the Harrisburg male (White, 22/BZ, ID#24662) were clouded by inaccuracies that placed him in both Reading, PA (Drasher) and Saskatchewan, Canada — 1,600 miles away — on the same day.

After removing the Saskachewan error there was still one more puzzle. The data table indicates that Harrisburg White flew 766 miles four times — from western Ontario (Harrington) to the Bay of Fundy (Gardner Creek) and back again. Would a bird have done this? And could he have made one of those trips in a single day, 24-25 August, in a head wind? Hmmm! Doubtful.

screenshot of Harrisburg White data table as of 25 Nov 2019

With those questions in mind I created the enhanced map below, adding his banding location and removing Gardner Creek (which may still be on his MOTUS map here). While his data is under review Harrisburg White is still on the move. He showed up near Aurora, Ontario on 16 November.

Map of Harrisburg White peregrine, ID#24662, enhanced from MOTUS tracking map

Nazareth, female, Red, 20/CA (ID# 24665)

Hatched on a clinker silo at Lehigh Cement in Nazareth, Pennsylvania this female (Red, 20/CA, ID#24665) logged three data points on Amherst Island in Lake Ontario: 51 seconds on 17 and 19 July and three hours on 6 August. Without other locational data MOTUS cannot generate a map so I created one below with two points while her data is under review. Click here for her data table on the MOTUS website.

Proposed map of Nazareth Red peregrine, ID#24665, constructed by Kate St. John and enhanced MOTUS tracking data

Data uncertain: Pittsburgh, female, Blue, 19/CA (ID# 24664)

Interestingly there is a single 51-second data point for the Pittsburgh female (Blue, 19/CA, ID#24664) at Nazareth Red’s location on Amherst Island on 22 July. Its validity is uncertain. I marked it in orange on Nazareth’s map above.

Data uncertain: Bethlehem, male, Yellow, 60/AP (ID# 24666)

Bethlehem Yellow has a smattering of data points at the Allan Hills tower in Saskatchewan, but like the other Saskatchewan error this is 1,700 miles away from his banding site without any intervening locations. The data is under review.

As the MOTUS system gathers more information the picture for each bird will come into better focus. Meanwhile check out the tables and maps as they look today at the links below.

(photo of Pittsburgh juvenile peregrines by Lori Maggio, enhanced maps by Kate St. John from MOTUS tracking data; click on the captions to see the originals)