Category Archives: Peregrines

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)

Dori & Terzo Successful Downtown

Fledgling on a roof at Third Avenue, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

28 June 2022

Back in mid-May I thought it unlikely that Pittsburgh’s Downtown peregrines would have a successful nesting season. Terzo was seen with a new unbanded female and Dori, at 16 years old, had low prospects for a healthy youngster. But I was wrong.

Yesterday morning Lori Maggio stopped by Third Avenue to look for peregrine activity and found three: Terzo, Dori, and a loud fledgling. The youngster had fledged to a safe zone across Third Avenue and was whining loudly.

Terzo whined back. (Read the captions for the story.)

Terzo responds to the fledgling. His bands are visible in a zoomed photo, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)
Fledgling whining to his parents at Third Avenue, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Terzo picked up the prey and delivered it to the fledgling.

Terzo with food for the fledgling, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Meanwhile the female watched from one of the gargoyles on Lawrence Hall. Lori couldn’t get a photo of her bands but I can tell this is Dori. Her face and chest markings match this positive ID photo of Dori.

Dori watches from a gargoyle on Lawrence Hall, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

On 29 May I saw two nestlings through my scope from Mt. Washington. Yesterday Lori didn’t see a second youngster but it may have been silent.

Here’s hoping the loud fledgling did well on his next flight.

(photos by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine Post-Fledge News, 26 June

Fledgling at prison water tower as male comes in with prey, Eckert Street peregrines, 22 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

26 June 2022, Updated 27 June

In late June young peregrines are learning to hunt before they leave home in July. Here’s an update for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Cathedral of Learning, Univ of Pittsburgh

Kate looks for young peregrines on Webster Hall & St. Paul’s Cathedral steeple (photo by Rick St. John)

The peregrine chicks that hatched two months ago have learned how to hunt but still wait in Oakland to beg from their parents. The youngsters’ favorite haunts are St. Paul’s Cathedral steeple, Webster Hall roof, Heinz Chapel steeple, and of course the Cathedral of Learning. In the photo above I’m watching two juvies on Webster Hall roof while Ecco monitors them from St. Paul’s. Since June 16 or 19 I have seen only two of the three juveniles, both females.

Downtown Pittsburgh, Third Avenue

Fledgling at Third Avenue roof, 27 June 2022 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Lori Maggio visited Third Avenue around 8am on 27 June and saw three peregrines: Dori, Terzo and a fledgling. Read more here.

Monaca Bridges, Ohio River: Mark Vass saw a single peregrine on 25 June.

Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge, Ohio River: Mark Vass saw one peregrine on 11 June.

Sewickley Bridge, Ohio River: Mark Vass saw one peregrine on the bridge on 12 June. Jeff Cieslak photographed one on 8 June.

Solo peregrine at Sewickley Bridge, 8 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Eckert Street / McKees Rocks Bridge area, Ohio River

Juvie peregrine flies with prey, adult peregrine follows, 25 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The Eckert Street juvenile peregrines are learning how to hunt! Yesterday Jeff Cieslak watched the parents fly by holding prey as if to say, “Come get it!” The youngsters chased and grabbed, including this one grappling with a pigeon. Their favorite place is now the water tower at Western Penitentiary (SCI Pittsburgh) next to the Ohio River.

Adult peregrine on the prison water tower (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

This family has a wide selection of food because they live so close to the river. On 17 June I found a prey item in two pieces in Don’s Diner parking lot: Body-with-legs and head-with-a-stray-leaf. Green heron.

Green heron in pieces, peregrine prey at Eckert Street, 17 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Westinghouse Bridge, Turtle Creek

Female peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge with prey for juvie, 26 June 2022 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

UPDATE: On 26 June Dana Nesiti was lucky to see both the female and the lone juvenile peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge. The juvie was whining for food. The female brought some.

Clairton Coke Works

Dana Nesiti reports on 21 June: “I inquired about the falcons at the Clairton Coke works and was told that 2 of the juvies were caught on the ground and put back up on the quenching tower and all 3 are flying good now.”

62nd Street Bridge / Aspinwall / Highland Park Bridge

62nd Street and Highland Park bridges as seen from underneath Aspinwall RR bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

On 19 June 2022 Mark Vass saw three peregrines at the Highland Park Bridge including an adult feeding a juvenile. When I stopped by on 25 June I saw one adult. Mark’s observation confirms that peregrines bred in this stretch of the Allegheny River but we don’t know where.

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River

Female peregrine at Tarentum Bridge, 2 June 2022 (photo by Dave Brooke)

The nestlings at the Tarentum Bridge fledged earlier than the other sites and were flying really well when Steve Valasek and his kids visited on 17 June. They saw four peregrines fly by!

Here’s a summary for southwestern Pennsylvania, all in one place.

(photos Rick St. John, Kate St. John, Jeff Cieslak, Dana Nesiti, Dave Brooke)

Let’s Call Her Trouble

The wanderer voices her opinion, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

18 June 2022

Yesterday morning at 7:45am I got a call from Game Warden Doug Bergman. He was heading to an assignment in Fayette County but had just received a call that a peregrine fledgling was walking on McClure Street in Pittsburgh. By the time he could finish in Fayette and drive back to Pittsburgh it would be afternoon, way too long for this bird to be on the street.

Peregrine fledglings cannot take off from the ground in their first 24 hours of flight so this one needed an assist to get up to a high perch and start over again. Could I help?

Google Maps showed the incident at the corner of McClure and Eckert Streets — the Eckert Street peregrine nest. Jeff Cieslak had called in the trouble ticket and Jeff was still on site. Maybe we could put the bird on a nearby roof — if we could catch it. I would get there by 9:00am.

The trouble started around 6:30am when Marcy Kemmler, owner of Don’s Diner, saw a peregrine fledgling walking on the street. She stopped traffic, herded the bird onto the sidewalk and called Jeff. By the time he arrived Marcy had already saved the bird’s life several times. It was standing in clover under the California Avenue Bridge. Its size looked female to me.

Peregrine fledgling on the ground at McClure Street, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The fledgling walked behind Don’s Diner and jumped up to the highest spot she could find, two feet off the ground.

Peregrine fledgling behind Don’s Diner, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

She continued walking into Don’s Diner parking lot under the Eckert Street Bridge. When I arrived Jeff was guarding the bird at the base of the arch. Marcy and I walked toward Jeff. The bird’s mother started shouting from her perch on the California Avenue Bridge.

Eckert Street mother peregrine shouts from the California Avenue Bridge, 17 July 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The fledgling was on the ground between the two arches (to the right of the red square in photo below). Jeff blocked the bird’s retreat away from the Diner while Marcy and I blocked its progress toward it. We didn’t realize we were loosely surrounding the fledgling but the bird’s mother did realize it and warned her youngster. Meanwhile Marcy was praying that the bird would walk up the arch.

Don’s Diner in April 2021. Red box shows the base of the arch where the peregrine walked up (screenshot from WPXI video)

I had never seen a peregrine walk up a bridge so I didn’t understand the significance of Marcy’s prayer until it was answered. The bird flapped up to the arch and walk-flapped its way to the top. Whew!

Peregrine fledgling walk-flaps her way up the arch, 17 June 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

After it made it to near the top of the beam, we moved away to try to get a better look. Kate said, “Now would be a good time for the adults to feed it,” and as if on cue, the male comes back from his (successful) hunt, and the female flies out to scream at him (normal) and guide him directly to the newly-returned fledgling. I didn’t get any pics of that because I was amazed that it was even happening.

Jeff Cieslak at Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page

We watched for an hour and the birds calmed down.

Just before we left Marcy said, “What should we call this bird?” It didn’t take long to decide. Marcy said, “Let’s call her Trouble.”

(photos by Jeff Cieslak, screenshot of Don’s Diner from WPXI)

UPDATE from Jeff Cieslak on 18 June @ Eckert, 8pm: Marcy called, the bird was on the ground again this evening oh, and the sun was going down. I was just relaying the story of Friday’s adventure to my friends, so we hop in the car and drove down to try to help. By the time I got there, Marcy had shepherded the bird back to the beam and it was crawling up the beam when we pulled into the parking lot. Marcy adds: “Trouble was down in the street again tonight and I got it all the way back up to the bridge. Jeff was just pulling in with his wife to try to help and I got it back up. We surely are naming that thing Trouble but it’s so amazing and it was really talking to me too. It got stuck in my little fence and I had to get it out.” Fortunately, after 18 June Trouble didn’t get into trouble again.

p.s. Watch this WPXI video about Don’s Diner and a movie filmed there a year ago in April 2021. Another movie will begin production at Don’s Diner next week.

How to Find a Fledgling Peregrine

Blue jay harasses juvenile Pitt peregrine 5 Jun 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

8 June 2022

Now that the young Pitt peregrines have begun to fly you’ll have an opportunity in the next 5-7 days to see them up close on campus — maybe even as close as Charity Kheshgi saw one last year (above).

How do you find them?

Walk around campus near the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel and keep your eyes and ears open. Small birds will help, as the blue jay is doing above. Check out all the tips.

After they’ve flown for about a week they leave for other buildings and are really hard to find.

Flying Leaps!

Silver Girl takes a flying leap toward the snapshot camera, 6 June 2022 (photo from the snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

7 June 2022

There are First Flight updates at the end of this article.

Yesterday the young Pitt peregrines practiced their flight skills by making short flying leaps to nearby ledges. The snapshot camera captured their antics, sometimes quite close!

Today they won’t be so active because it’s raining all day. Wet feathers are heavy so young birds who’ve never flown don’t make their first attempt in the rain. Today’s Fledge Watch is canceled because …

UPDATES between bouts of rain:

FLEDGLING UPDATE: 9:30am and noon from rooftop in North Oakland: It appears one of the chicks fledged this morning to the high side of the Cathedral of Learning, facing Heinz Chapel. (My guess is Red Boy.) Why I think this: Morela is babysitting in unusual places on 40th and 38E patio ledge. Morela’s behavior is a Fledge Watch Tip, described here.

FLEDGLING UPDATE: 12:30 to 1:00pm on a quick walk to Schenley Plaza: Two juvenile females were on the nestrail flapping, leaping, skimming the nestrail. At 1:00pm the darker one (I think Silver Girl) launched from the nestrail and flew a lot! Morela & Ecco both zoomed in & herded her back to the CL. (Ecco dropped his talons to herd her.) She landed on the netting at SE 26 & is cooling off, probably getting her heartbeat back to normal.

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

Flying at Westinghouse

Mother peregrine has food ready as a reward for first flight, Westinghouse Bridge, 5 June 2022 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

6 June 2022

Yesterday at the Westinghouse Bridge Dana Nesiti captured a photo series that shows us a young peregrine in first flight. He almost didn’t capture it at all, as he describes below.

6-5-2022 Westinghouse Bridge. We have a fledge!! When I got there early the female was sitting in front of the scrape. The juvie came out and hopped down the arch turned around and went back to the scrape. … I put my teleconverter on and the juvie flew, completely catching me off guard. It flew and disappeared under the bridge. The female came back and landed on the handrail to the left of the scrape. She looked around and when she took off she had prey … flew to a cache site and went back on the handrail. The juvie flew out and up over the bridge and I lost it. I had to pack up but did one more walk scanning the bridge and I found the juvie fleeping up the very center arch.

Dana Nesiti at Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page

It’s easy to tell which bird is which in the slideshow. The mother bird is charcoal gray and white and is banded, Black/Blue 48/N from Indiana. The youngster is brown and cream colored, unbanded. He’s also quite awkward compared to his mother. (The slideshow repeats.)

  • Mother peregrine watches youngster, Westinghouse Bridge, 5 June 2022 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

And what is “fleeping?” Looks like “fly-leaping” to me.

Thanks, Dana, for the great photos!

(photos by Dana Nesiti)