Category Archives: Peregrines

A Peregrine Hero Has Passed

Among the heroes of the peregrine falcon’s restoration in North America, Tom Cade was legendary. During his lifetime peregrines went from plentiful to nearly extinct. Today their population is healthy and growing, thanks in great part to Tom Cade’s efforts and dedication. He died this month at age 91.

Tom Cade was a falconer nearly all his life. He became hooked on peregrines at age 15 when one flew close overhead on its way to capturing prey. That was in the early 1940s when the peregrine population was still healthy in North America.

By the mid 1960s Dr. Cade was the head of Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the peregrine population was in free fall, and he could see it happening. The situation so alarming that he and other raptor experts were desperately trying to find out why before it was too late.

In 1965 they convened a conference about the peregrine’s decline at the University of Wisconsin, Madison that became the catalyst for peregrine recovery. At that point they knew the decline was due to DDT and dieldrin but they had no proof. (Proof came later from Derek Ratcliffe.) Meanwhile, agricultural experts argued it couldn’t be caused by pesticides; the pesticides were so useful.

In a 2015 video on the 50th anniversary of the Madison Conference, Tom Cade told how the conference changed the peregrines’ future. The transformational moment came when Jim Rice, a renowned falconer and naturalist from Pennsylvania, spoke nine words. It changed Tom Cade’s life. See him tell the story here.

After the conference Tom Cade was key in all that happened next, especially in shaping the captive breeding program and peregrine reintroduction. DDT and dieldrin were outlawed in the early 1970s. By 1999 peregrine falcons were plentiful enough in the western United States that they were removed from the Endangered Species List.

In 1970 Tom Cade co-founded The Peregrine Fund and worked with them for the rest of his life to conserve raptors around the world. See their tribute and remembrance video here.

We all stand on the shoulders of the great conservationists who went before us. We mourn Tom Cade’s loss but we celebrate his incredible contribution to conservation and to peregrine falcons.

Thank you, Tom Cade. Your inspiration lives on.

Read Tom Cade’s obituary in the New York Times. His book, Tom Cade: A Life in Science and Conservation by Tom Cade and Clinton M. Blount is available here on Amazon. The cover, which illustrates this article, shows Tom Cade with his gyrfalcon, Krumpkin, 2008.

(credits: Information on Tom Cade’s life is drawn in part from his obituary in the New York Times. photo: Cover of Tom Cade: A Life in Science and Conservation by Tom Cade and Clinton M. Blount via Amazon)

Peregrines Are Pairing Up

Peregrine pair at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Nov 2018 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

While we wait for the first egg at the Hays bald eagle nest, other raptors are getting into a breeding mood. Red-tailed hawks are soaring together. Peregrines are pairing up.

Pittsburgh’s peregrines won’t lay eggs until March but they’re already busy claiming territory, attracting mates, and courting. You’ll see them perching near each other in prominent locations, engaging in spectacular courtship flights, the male bringing food for his lady, and the pair bowing at the nest (only visible on a falconcam). This activity makes February and March my favorite months for peregrine watching.

Claiming territory is a blatant activity but the peregrine’s first egg date is nearly impossible to determine without a falconcam. Unlike bald eagles, peregrines nest on inaccessible ledges and don’t begin incubation until the next to last egg has been laid. The only sign that they’re incubating is that you see only one peregrine for more than a month; the other one’s on the nest.

Thanks to the falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning we know that the resident female, Hope, lays her first egg between March 6 and 15. She and her mate Terzo are already courting as seen on Monday Feb 4. Watch them on the National Aviary’s streaming falconcam.

Hope and Terzo bow at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 4 Feb 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Visit the sites below to see Pittsburgh’s peregrines in person. Every site (except Pitt) needs additional observers and every observation is useful. You can help! Leave a comment if you want to join.

RegionNesting Territory
City of PittsburghCathedral of Learning
Downtown Pittsburgh
Monongahela WatershedWestinghouse Bridge
Elizabeth Bridge
Ohio River ValleyMcKees Rocks Bridge
Neville Island I-79 Bridge
Monaca/Beaver bridges
Allegheny River ValleyHarmar: Hulton Bridge
Tarentum Bridge
Kittanning: Graff Bridge

For additional information and resources see my Peregrine FAQs page.

(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin of the peregrine pair at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio. Yes, they perch in trees there.)

No Nest At Gulf This Year

Gulf Tower nestbox, 24 Jan 2019 (snapshot from National Aviary’s Gulf Tower falconcam)

Every spring we wonder where the Downtown peregrines will choose to nest. In the past seven years Dori has chosen Third Avenue four times, Gulf Tower twice, and once an alcove at the former Macy’s. She prefers Third Avenue even though the season ended badly there last year.

This year we know Dori won’t be using the Gulf Tower nestbox. The building’s pyramid roof and exterior walls need critical maintenance and work is already underway. Rather than risk a failed peregrine nest attempt, the nestbox was removed yesterday in hopes that Dori will choose another site, which she’s likely to do anyway.

To give you an idea of the building’s dilemma, here’s what’s up. During a routine exterior inspection last summer significant problems were found on all sides of the building and on nearly every elevation. Worse yet, the top six stories — the pyramid tower — were found to be missing more than 85% of their mortar joints. The conditions are so severe that they require immediate remediation.

The photo below shows the Gulf Tower in 2017 with a yellow circle for the nestbox location. Peregrines don’t like to nest where humans are above the nesting zone.

Gulf Tower, location of nest as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)
Gulf Tower, nest location as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)

Because the work affects the peregrines, Gulf Tower management conferred with the Pennsylvania Game Commission who provided recommendations: initially (a) Don’t work during the nesting season blackout dates, Feb 15th to July31st, then (b) a variety of strategies to try to exclude and deter the birds prior to the onset of nesting season, such as removing the nest box.

Given the masonry crisis there really wasn’t a choice. Remember when a 1,500 pound cornice fell from the Frick Building 18 months ago? Fortunately no one was hurt but the streets were closed for three weeks while crews constructed protective walls and encapsulated the damaged granite. Then repairs began. (Click here for WTAE video, here for P-G article.) Rugby Realty owns both the Frick Building and the Gulf Tower so they know exactly what can happen. They can’t afford to delay Gulf Tower repairs.

So this year there’s no Gulf Tower nestbox and no falconcam. However building management plans to complete masonry repairs by the end of 2019 and reinstall the nestbox for the 2020 season. The falconcam will be back next year.

For now we know where the Downtown peregrines won’t nest but not where they will nest. Dori is very creative. If she doesn’t choose Third Avenue I’ll be asking you to search for her just as we did in 2015.

(photo of nestbox from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower; photo of the Gulf Tower by John English)

Eating Crow?

Evidence of a peregrine meal. What is it? (photo by Kate St. John)

Early this month when Bob Mulvihill stepped out on the ledge to clean the Cathedral of Learning falconcams, he found this evidence of a peregrine’s meal. What species is it? Did the peregrines eat a crow?

The remaining head feathers are black and slightly iridescent. The beak is big and a bit down-curved. The feet look rather large for the bird’s body. Obviously the bird has plastic color-bands but there was no USFW band on its right leg so there’s no way to trace it.

Here’s a closer look:

Crow beaks are 2.5 inches long. How long is the beak on this bird? Less than 1 inch.

The iridescent head feathers and slightly down-curved one-inch bill point to a common grackle rather than a crow.

I’m still not sure what this bird was, but I do know the peregrines did not eat crow. 😉

(photos by Kate St. John)

New Peregrine Identified at Harmar

Peregrine falcon at Harmar, 11 Jan 2019 (photo by Gina Gilmore)

During the winter folks watching the Harmar bald eagles’ nest have an added birding bonus. There’s often a peregrine falcon perched at the Allegheny River near the Hulton Bridge.

In November 2017 Amy Henrici began seeing a single banded adult peregrine at the Hulton Bridge, but only during the winter. This winter there’s a banded peregrine there again. Gina Gilmore has been taking pictures and Rob Protz has been forwarding her photos to Art McMorris, Peregrine Coordinator for the PA Game Commission.

There’s no way to know if this is the same individual as last year but she’s certainly a beautiful bird.

Peregrine at Harmar, 4 Jan 2019 (photo by Gina Gilmore)

Last week Gina got good photographs of the color band showing the number 48 on Black.

Peregrine at Harmar, black band identified (photo and annotations by Gina Gilmore)

… and a Blue N.

Peregrine at Harmar, blue band N
12 Jan 2019 (photo by Gina Gilmore)

So now we know who she is. Black/Blue 48/N is a female peregrine who hatched three years ago, May 2016, at the Tower Building (City-County Building) in South Bend, Indiana. She was banded by John Castrale. Gina nicknamed her “Ms. Indiana.” (*)

Because the bird is three years old, this photo of her head and wing coverts is very intriguing. She still has some brown juvenile plumage in her gray wing coverts and juvenile “eyes” on the back of her head. Normally this indicates a two year old bird.

Peregrine at Harmar, 4 Jan 2019 (photo by Gina Gilmore)

Peregrine fan Kathy Majich of Toronto recognized this plumage quirk. “Ms. Indiana” is one of the last chicks raised by Zeus and Maltese in South Bend before he disappeared during fights with a new male in April 2017. Kathy says she may have inherited the persistent head pattern from her mother. Maltese has it, too.

“Ms. Indiana” is old enough to breed so the bridge, or perhaps the eagles’ cliff, could be of interest to her as a nesting site. However, Art McMorris says, “So far, all sightings that I know of have been of a single bird in the winter, starting in November and ending in April, and then starting again in November.”

Will she leave in April? Or will a male join her? Wait and see.

(photos by Gina Gilmore)

(*) Here’s how peregrines get their names in Pittsburgh.

Murmurations in Lorain

Murmuration of starlings in Lorain, Ohio, 30 Dec 2018 (video by Chad+Chris Saladin)

European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are famous for their ability to fly in tight formation. When under attack by a peregrine falcon, they evade him in amazing ways.

Starlings under pressure fly closer together and shape-shift the flock like a giant blob in the sky. This makes it hard for the peregrine to choose a single bird as prey and gives their flocks a special name, a murmuration.

This winter Chad+Chris Saladin have been filming murmurations in Lorain, Ohio. Above on 30 December 2018, below on Christmas Day.

European starling murmuration in Lorain, Ohio on Christmas Day 2018 (video by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Whenever there’s a peregrine, the starlings murmur.

Bonus! Here’s a Facebook album by Chad+Chris with closeups of a peregrine hunting starlings. (click on the “See More” link embedded in the Facebook post)

(videos and photos by Chad+Chris Saladin; click on the captions to visit their Facebook page)

Pitt Peregrine Highlights, 2018

Peregrine nesting season is only two months away but it feels like an eternity right now. To get in the mood, here are some highlights from the Pitt peregrines in 2018.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Univ. of Pittsburgh, Peter Bell, Anne Marie Bosnyak and John English)

A Rare Sighting

Hope at the Pitt peregrine nest, 17 Dec 2018

Pittsburgh’s peregrines rarely visit their nests in December and when they do it’s for a very short time.

Here are three snapshots of a quick visit Hope made to the Pitt peregrine nest on Monday 17 December 2018. She was there only two minutes.

Checking out the scrape, 17 Dec 2018
… and she’s gone, 17 Dec 2018

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

Racing Pigeons And Raptors

Pigeons (Columba livia) and the raptors who hunt them have evolved together for millions of years. The raptors’ successful hunts leave only the fastest, most maneuverable pigeons. Speedy, elusive pigeons mean only the most skillful raptors can survive.  Most of us never get to see this interaction so this dramatic video from Romania is a real treat.

In 9 minutes Porumbeiro shows how his racing pigeons work to elude two raptors: first a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), then a northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). 

The pigeons stay in a tight flock because raptors can’t pick out a victim in a moving ball of birds. The raptors try to separate one bird from the group by slicing through the flock. If it works, the raptor pursues the lone bird.

Who will win?

(video by pomumbeiro on YouTube)

Who’s Faster In Level Flight?

Peregrine falcon “Buckeye” (Chad+Chris Saladin) and Red-breasted merganser (Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcons are nicknamed “duck hawks” because ducks are one of their favorite foods.  For comparison, here’s a peregrine falcon and a red-breasted merganser.  Obviously the peregrine is more powerful.

Now imagine the peregrine is chasing the red-breasted merganser over Lake Erie.  If these two birds are traveling as fast as they can go in level flight, who would win?

In level flight (not in a dive) the red-breasted merganser is faster! 

Learn how fast these birds can go in this vintage blog post: Talk About Speed

(photo credits: peregrine falcon by Chad+Chris Saladin, red-breasted merganser by Steve Gosser)