Category Archives: Peregrines

If This Was A Normal Year

Morela at the Pitt peregrine nest, 17 Oct 2020 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam)

18 October 2020

In a normal year there would have been a successful peregrine nest at the Cathedral of Learning from February to June and practically no activity on the nestcam from July to January. It’s usually safe for me to ignore nestcam snapshots while the streaming falconcam is off in the non-breeding season. But not this year.

This fall the two male rivals, Terzo and Ecco, continue to vie for the site in their typical non-violent manner. In other words, no one gets hurt and no one wins. Meanwhile Morela waits at the nest and greets whoever shows up. On 5 October Ecco made several appearances with Morela. On 6 October Terzo showed up alone.

Eleven days later, 16 and 17 October, Terzo made several appearances with Morela and Ecco showed up alone.

Friday 16 October: Morela and Terzo bowed in the morning and evening. At midday Ecco showed up alone and shouted for Morela to come to him. She never did.

Terzo and Morela at Pitt peregrine nest, 16 Oct 2020, 10:26am
Ecco shouts for Morela to join him. She didn’t, 16 Oct 2020, 11:53am
Terzo and Morela at Pitt peregrine nest, 16 Oct 2020, 4:23pm

Saturday 17 October: Morela hung out at the nest (top photo) and Terzo showed up alone. No sign of Ecco.

Terzo at Pitt peregrine nest, 17 Oct 2020, 6:05pm

If this was a normal year I’d expect the two males to settle the question soon, leaving just one of them to rule the Cathedral of Learning.

This is not a normal year in more ways than one.

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

Ecco, Ecco, Terzo

Since last week’s two installments in the Pitt peregrine soap opera, Morela’s suitors continue to visit the nest. Ecco is present more often than Terzo and bows intensively with Morela for long periods of time. Terzo visits alone. This activity is unusual for October. Something is going on.

Above and below, during their first visit on Monday 5 October at 4:53pm, Ecco scanned the sky to make sure Terzo wasn’t nearby. Then he and Morela locked gazes and nearly touched beaks. I can’t help but think Morela’s pair bond is stronger with Ecco.

Ecco scans the sky while Morela bows, 5 Oct 2020, 16:53
Ecco and Morela about to touch beaks, 5 Oct 2020, 16:56

On the second visit at 6:56pm Morela left before Ecco. He paused at the nest for a while.

Ecco pauses at the nest after Morela left, 5 Oct 2020 18:57

Yesterday (Tuesday 6 October) Terzo visited for 6 minutes. He called to Morela but she did not appear on camera.

Ecco, Ecco, Terzo. I wonder when — or if — they’ll sort out which male owns the nest.

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

He Needs To Catch Just One

Zoetic with prey, Lake Erie shore, January 2020 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

During their first year of life young peregrines wander, looking for places where prey is abundant. A full grown peregrine needs to catch just one good-sized bird or a couple of small ones (blackbird size) each day to satisfy its hunger. Locations where thousands of birds gather on migration is prime hunting ground. That’s why young peregrines gravitate to the shore.

Shorebirds gather in the thousands at the water’s edge on migration. To protect themselves against peregrines they fly up in a very tight ball so the peregrine can’t pick out a single bird. If any shorebird breaks out of the ball the peregrine will catch it.

Watch the dramatic action of a lone peregrine hunting among thousands of shorebirds in videos below by Mark Wyna and Rob Palmer.

With thousands of potential prey items, the peregrine needs to catch just one.

p.s. If you think the shorebirds’ evasive flight uses up a lot of energy you’d be right. Peregrine pressure on shorebirds keeps them fit. Read more in this vintage blog: Peregrines as a Fitness Program.

(photo of Zoetic with prey by Chad+Chris Saladin. Zoetic is the first female fledgling from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo site)

Of Course Terzo Is Back

Terzo at the Pitt peregrine nest, 27 Sept 2020, 10:21am (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

28 September 2020

That didn’t take long! The ink on my article was barely dry.

As soon as I wrote about Ecco’s prolonged presence at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest and speculated that he had won the territory, the revolving door of Pitt’s male peregrines turned again.

Terzo is back.

Yesterday afternoon I glanced up and saw a peregrine zip around the top of the Cathedral of Learning and come screaming in to land on the east face. This is a move I’ve seen Terzo do many times before so I wondered if it was him. Yes it is.

Terzo at the Pitt peregrine nest, 27 Sept 2020, 10:38am

The revolving door has been spinning since February. It was silly of me to think Terzo and Ecco would stop it now.

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

Ecco and Morela

Morela and Ecco bowing at Pitt peregrine nest, 25 Sept 2020 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

27 September 2020

Snapshots from the Pitt peregrine falconcam show that Ecco has been spending lots of time with Morela at the Cathedral of Learning since Friday 18 September. His extended presence is unusual and may indicate a change of male peregrine leadership.

This summer both Terzo (Morela’s original mate, now age 7) and Ecco (her young suitor, now age 2) have been present but usually seen on camera only three times a month. Since 18 September Ecco has been on camera almost every day for extended periods of time, bowing with Morela for 15 minutes to half an hour.

There was a hint that Ecco was gaining ascendance when he and Morela bowed for 15 minutes on 4 September.

Morela on perch, Ecco calling at Pitt peregrine nest, 4 Sept 2020

Neither male made an appearance until 10 September, the last day Terzo was seen on camera. Terzo spent most of that day sunning (see photo below), probably guarding his territory.

The last time Terzo was seen on camera, 10 Sept 2020

After the 10th no male peregrines were on camera until 18 September when Ecco and Morela visited the nest a couple of times beginning at dawn …

Morela and Ecco courting at dawn, 18 Sept 2020

… and again at 10:30am.

Morela and Ecco courting for a second time on 18 Sept 2020, 10:36

They reappeared on 21 September …

Ecco and Morela at Pitt peregrine nest, 21 Sept 2020

… and for several long visits on Friday 25 September.

Morela and Ecco at Pitt peregrine nest, 25 Sept 2020

Yesterday, 26 September the pair again visited frequently for prolonged periods. Here Ecco twists his head to look at Morela, a move that’s usually reserved for close contact.

Ecco seemed more confident yesterday, so comfortable that he perched at the nest for about half an hour.

Ecco at the Pitt peregrine nest, 26 Sept 2020, 13:17 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Perhaps Ecco and Terzo have finally determined who rules at the Cathedral of Learning and Ecco is the winner.

We can’t be sure yet. We’ll have to wait and see if there’s another turnover.

Meanwhile we know Morela rules. 😉

p.s. The next day Terzo was back.

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

The Threesome Continues

27 July 2020

Last Friday Mary Ann Pike noticed that Terzo and Morela were spending a lot of time at the Pitt peregrine nest and commented:

Seems like Morela and Terzo have been swapping shifts at the nest today. I saw Morela this morning, then Terzo early afternoon for a while, now Morela is there again. What a strange situation with Ecco in the mix. I wonder if he hangs around Oakland somewhere when he’s not on camera. It seems like the other 2 must be spending most of their time in Oakland but under normal circumstances they wouldn’t let a third Peregrine hang around.

Mary Ann Pike, 24 July 2020, 4:33pm

We didn’t realize it on Friday but Terzo and Morela were probably vigilant because Ecco was nearby. He appeared on camera before dawn.

In the video below Ecco arrives at 5:33am to bow with Morela. After he leaves Morela pauses for 45 seconds, then we hear a peregrine wailing at 3:28 in the video. The wailing continues intermittently over the next three minutes. Was it Terzo complaining that Ecco was there?

The rest of 24 July was very busy. Morela and Terzo bowed at 8:30a and 3:30p.

Morela and Terzo court, 24 July 2020, 8:30am

Terzo sunbathed and watched for two hours.

Then Morela hung out and preened for three hours. I’m happy to see that Morela’s flipped primary feather is gone.

Terzo and Morela courted at dawn on Sunday morning. There was no sign of Ecco but I’m sure he’ll return.

However, the threesome continues at the Pitt peregrine nest.

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

p.s. The National Aviary falconcam streaming service ends on 31 July 2020. It will resume next February.

Young Raptors As Home Wreckers

Immature bald eagle, March 2015 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Something is happening among nesting bald eagles in the James River watershed that may explain what we’re seeing among peregrines in western Pennsylvania. There are lots of eagles at the James River but less nesting success than in the past. The Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) in Williamsburg, Virginia has figured out why.

CCB has been conducting bald eagle nesting surveys every March since the 1970s. Seven years after DDT was banned they found only one pair of bald eagles in the watershed. This year there are 319 pairs.

Meanwhile, “eagle productivity has dropped as the population has grown and breeding density has increased.” The number of eaglets per nest peaked at 1.6+ in the mid 1990s but has dropped to only 1.05 today.

Lower nesting success is not a food problem, it’s a competition problem. CCB explains:

The mechanism causing the decline does not appear to be traditional resource competition where pairs scramble for their share of limited fish. Rather, the mechanism appears to be young marauding eagles that are disrupting territory holders and competing for a limited set of viable breeding territories.

Young bald eagles are harassing adult pairs in an attempt to gain a territory — so much so that some pairs fail to nest successfully.

Adult and immature bald eagles jousting (photo by Steve Gosser)

This sounds like what happened at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest this year. In February a young male, Ecco, showed up at the Pitt nest and persistently vied for the site — so much so that Morela didn’t lay eggs until May and her eggs were never incubated. Hmmmm.

Young bald eagles are home wreckers. Maybe young peregrines are, too.

Read more about the James River bald eagle population at CCB’s James River Eagle Population Continues to Soar While Productivity Continues to Fall.

(photos by Steve Gosser)

Seen Downtown

15 July 2020

The Downtown peregrine falcon youngsters are growing up though few of us are there to see them. Downtown feels empty because the COVID-19 crisis has most people working from home. Fortunately, Ann Hohn was in her Gulf Tower office at Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia on 13 July when two peregrines stopped by. She sent me this photo and wrote:

We  spotted this youngster outside the office. There was an adult with it but it flew and was circling. Is it one of the youngsters from our falcon pair who have been nesting elsewhere in town? It’s definitely a young one.

Yes! This is one of the Downtown youngsters. Too bad the adult flew away before Ann could get a picture.

I’m glad the peregrines still visit the Gulf Tower though they haven’t nested there for many years. The nestbox was removed in January 2019 when the building began critical masonry and roof repairs. I hope the repairs are finished in time to re-install the nestbox for the 2021 nesting season.

Thank you, Ann Hohn, for this happy news.

(photo by Ann Hohn)

Pair Bonding With Ecco

Ecco and Morela touch beaks at the Pitt peregrine nest, 11 July 2020, 5:45am

13 July 2020

It’s almost mid-July yet two peregrine falcons, Ecco and Morela, are pair bonding at the Pitt peregrine nest in a very serious way. On Saturday 11 July they courted twice and touched beaks in a close bond before dawn.

For five months Morela has had two suitors, Terzo and Ecco. In early June Terzo was a constant presence, then Ecco reappeared on 16 June and both males courted her twice on 25 June. After that Terzo faded away and Morela was alone until Ecco reappeared on 9 July.

I should have seen him coming. My first hint was when Morela spent five hours roosting at the nest rail on the night of 8-9 July from 9p to 2a. Female peregrines usually don’t roost at the nest outside the breeding season. Here she is on the 8 July 2020 “Night in a Minute” video.

The next morning, Morela and Ecco courted for almost four minutes.

The 10th of July was quiet but they returned before dawn on 11 July, courting for three minutes and touching beaks. Beak-touching is more intimate than merely bowing. These two are hitting it off as a couple.

Less than three hours later, at 8:27a, Morela returned with a full crop and courted with Ecco for another three minutes.

I don’t put a lot of stock in the permanence of Morela’s bond with Ecco since he and Terzo trade places so often. However, it’s intriguing to see that she’s so close to Ecco.

Meanwhile, here’s something to ponder …

Why does Morela have a flipped primary feather?

Female peregrines usually molt their primaries during incubation (April/May) so I was surprised to see one of Morela’s primaries is flipped on her right wing. The feather was normal until the morning of 27 June when Morela returned to the nest rail. She preened and stayed there for five hours as shown in the Day in a Minute video .

So far the flipped feather has stayed in that position for 16 days. If it had flipped due to molting, the new feather would have pushed it out by now. So I wonder, was Morela in an aerial battle on 27 June? Even if we knew the answer, we’ll never know who her adversary was.

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

What Peregrine Season Might Have Been

Return of the Peregrine Trailer from Brian McClatchy on Vimeo.

5 July 2020

Pittsburgh’s peregrine nesting season was disappointing this year, from the failed on-camera nest at the Cathedral of Learning, to the many un-monitored nests during the COVID-19 shutdown.

As compensation here’s the trailer for a beautiful 2013 video, The Return of the Peregrine, filmed in Germany.

This is what peregrine season might have been. Fingers crossed for next year!

(video embedded from Vimeo)