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. 😉
The Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) is a thrush that lives in western North America, from Alaska to Mexico and only as far east as Nebraska and Kansas in the winter.
He’s considered a short distance migrant but every winter a few individuals break the mold and come to the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. This one was found at Yellow Creek State Park during the Indiana PA Christmas Bird Count on 26 December 2018.
Townsend’s solitaires are easy to identify by their soft gray color, white eye ring, long tail and buffy wing patches. Under certain light conditions his gray color looks brown.
The bird’s common name comes from John Kirk Townsend who first collected it and from its solitary habits. Solitaires are usually alone but will hang out with other species near food. This one was eating fruit with a flock of American robins at the Boy Scout Camp.
Since Townsend’s solitaires are rare in western Pennsylvania, birders from miles around have come to see and photograph him. When I went to Yellow Creek State Park on New Year’s Eve (a 1.5 hour drive) I found the solitaire and six other birders, four of whom I knew by sight or name. I missed Steve Gosser and Glenn Koppel who took these pictures on New Year’s Day.
The bird may be solitary but he generates a crowd.
This beautiful swallow, native to sub-Saharan Africa and southern and southeast Asia, is very similar to our barn swallow except for its two wire-like tail feathers and its preference to live near water.
The wire-tailed swallow’s (Hirundo smithii) family life is similar, too. When the fledglings beg for food, the parents deliver it on the wing.
(photos by Manojiritty on Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Here’s a bird you’re bound to see this month in southwestern Pennsylvania. Brown creepers live year round north and east of Pittsburgh but only come here in the winter. I saw one last week in Greenfield.
The brown creeper (Certhia americana) is a tiny brown bird with a long tail and down-curved bill. He eats insects and spiders which he gleans from the bark of large tree trunks, spiraling upward and checking under the bark as he goes.
When he sits still he’s hard to see. His colors match the bark.
The video below shows him spiraling upward, clinging to the bark with his large feet splayed. Sometimes he hitches sideways to grab a tidbit. When he reaches the top, he will drop like a leaf to the base of another tree trunk and start again.
If you can identify birds by ear, here’s a challenge for you. List the species singing in the video. I identified five species but I’m unable hear brown creepers anymore. Is the brown creeper singing?
p.s. At backyard feeders, brown creepers don’t eat seeds but they’ll come to suet feeders.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons, click on the captions to see the originals. video by Abnerthewonderdog on YouTube)
These feeders are located in Manitouwadge, Ontario, Canada, a small town 430 miles northeast of Duluth, Minnesota. It’s already cold there with temperatures well below freezing every night (21o to 27o F or -6o to -3o C).
Tune in to Ontario FeederWatch for a preview of birds we hope to see in the northern U.S. this winter.
Birds that eat insects leave Pennsylvania for the winter but the omnivores, like this house sparrow, stay behind. Food won’t be a problem but it’s going to get cold so the house sparrows get ready in advance.
A study by Lowther and Cink in 1992 found that house sparrows (Passer domesticus) prepare for winter by molting into heavier plumage. Plumage weight increased 70% between August and September alone. Summer weight is 0.9 grams; winter weight is 1.5 grams.
In September the house sparrows put on their winter coats.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. This article was inspired by page 153 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill, 3rd edition.) )