Yes, today is April Fool’s Day but it’s no joke that house sparrows are in trouble. Though still considered pests in North America their population has declined dramatically, even in their native range. Seven years ago their disappearance was a mystery. Has anything changed?
Native to Eurasia and northern Africa, humans introduced house sparrows (Passer domesticus) to continents and islands worldwide in the 1800s, making them the most widely distributed wild bird on Earth. (Green is native range, yellow is introduced in the map below.)
News from last Saturday 27 March: This year for the first time since 2014 all three eggs hatched at the Hays nest. The first two (H13 and H14) hatched 18 hours apart on 23 March. The last (H15) hatched on 27 March. In this snapshot from 3rd Hatch Day the oldest is four days old, the youngest is seven hours old.
Here’s a sure sign of spring: American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are turning yellow.
In winter both male and female goldfinches are dull. The males have citrine yellow faces, whitish chests, and black wings with white stripes. The females are dull olive brown with buffy stripes on brownish wings.
In February goldfinches begin to molt into breeding plumage but they’re in no hurry to finish since they won’t breed until July. At first the males have “dirty” foreheads and a few yellow patches (below). When a male is nearly finished he’ll have a few dull patches among yellow feathers (top).
His goal is brilliant yellow.
Look closely at goldfinches and you’ll see them turning yellow.
(photos by Marcy Cunkleman and from Wikimedia Commons)
For more than a week the temperature has not dipped below freezing in western Pennsylvania, providing a chance to watch spring unfold.
On 24 March at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve my walking route took me past harbinger of spring (top), hazelnut catkins, skunk cabbage, spring beauties and cutleaf toothwort.
On 26 March my favorite northern magnolia in Schenley Park began to bloom.
The buds looked like this only three days before.
I also found spicebush in bloom, bottlebrush buckeye leaf out, and Ohio buckeye buds bursting.
The trees are still bare but European willows provide a spot of green and maple flowers add a hint of red and orange.
Tonight the temperature will dip close to freezing in the city and will reach a low of 24 degrees on the night of April Fools Day. No fooling! Get outdoors before that happens. Many flowers will be brown on April 2.
This morning at Duck Hollow it was raining often, and sometimes hard. I really did not expect anyone to show up for the outing I announced last Monday but I was there anyway as a good excuse to look at the river on a wet day.
Best Birds were a green-winged teal, five lesser scaup, two hooded mergansers and a small flock of white-throated sparrows.
Allegheny River: Rt 422 Graff Bridge Kittanning, Armstrong County
Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:
Morela laid her fourth egg yesterday at 3:38pm (real time, 3:42pm camera time). As you can see from the 24 March timelapse video, she and Ecco rarely step away from the eggs. Morela stood up at 3:38pm to lay the fourth egg then settled down again as soon as it dried.
Best viewing of the Third Avenue nest site is from Grandview Avenue on Mt Washington next to the Monongahela Incline. On 20 March Jeff photographed a peregrine perched inside the nook. At that point it appeared they were choosing this location, not Gulf Tower.
Yesterday afternoon, 24 March, I confirmed nesting. When I set up my scope I immediately saw a peregrine in the back left corner standing in the about-to-lay-an-egg posture. As I waited and watched she laid at egg at 3:23pm, paused, raised her foot, then carefully stepped around it and stood waiting for it to dry. Dori laid her egg just 15 minutes before Morela laid hers.
Jeff Cieslaks’ photo insets from Tuesday at 5:43p show an incubating peregrine where the egg was laid … so maybe I saw Dori laying her last egg.
Monongahela Watershed: Westinghouse Bridge
Dana Nesiti photographed the Westinghouse Bridge peregrines mating on 21 March 2021. They are certainly planning to nest!
Male peregrine flies toward female, Westinghouse Bridge, 21 March 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Male peregrine lands on female
Female watches as male flies away
Monongahela River, Speers Railroad Bridge:
The Speers Railroad Bridge peregrines have been identified thanks to photos by Joe Ciferno and Dana Nesiti. Both birds are banded:
Female – 07/BS Black/Green, banded on 5/18/2017 on the Commodore Barry bridge over the Delaware river in Chester, Delaware County, PA.
Male – 68/AC Black/Green, banded on 5/23/2012 at the Cathedral of Learning University of Pittsburgh Allegheny County, PA.
Ohio River, McKees Rocks Bridge: No news. Observers needed!
Ohio River, Neville Island I-79 Bridge: No peregrines due to construction. The underside of the bridge is completely covered. No nest access.
Ohio River, Ambridge Bridge: Peregrines are present throughout the year. Karen Lang has recently seen a single bird, apparently the male, perched on the bridge — Sunday 22 March at 4pm and Wednesday 24 March at noon. Perhaps this pair is incubating.
Ohio River, Monaca Railroad Bridge:
Jeff Cieslak was in Monaca on 21 March and photographed the peregrines perching and flying around the superstructure. Sometimes they are hard to see.
Allegheny River, 62nd Street Bridge to Aspinwall Railroad Bridge: No peregrines. One was present in January and February but no sightings since then.
Allegheny River, Tarentum Bridge:
Dave Brooke’s 16 March photo shows a peregrine very low in the nestbox. (Can you see her?) It appears this pair is already incubating.
Allegheny River, Rt 422 Graff Bridge, Kittanning:
On 14 March I walked under the Graff Bridge at Manorville and immediately saw a peregrine perched on the upriver side. Peregrines are present. Are they nesting?
Observers needed! Visit these sites and tell me what you see.
(photos by Kate St. John, National Aviary falconcam at Cathedral of Learning, Jeff Cieslak, Dana Nesiti, Joe Ciferno, Dave Brooke)