May 28 2015

Props And Tarsi

Yesterday Dorothy and E2’s chick stayed upright all day long and began to walk around.

In the video above he tips backward but does not fall, perhaps because his tail feathers (called rectrices) grew long enough to act as a prop. One day earlier he used the wall as a prop and was mostly successful. During his week of toppling over (5/19 to 5/26/2015) he needed a prop but hadn’t found one.  Toppling is not normal.

Yesterday he walked and explored a bit.  In the short video below he walks on his tarsi (plural of tarsus, the leg section from toes to heel).  Peregrine chicks normally walk on their tarsi at first, then stand up on their toes.

Adult birds walk on their toes with their heels in the air.  Their legs look to us as if their knees are bent backward but the “knees” are actually their heels and the tarsi are the lower section of their legs.  We humans have tarsi, too — the many bones in our feet.  We walk on our tarsi all our lives.

It is very hard to tell whether the chick’s improvement is a leap forward or merely a compensation that masks his underlying weakness.

Meanwhile, he made KDKA news last night.  Click here to watch.

The chick will be examined thoroughly tomorrow, Banding Day.  Watch this blog for updates.


(videos captured from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh, streamed from

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May 27 2015

Reminder: Let’s Walk in Schenley Park, May 31

Fleabane (photo by Kate St. John)

Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird and nature walk on Sunday May 31, 8:30am in Schenley Park. Meet at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

Dress for the weather. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Click here for more information and for updates if the walk is canceled for bad weather.

I know we’ll find fleabane blooming.

See you soon.

(photo of fleabane by Kate St. John)

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May 27 2015

Up And Down And Up Again

Dorothy presents food to the upright chick as E2 exits the nest area (photo from the National Avairy snapshot camera)

Dorothy presents food as E2 exits the nest area (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

News of peregrine falcon activity at the Cathedral of Learning, 26 May 2015:

The chick was up, the chick was down, the chick came up again.  He is an active “Special Needs” nestling.

Don’t worry if you hear him ‘crying.’  All peregrine chicks cry or whine when they are hungry.  This is not a sign of distress, it’s a call of hunger.  Watch what Dorothy and E2 do when the chick cries.  They bring him food.  After he eats he stops crying and falls asleep with a full crop as shown below.

He's not dead, he's resting.  He just ate & is sleeping as he digests the lump of food in his crop (neck).  (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

He’s not dead, he’s resting. The chick just ate & is sleeping as he digests the lump of food in his crop (neck). (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine parents use food as a teaching tool.  For instance, they teach their youngsters to hunt by holding food just out of reach in the air so the youngsters will fly up to grab it.  You might see Dorothy or E2 holding food just out of reach when the chick is on his back.  They are working with him.

We can see on camera that the chick’s legs are wobbly (see end of video).  Yesterday he compensated by using the wall for support.  Grown up peregrine falcons roost standing up with their faces to the cliff wall. The chick showed good progress by roosting in the position shown below.

Chick is in the normal roosting position for young birds his age (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Chick is in the normal roosting position (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


Dorothy and E2 conferred on the chick’s condition.  They’re adapting to the situation and giving him extra special care, feeding him on his back and even helping him get up. I have never seen peregrines do that! I’m learning something new and gaining even more respect for Dorothy and E2 because we can see them on camera.

E2 examines the chick. He and Dorothy confer (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy and E2 examine the chick, 26 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Some aspects of the chick’s condition are visible on camera but we cannot diagnose from a distance.  The chick will be given a thorough health check on Banding Day this Friday.

NOTE! that the banding event is not open to the public.  I will be there and post an update as soon as possible afterward.  Stay tuned at this link — Outside My Window — for the latest updates.


(photos from the National Aviary camera at University of Pittsburgh)

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May 26 2015

Are You Better Now?

Dorothy appears to be asking the chick, "Are you better now?" (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pitsburgh)

Dorothy appears to be asking, “Are you better now?” (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pitsburgh)

Dorothy and E2’s chick caused lots of drama over the weekend. Sunday night he fell on his back again and couldn’t right himself.  Dorothy continued to feed him but some webcam viewers were upset.  Humans debated, waited, made phone calls, wept, and argued.  Some called for shutting off the cameras. Others for shutting off the chat.

Then 24 hours later Dorothy solved the problem and dragged him upright again.  Here’s the video as seen on

It is not normal for a chick to be on his back and unable to get up, but he’s eating well, looks healthy, and is certainly growing.  The chick is not in any danger, he’s just clumsy.

Chances are he’ll fall over again but now we know not to panic.  Dorothy will handle it when she decides it’s time to do so.

Later this week, he’ll receive a complete health examination on Banding Day.


(photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera. Video captured from from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

p.s. Because the chick now walks out of camera range the snapshot camera has been moved back so we can see him.

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May 25 2015

This Is Not Normal

Dorothy with chick on its back, 25 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy with chick on its back, 25 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


MAY 25, 2015

It’s now obvious to us humans that Dorothy and E2’s chick is not normal.  At 15 days old it should be walking around the nestbox and standing upright like a little Buddha.  Instead it falls suddenly on its back, kicks and jerks and cannot right itself.  It remains on its back for hours and Dorothy feeds it in this position. This is not normal.

It appears the chick has a birth defect which we humans could not see immediately.  Dorothy and E2 are very experienced parents who know what healthy chicks look like (Dorothy has raised 42 young), and their extra attentive behavior from the start indicates to me they knew this chick has issues.

At age 16 Dorothy is old for a peregrine and, just like older human mothers, her eggs are more likely to result in birth defects.  This is not new for Dorothy.  Two years ago one of her two chicks hatched with seizures and died within a week.   Unfortunate as it is, health problems are normal for a peregrine this old.

The Way of the Peregrine:

Peregrine falcons are precision flyers and hunters, the fastest animal on earth.  They hunt at speeds of more than 200 miles an hour and kill prey in the air by capturing it with their feet.  They must be in top physical condition to do this.

The goal of peregrine parents every year is to raise their offspring to become independent and leave home by the end of the summer. Peregrine youngsters are “weaned” from food deliveries as soon as they learn to hunt.  They are not allowed to hang around home for handouts.  That is the Way of the Peregrine.

This year’s chick is in poor condition for fulfilling its life goal of hunting on its own, leaving home, and eventually finding a mate. Dorothy and E2 have raised enough young that they know this.  However they are devoted parents.  Dorothy feeds the chick on its back (unusual!) and shelters it with her body even though it is too old for “baby” treatment.  This looks odd because the chick is so large. Dorothy is not smothering it. She is “mothering” it.

Human Reactions:

Sad as it is, this is a natural event. Our normal human reaction is to intervene, however humans are the peregrines’ mortal enemy.  For us to “steal” the chick, no matter how well-meaning we are, is very upsetting and a threat to Dorothy and E2.  We humans are not as good at taking care of baby peregrines as their parents are.

Peregrine falcons are endangered in Pennsylvania and protected from human intrusion. Only those with proper permits are allowed to handle peregrines. The chicks are still banded in Pennsylvania because they are endangered. Banding Day — which will be this week — is the one moment when humans intrude/intervene.  The chick will get a thorough health check at that time. [Note that an injured or diseased chick is given appropriate treatment. This chick may have an incurable birth defect.] We await the news on Banding Day.

Meanwhile if the chat, the camera, the news of this chick upsets you, I suggest with all due respect that you close your browser and give yourself a break.

Or switch to watching a peregrine nest with normal thriving chicks.  Three of Dorothy’s grandkids are growing up in Rochester, New York.  These are the nestlings of Beauty (Dorothy’s daughter) and her mate DotCa at RFalconcam. Click here or on their photo to watch.

Beaty & DotCa's 3 chicks (Dorothy's grandkids), 25May 2015 (photo from RFalconcam)

Beauty & DotCa’s 3 chicks — Dorothy’s grandkids — 25May 2015 (photo from RFalconcam)

You can also watch the peregrines’ nest in Harrisburg on the Rachel Carson Building –> click here.

Unfortunately, many people may think Dorothy’s situation is what happens at all peregrine nests.

No. This is not normal.


(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh and RFalconcam, Rochester, New York)

p.s. More cams to watch, suggested in the comments:

81 responses so far

May 24 2015

Field Of Dreams

Published by under Plants

Dandelions gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

Make a wish and blow on the dandelion fluff.

Click on the photo to see a dandelion Field of Dreams.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 23 2015

Best Bird This Week

American white pelican in breeding plumage (photo by Pat Gaines)

American white pelican in breeding plumage (photo by Pat Gaines)

Normally when I visit Magee Marsh in May the Best Bird is a warbler, but not this year.

I struck out on two Life Bird warblers — the Kirtland’s at Oak Openings and the Connecticut warbler at the Estuary Trail — and that took the wind out of my sails.  However, on my last day in the northwestern Ohio I visited East Harbor State Park and found three white pelicans in Middle Harbor.

American white pelicans spend the winter in California, the Gulf states, Mexico and Central America. Those who breed in the prairie potholes and lake regions of central and western North America rarely stop at Lake Erie on migration, but these three apparently spent the night at Middle Harbor.  They were preening before continuing their journey.

In early breeding plumage they have bright orange bills with a laterally flattened “horn” on top.  This looks odd to us but sexy to other white pelicans.

American white pelicans migrate during the day because they need thermals for lift.  By 10:00am the air had heated up and the three pelicans circled up and headed northwest.

They were my Best Bird this week — other than peregrine falcons, of course.


(photo by Pat Gaines)

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May 22 2015

Downtown Peregrines Found!

Peregrine nest, Downtown Pittsburgh, 19 May 2015 (photo by Larry Walsh)

Peregrine with chicks in background, Downtown Pittsburgh, 19 May 2015 (photo by Larry Walsh)

Late Tuesday Art McMorris* and I got an email from Larry Walsh, Pittsburgh Principal & COO of Rugby Realty at the Gulf Tower, “Are you aware that the Peregrine (presumably the one from Gulf) has a nest with babies?”

My gosh, Larry has found them!

It turns out that he was visiting an office across town and the staff said, “We have a peregrine family near us.”  He thought they must be mistaken until he saw the birds. The peregrines and their nestlings are well known and loved by the entire office.  The nest was only a secret by accident because the staff didn’t know anyone was looking for it.

On Wednesday morning Larry introduced me to the staff and the viewing zone.  Using binoculars I read the parents’ bands and confirmed that they are indeed Dori and Louie from the Gulf Tower with three nestlings that hatched on May 6.

Dori with three chicks, 20 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dori with three chicks, 20 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

The nest site is perfect with shelter, deep gravel, and no human intrusion but it has one enormous flaw.  It is only on the 7th floor — way too low for the nestlings to fledge successfully.  They will surely land on the street and will only survive with the help of Fledge Watch volunteers.

Right now, while Art McMorris is figuring out if the nestlings can be banded, I am purposely vague about the nest location and the wonderful people I met on Wednesday.  Soon, however, I’ll tell you where it is because this peregrine family desperately needs Fledge Watch volunteers on the street, June 10 to 20!

Mark your calendar and stay tuned for more news including beautiful photos from Matt D.


(photos by Larry Walsh and Kate St. John)

* Art McMorris is the PA Game Commission’s Peregrine Coordinator.

37 responses so far

May 21 2015

What To Expect in Late May, Early June

Published by under Phenology

Chestnut-sided Warbler, female (photo by Chuck Tague)

Throw Back Thursday:  A Southwestern Pennsylvania Phenology for Late May and Early June

As we head into late May and early June the natural world is gearing up for the solstice.  Here’s a hint of what you’ll see and hear:

  • Long daylight as we approach the summer solstice. Today in Pittsburgh is 14 hours, 36 minutes long. By June 15th we’ll have 15 hours and 4 minutes of daylight.
  • Nesting! Everywhere birds are singing, courting, defending their territory, carrying nesting material, carrying food, feeding fledglings, warning of danger.  Chestnut-sided warblers like this one are nesting in the Laurel Highlands.  Canada warblers jump out of the bushes to yell at me when I hike at Quebec Run Wild Area. Not to be missed!
  • New flowers blooming, especially long-tubed flowers that feed hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Fireflies, crickets and dragonflies.  When will you hear the first crickets?
  • Mosquitoes :-(
  • Baby bunnies, baby birds, babies of all kinds.
  • And my personal favorite:  Fledging time for young peregrine falcons, the best time of all to watch peregrines.  Stay tuned to this blog for Fledge Watch dates which I’ll announce soon.

Now’s the best time to observe Nature and, frankly, I’d much rather be outdoors than at my computer. So I’m going out to enjoy it!


(photo of a female chestnut-sided warbler by Chuck Tague)

p.s. When I wrote this article in 2009 we didn’t have the crazy weather we’re experiencing this spring: temperatures in the 30’s, then the 90’s, then back again to the 30’s this weekend.  What a Weather Yo-yo!

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May 20 2015

Descended From The Terror Birds?

(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Peregrine falcon (Stellar) in Youngstown, Ohio (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Last month brought news of the best-preserved skeleton ever found of a South American Terror Bird.  When Audubon’s Science News compared the fossil to modern birds I made the connection to peregrine falcons.  Can you guess why?

Terror Birds were a genus of large, flightless, predatory birds that thrived in South America from 60 million to 2.5 million years ago.  Found at a coastal cliff in Argentina, the skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai shows he was four feet tall, had a face like a hatchet (literally!) and a low voice like an ostrich. Though he couldn’t fly he could run 60 miles an hour and capture anything he wanted to eat.

Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai on display at the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia, Mar del Plata.Credit: M. Taglioretti and F. Scaglia

Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai on display at the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales Lorenzo Scaglia, Mar del Plata. Credit: M. Taglioretti and F. Scaglia
Image Linked from Science Daily

He hatcheted his prey with his enormous beak! Click here for an artist’s rendition of what he looked like.

The Terror Birds’ nearest living relative is the seriema, also native to South America.

Seriema at Whipsnade Zoo (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Seriema with snake (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

At three feet tall, seriemas can fly but they prefer to walk and can run at 40 miles an hour when they need to.  They forage on the ground for plants, lizards, frogs, rats and smaller birds and kill large prey by slamming it against the ground and ripping it with their sharp claws.  That snake (above) doesn’t stand a chance.

Seriemas are related to Terror Birds and recent DNA tests have shown that peregrine falcons are closely related to seriemas.  (Click here for their family tree. They’re at the top.)

So I wonder … are peregrine falcons descended from the Terror Birds?

If not in body, certainly in spirit!


(photo credits:
Peregrine falcon photo by Chad+Chris Saladin
Skeleton of Llallawavis scagliai linked from the Science Daily; click on the image to read the article
Seriema photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original

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