Archive for June, 2008

Jun 13 2008

Playing Around

Published by under Peregrines

Juvenile peregrines at play (photo by Kim Steininger)When they’re not eating or sleeping young peregrines spend time playing – and they do it on the wing.

Last evening we were treated to quite a show at the Fledge Watch.  Two of the Pitt peregrines chased each other around the Cathedral of Learning and scuffled in mid-air, chasing and shouting and using their feet a lot.

We couldn’t see the expressions on their faces but I imagine they looked like the two juveniles in Kim Steininger’s photo.

Just when we thought the game was over, their mother got into the act and played Chase Me with one of her sons.  Whenever she caught up to him she flipped sideways to pretend a food exchange.  He was clearly excited by this attention and flew faster and it almost seemed Dorothy flew slower so her son could win some laps.

There’s one more game we haven’t seen yet this year but we’ll recognize it.  It’s a little taste of hunting called “You’re a Pigeon, Here I Come.” 

Ah, youth!

Thanks to Kim Steininger for permission to use her photo of young peregrines in Wilmington, Delaware. See more of her online gallery at www.birdsbykim.com or click on the photo above.

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Jun 11 2008

Learning to hunt

Published by under Peregrines

Adult Peregrine Falcons doing prey exchange (photo by Chad and Chris Saladin)

After juvenile peregrines have been flying for about a week, they’re ready to learn to hunt. It may surprise you that the first step in the process is mid-air food exchange.

I imagine the lecture would sound like this – if their father could talk.

“Here’s how it’s done, kids. Your mother and I will demonstrate. Watch carefully.

“Boys, when you bring home prey call to your mate and she’ll come out to receive it. Watch how she moves and get ready for the prey exchange. You’ll be expected to transfer the prey from your feet to your beak and hold it out for her to grab.

“Girls, as you approach flip upside down and reach for the prey with your talons. Your mate will drop it right into your grasp. Be careful, though. This maneuver takes skill.

“Now, kids, we’re going to practice.

“Next time I come in with prey I’m not going to deliver it to your perch. I expect you to come out and get it. I’ll make this a little easier on you by not holding it in my beak. I’ll just lower my talons and hold it out. If you miss on the exchange your meal is going to fall so you better be ready to catch it.

“Are you all ready? Good. You’re going to have to work for it. No more free lunch.”

Thanks to Chad and Chris Saladin for permission to use their photograph of Angus and Stryker exchanging prey in Toledo, Ohio.

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Jun 09 2008

Cliff Dwellers

Cliff Swallows building their nests (photo by Chuck Tague)Last week I visited a cliff dwelling community where the homes are made of dried mud.

You might think I’d been to see the ancient Pueblo sites in the American southwest, but no. I went to Moraine State Park and watched the cliff swallows.

Quite common in the western U.S., cliff swallows are more localized in the east. They build their nests in colonies on bridges, buildings and cliffs. When you find them they are fascinating to watch, especially when the colony is under construction.

Cliff swallows build their nests one dab of mud at a time. Each bird flies back and forth from mud puddle to cliff carrying a tiny blob of mud to paste into place. They start the nest where a ceiling meets a wall, first making a cup then shaping it into a bowl then a gourd with a narrow opening that faces out and down. The nests often touch each other; one bird’s ceiling is another bird’s floor. It’s a wonder that the colony remains stuck in place.

In Chuck Tague’s photo the birds are busily building their nests, constantly arriving with mud and departing for more. At the mud puddles the swallows arrive in large numbers, holding their wings straight up and quivering them as they walk around collecting mud. Keeping their wings aloft probably allows them to take off easily without getting their wings muddy but it makes them look like oversized butterflies.

As the nest develops, one of the pair builds from inside. You can see a swallow inside two of the nests, the white patch on their foreheads shining out of the hole like a miner’s headlamp.

If you’d like to watch a colony, I know of three locations in western Pennsylvania: the Route 528 bridge over Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park, the Route 381 bridge over the Youghiogeny at Ohiopyle and the Fish Hatchery at Linesville.

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Jun 06 2008

One Fledged!

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine falcon fledgling (photo by Kim Steininger)One of the young peregrine falcons at University of Pittsburgh fledged today. Karen Lang and I think it happened while we were at work this afternoon.

Though both of us walked past the Cathedral of Learning on our way to Schenley Plaza, neither of us noticed the young bird. It was only when Dorothy and E2 flew really low around the east and south face that Karen said, “I’ll bet one fledged. They never fly that low unless there’s a fledgling down there.”

Sure enough he was clinging to a narrow window arch above the 14th floor. His parents wouldn’t feed him in such a confined space so they flew back and forth, urging him to move to a safer spot.

That’s when E2 spotted the great-horned owl on the 4th floor roof. It’s a statue that rotates its head to scare the pigeons and it must have moved when E2 flew by. He totally freaked out.

Only 10 floors below their baby was their mortal enemy! E2 zoomed back and forth kakking and attacking. The owl wouldn’t budge (of course). Dorothy joined the fray and we watched two peregrines in attack mode only 40 feet above the sidewalk. The frightened youngster cowered on his perch, trying to look small and inanimate.

By 7:00pm, I was hungry and Karen had to go home. E2 and Dorothy were still kakking at the owl but slightly toned down. They weren’t flying at it.

My husband and I went to dinner a few blocks away and when we walked back at 8:30pm the fledgling was still on his perch and the adults no longer cared about the owl statue.

The fledgling will probably stay on his perch all night. Tomorrow at dawn he’ll be hungry enough to fly somewhere else. I hope I’m up and out there early enough to see it.

Thanks to Kim Steininger for permission to use her photo of a peregrine fledgling in Wilmington, Delaware. See more of her excellent bird photography at www.birdsbykim.com or click on the photo above.

p.s. Saturday June 7, 8:30pm: This evening two fledglings were perched on the 21st and 10th floors respectively. The third baby is still waiting near the nest. Maybe she’ll fledge tomorrow.

Monday June 9, 8:00am: Still only two fledglings.  Yesterday afternoon the female nestling finally jumped up to the launching area.  Maybe she’ll fly this evening.

Monday June 9, 2:30pm:  She fledged this morning.  At lunchtime Karen and I found the young female whining for food from the edge of the 32nd floor roof.  All 5 peregrines are present and accounted for.

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Jun 06 2008

One very wet peregrine

Peregrine falcon from Gulf Tower nest, June 2008 (photo by Terri Watson)Who’s this birdie at the window?  He’s one of the young peregrines who fledged from the Gulf Tower, photographed by Terri Watson at K&L Gates

This isn’t the first time a peregrine perched outside K&L Gates’ windows but it’s the first time they’ve seen such a wet one.  Our weather has been punctuated by downpours lately and this little guy certainly got caught in one.

He’s probably just waiting to dry out and decided the activity indoors was pretty interesting.

Thanks to Jan Christensen for sending this along.

(photo by Terri Watson)

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Jun 05 2008

It takes two

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine falcons fly near their nest in Youngstown, Ohio (photo by Chad & Chris Saladin)As you’ve probably noticed by now, raising baby peregrines is a full time job and it takes two parents to do it.

Dorothy and E2 at University of Pittsburgh are nearly at the end of this season’s work, but there’s more to come before they can rest.

Here’s what we’ve seen so far:

After Dorothy lays her eggs she incubates them for 33-35 days. E2 relieves her on the nest, but he supplies all the food. She doesn’t hunt much during this period. He does the hunting for two.

As soon as the eggs hatch, Dorothy broods the young and guards the nest. Her mate must then hunt for the entire family. A family of three or four chicks must be fed six to eleven times per day. This means E2 – with a little help from Dorothy – has to catch, kill and pluck 6-11 birds a day. He brings the prey to the nest and Dorothy usually does the feeding.  This pattern of mother guarding the nest and father providing most of the food continues while the chicks are in the nest.

And in the next three weeks:

During the week before they fledge the chicks ledge-walk and fly-jump. They venture beyond the edge of the nest to walk the building ledges, flapping and jumping to various places.

The chicks also get rambunctious. Their parents stand back to avoid the craziness and they stop feeding them beak-to-beak. Instead they throw the prey to the chicks so they will figure out how to feed themselves.

When their parents think the chicks are ready to fly, they feed them less and demonstrate flight and food availability beyond the nest. This combination encourages the young to fly off the building (“fledge”).

As soon as a fledgling flies, his parents follow him and immediately bring him food if he landed in a safe place. If he landed in an unsafe area, his parents use food to entice him to come to a safe zone.

Now the parents’ jobs are even harder. They must hunt for food and deliver it to chicks who are scattered in a variety of places. This phase doesn’t last long. Soon the chicks figure out they can chase their parents to get food. The parents turn the chases into lessons in how to hunt.

Soon after the hunting lessons, the parents back off and make themselves scarce during the day so the young will hunt for themselves. This doesn’t prevent the young peregrines from waiting for their parents to return home at night. When they see their parents approaching from a distance they wail and fly toward them, hoping for a handout. Sounds like teenagers, eh?

Eventually – as soon as early July – the young peregrines leave Pittsburgh to start life on their own. Another nesting season ends. Dorothy and E2 can rest.

Thanks to Chad and Chris Saladin for permission to use their picture of Stammy and Stellar flying together in Youngstown, Ohio.

 

p.s. 9:00am, June 5:  This morning I stopped by Schenley Plaza after the thunderstorms passed.  E2 brought in a pigeon for breakfast – it was still alive.  He landed next to two of the chicks and then killed the pigeon while the chicks watched intently.  I guess today’s peregrine lesson was “Here’s how you kill a pigeon.”

6 responses so far

Jun 03 2008

Flying lessons

Published by under Peregrines


For the peregrine nestlings at Pitt, the coming week will be the most important time in their lives. They’re going to learn to fly.

If they’re successful, they’ll eventually be able to do this.

Yes, this picture is quite real. It isn’t Photoshop. This peregrine is flying upside down!

He’s their brother, Stammy, born at Pitt in 2003.

One day before they had ever flown, Stammy and his siblings were lined up on the nest rail, loafing. Their father (Erie) decided they needed a stimulus to get them excited about flying.

First Erie flew back and forth in front of the nest rail. He zoomed faster and made sharp turns. Eventually a few of his children flapped their wings in imitation. Not good enough.

Erie swooped down and zoomed up the face of the building from below. His offspring flapped enthusiastically. Then he made a wider circle, did a loop-the-loop and flew in upside down. His kids went nuts with excitement and so did I! 

As the years went by, Erie aged and did fewer exciting flight demonstrations. This year E2 is a new father so maybe I’ll get a chance to see him teach some fancy flying.

I’m looking forward to the lessons.

Thanks to Chad & Chris Saladin for permission to use their photo of Stammy.

7 responses so far

Jun 01 2008

Red-tail baby

Red-tailed hawks, mother and nestling (photo by Kate St. John)Guess who else has a nestling? (Update on June 4, 2008: There are 2 nestlings!)

The pair of red-tailed hawks near my office has been quite conspicuous this spring. In March they mated at various locations in the neighborhood, then selected a site and constructed their nest in a gutter.

I didn’t think it was a good place for a nest. The roof is steep and the gutter fills in a hard rain and there’s no shade whatsoever. Mother Hawk thought differently.

She laid eggs in April and spent a long time incubating, almost invisible in the deep nest. I assume there was more than one egg but there’s no way to know. The nest is inaccessible – just the way they like it.

One day in early May her mate arrived at the nest with food. Hmmm. I’ll bet the eggs just hatched.

Outside my window the red-tail parents bring food – hour after hour, day after day. Last week they brought more leaves and evergreens to line the nest.

Finally this week the baby was tall enough to see over the edge. Ta dah! One nestling.

He has a nose like his mother’s, don’t you think?

(I took this photo from a great distance. The red heart-shaped things are decorative snow guards that keep snow from sliding off the roof. They are not as close to the nest as they appear in this photo)

Update on June 9:  It was so hot and sunny today that Mother Hawk mantled over her nestlings to provide shade while they stood on the nest to avoid the hot tin gutter. The nestlings are already feathered but not quite ready to fly. This evening they were exercising their wings, flapping and rising up above the nest.

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