Feb 05 2009
Though February is dull and cold it has one bright spot: it’s peregrine courtship time.
Pittsburgh’s peregrine falcons lay their eggs from mid March to early April. If history is a guide Dorothy and E2 will nest in only seven weeks at the University of Pittsburgh. The pair at the Gulf Tower will nest in six.
This makes February especially fun for a peregrine fanatic (me).
Since last fall the birds have been sedentary and hard to find. Until now they had no reason to do more than sleep, hunt and eat. But after the winter solstice their hormones began to kick in, prompting them to advertise and defend their territory, attract their mates and cement their pair bond.
At first the signs were subtle. In early January Dorothy and E2 began to roost near each other in the vicinity of the nest. Now, as spring approaches, they perform more and more of their rituals. If you’re near the Cathedral of Learning you’ll see them:
- Soaring high above the nest cliff (well, it’s a building but to them it’s a cliff).
- “Flappy” flying around the cliff: a slow flight in which they flap their wing tips, not their entire wings. It’s very noticeable to their mates, possible intruders and anyone who’s looking up.
- Flying in acrobatic displays, alone or together. This includes undulating flight, cliff racing, loop-the-loops and figure eights. When they do this together it takes my breath away.
- Exchanging food. The male brings prey to his mate and they exchange it either in mid-air or on a ledge, just as they do when they have nestlings.
There is one ritual you can see only on the webcam: the Head-Low Bow. The male arrives at the nest and calls to his mate, “Ee-chip.” When she arrives he bows with his head quite low. “Ee-chip, ee-chip.” She bows to him too and says “ee-chup.” The bowing lasts as long as she’s interested. Then he leaves.
Last Saturday, E2 visited the nest and called his mate to join him, “Hey, Dorothy! Come here!”
They bowed briefly and were gone. Oh boy! Can spring be far behind?