Late Wednesday night, February 26, at 11:15pm a raccoon climbed the bald eagles’ nesting tree at Hays while a noisy train rumbled by in the valley. Mother Eagle was asleep but she heard the raccoon’s rustle and stood up to defend her three eggs. As the mammal crested the nest edge she opened her wings and took a few steps toward it. The raccoon turned and fled.
When you watch the encounter on this archived video from PixController you can see everything that’s going on, but the participants can’t. The nest is lit at night by an infrared lamp mounted near the distant camera. The camera can “see” the infrared light but we, the eagle, and the raccoon cannot. On that overcast night the animals were dark shapes to each other. I’m sure the raccoon was frightened to find an eagle!
Raccoons raid songbird nests because the songbirds are powerless to stop them but they avoid raptors because birds of prey will kill them. Why was this raccoon attracted to a bald eagles’ nest?
Scott Kinsey gave us the hint on PABIRDS yesterday morning when he wrote:
It has been fun watching the Bald Eagle nest cam from Pittsburgh. Finally got to see a feeding. I think it was the male brought a fish for the female at 10:39am. She had it done by about 10:47 and back on the eggs. Might have been a Gizzard Shad around eleven inches?
As Scott points out, the female eagle eats at the nest and though she sets the scraps aside she doesn’t take out the garbage. Lots of smelly fish scraps are up there on the sticks. The raccoon probably smelled the leftovers and came exploring for a meal. When he realized his mistake he was out of there!
This surely isn’t the first time a raccoon has explored an eagles’ nest at night. We just happened to see it because of the night vision camera. He was lucky he didn’t make a fatal error.
Click here to see what’s happening right now at the eagles’ nest.
In this video of the egg’s first on-camera appearance notice the reactions of ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ eagle…
The video begins with the mother eagle standing over her egg, waiting for it to dry. Her tail is spread and she’s holding her wings open to shelter the egg without touching it.
When the egg is dry, she gently rolls it with her beak and keeps her talons folded in as she steps near the egg. She is very careful.
Just before her mate arrives you can hear his “whee” call announcing his arrival.
Notice how much bigger the female is than her mate. This size difference is normal in birds of prey.
Both eagle parents rearrange the sticks, mosses and grasses in the nest. If you watch peregrine falconcams you’ll notice that peregrines don’t use sticks so there’s nothing to adjust. Watch closely and you’ll see peregrines rearrange the rocks.
Though the eagles are nesting on an extensive wooded hillside above the Monongahela River, the river banks hosts two active railroad tracks and a scrapyard. That’s why you hear mechanical and industrial sounds on the camera.
You can watch the eaglecam at several websites. My two favorites are PixController and the National Aviary. Click on a logo below to watch the Pittsburgh eaglecam. PixController’s has a link to the video archives.
Yesterday at Sax Zim Bog was bright, both day and night. It began with a full moon at -13F and peaked at 10F with this bird.
My Life Bird northern hawk owl was perched on top of a tree near the road, easy to see. He eyed us with suspicion as we trundled off the bus and stood in the road, staring at him. Do his eyebrows give him that disapproving look?
When he wasn’t staring back at us he scanned the bog for prey. I’ve read that northern hawk owls have perfected the technique of hunting by sight and can identify prey as much as half a mile away.
It helps to be in full sun if you need to see a vole at 2,640 feet.
p.s. Jess Botzan was lucky to capture this one in flight. I have never yet seen one fly.
I am really tired of cold weather and the effort it takes to walk around in heavy clothes and boots. I can hardly wait for spring and yet … I flew north yesterday to the Arrowhead of Minnesota where the high temperatures are lower than Pittsburgh’s lows, the lows have been -30F, and it snowed six inches yesterday. What was I thinking?
Jess and Brian Botzan were here last month and saw all the birds on my wish list: great gray owl, northern hawk owl, boreal chickadee, black-billed magpie, gray jay and pine grosbeak. Braving -50F wind chill Jess photographed this great gray owl at the very bog where I’ll be looking for one today. I hope to be so lucky.
So I’ve put on my long johns, corduroys, ski pants, turtleneck, thick wool sweater, polarlite cardigan, parka, Nordic earflap hat, two layers of mittens, wool socks, Sorel boots, face mask, bula and “Hot Hands” heat packets stuffed near my toes and fingers. I look and feel like a purple Pillsbury dough-boy but I am not cold.
My husband, who is too nearsighted to enjoy birding, has wisely stayed home.
As you saw last weekend there are still crowds of bald eagles gathered along North America’s rivers waiting for winter to end. They can’t go home and begin courting until the ice breaks up.
Meanwhile Pittsburgh’s eagles have a head start on the nesting season because our rivers don’t freeze over. The pair at Hays has already progressed to the finer points of nest construction. They finished the foundation (large sticks) and the bowl (small sticks) and are now working on the nest lining (soft grasses). Sometimes they bring a fish and have a snack at the nest. When the lining is complete, egg-laying won’t be far away.
When you watch the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam you’ll notice how different eagles’ habits are from peregrines’ behavior. Peregrines don’t “build” a nest, they never use sticks or soft grasses, and they almost never eat at the nest unless they have young in it. This difference is driven by their food and habitat needs: bald eagles eat fish and nest in trees near water, peregrines hunt birds on the wing and nest on cliff ledges.
Last Friday Ginataras Baltusis filmed an immature peregrine falcon preening in New York City. I found the video interesting because the bird is banded and has a pale face and head with long white eyebrow stripes.
The pale head made me think of the tundra subspecies from the arctic. The bands made me think, “This bird hatched near people, not in the arctic.” The head stripes are a puzzle.