Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Jun 21 2014

He’s Flying at Hays!

Published by under Birds of Prey

First fledgling from the Hays Bald Eagle nest (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dear Readers, there’s nothing like an in-person visit to correct a beautifully written but inaccurate story.  This morning I wrote that #3 had flown but I confused #3 with H3.  My original incorrect story follows.  Watch for the correction(**) at the end!

He hatched last and flew first! (**)

Yesterday morning the three Hays eaglets were still walking up and down the branches near their nest and testing their wings (click here for video). At 10:14am one left the nest but no one saw where it went. Then at 1:20pm that eaglet flew!  And guess what …drumroll…  the first to fly was Eaglet#3, the smallest and last to hatch. (** ummm. no.  See note at end!)

In early April we worried that #3 might not make it because he was so small and his oldest sibling bopped him on the head whenever his parents brought in food. But #3 proved to be a tough little bird who could “elbow” his siblings out of the way and get his share first.

As they grew we figured out that #3 is smallest because he’s male and his siblings are female.  This gave him First Flight advantage because he’s more maneuverable than his bigger, heavier sisters.

Yesterday at the Eagle Watch, Dana Nesiti was ready with his camera in case one of the eaglets flew.  At 1:20pm a young eagle went airborne and Dana captured it all.

The juvenile’s first landing was on the ground (uh oh!) but he got up and flew again, this time right past his mother.  Great shot, Dana!

Eaglet #3 flies past his mom on Fledge Day (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Congratulations, #3!  And thank you, Dana Nesiti, for sharing your photos!

See more of the first flight and great eagle photos at Eagles of Hays PA.

Visit the Hays Eagle Watch today and see the eagles in person.  Click here for directions and here for the weekend-only parking map.

Wooo hooo!

(photos by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

 

(**) CORRECTION at 9:00pm!

I went down to the Eagle Watch this afternoon and learned my mistake. The watchers are as certain as they can be that the first to fledge is one of the two females.  Most say it was “H3.”  

H3 means “3rd to Hatch” but in eagle terminology it’s “3rd hatch of this mother” not “3rd hatch this year.” H1 was last year’s solo juvenile, H2 is this year’s first female, H3 is the 2nd female, H4 is the male.

This terminology is foreign to me, a veteran peregrine watcher.  Peregrine eggs hatch all at once so it’s impossible to identify the young by their hatch order and equally impossible to identify them by their birth order to the same mother.

So… This year’s male hasn’t flown yet.  But he will soon.  His sister H2 may have fledged today just before sunset.  Stay tuned at Eagles of Hays PA and the Hays Eaglecam.

p.s. The Post-Gazette says the eaglet flew at 10:14am.  This is because the bird left the nestcam view at 10:14am. She was not seen flying until 1:20pm.

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Jun 13 2014

Fledge Watch Opportunities This Weekend

Wtaching the eagles at Hays (photo by Kate St. John)

Want to see peregrine falcons or bald eagles?  This weekend four sites in the Pittsburgh area have young raptors ready make their first flight.

Watch Peregrines at …

  • Monaca-East Rochester Bridge:  Four juvenile peregrines are fledging at this site June 11-16.  The nest is over water so your watchful presence may save a young peregrine’s life if it lands in the river (you can alert a nearby boater).  There are no officially organized times to watch at this bridge though I can tell you I plan to stop by on Saturday.  Click here for a map.
  • Neville Island I-79 Bridge:  One female peregrine is due to fledge from this site June 14-19.  Anne Marie Bosnyak and Laura Marshall will be at the adjacent Port Authority Park-n-Ride and Fairfield Inn parking lots for much of the weekend. I plan to visit too at 9:00am Saturday.  Watch this blog or Pittsburgh Falconuts for dates and times.  Click here for a map.

Juvenile bald eagles at the Hays nest, 11 June 2014 (photo from the PixController eaglcam atHays)

Watch bald eagles at…

  • Hays eagle nest:  Three eaglets have been flapping like crazy on camera this week so it’s only a matter of time before one of them makes his first flight.  Dedicated eagle fans will be watching from the Three Rivers Heritage Bike Trail all weekend.  Bob Mulvihill from the National Aviary will be there on SUNDAY at 9:00am.  C’mon down any time.  It’s free!  Click on Bob’s name or here for a map.
  • Harmar eagle nest:  This nest is much harder to watch since the Hulton Bridge construction closed the small parking lot with the best view.  Eagle fans have been known to stand by the side of busy Hulton Road in Oakmont. (Yow!)  Before leaf-out there was a good, safe view from the patio behind Oakmont High School. Bring a birding scope and look for watchers on the Oakmont side of the river. If you find a good place to stand, leave a comment with directions.

The weather will be great for Fledge Watching.  Let’s get outdoors!

 

p.s. Happy news from Westinghouse Bridge:  On June 11 PGC’s Tom Keller found a day-old hatchling at the Westinghouse Bridge peregrine nest (two eggs still unhatched).  PGC will band the chick(s) in 18 to 22 days.  Peregrine monitor John English is looking forward to a Fledge Watch in mid July.

(photo of Hays Eagle Watch site by Kate St. John, photo of Hays eaglets from the PixController Hays eaglecam)

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Jun 10 2014

Falcons Stick Together

American kestrel fledgling at Engineering Hall, Univ of Pittsburgh (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

This story has a sad ending but the middle is so amazing that it’s worth the telling.

At 10:00am Michelle Kienholz texted me with an odd sighting at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health: “Peregrine on GSPH? One of the Cathedral of Learning peregrines is yelling and dive-bombing it.”

Michelle sent a cellphone photo of the attacked bird perched on the windowsill but neither of us could determine the species.  Michelle didn’t have binoculars and her photo was tiny.

Forty-five minutes later she texted again after she saw it more clearly:  “Red-tailed hawk — taking quite a beating from E2 still.  Can’t tell if windows are affecting how wings held or if injured but I see red-tails on the building all the time.  45 minutes on the same cramped ledge with a crazed falcon seems odd.  … Doesn’t look especially stressed though.”

Almost an hour later at 11:30am:  “Red-tail moved to Sennott Building, so he can fly.”

But this was not the end of it.

At 1:30pm Michelle sent an email about another bird of prey perched at the entrance to the Engineering Building.  Observers had seen him hit a window in the early morning.  Melissa Penkrot at the School of Engineering was concerned because this juvenile male kestrel had been perched there since 7:00am.

Juvenile American kestrel at Engineering Building (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

In between meetings, Michelle ran down to check on the kestrel while Melissa called the Game Commission. The kestrel continued to stand in plain sight so Melissa put up a sign so folks would not try to touch it.  Interestingly, she could see the Sennott Building from the kestrel’s location.

Michelle returned an hour later and saw the kestrel hop up on the rust-colored sculpture and make a slow wobbly flight across the street.  Before she returned to work she told the security guard at the parking garage that the Game Commission was coming for the bird.  He assured her he’d be there into the evening and would keep an eye on it.  That was at 2:45pm.

Alas, when Michelle returned at 7:00pm the security guard told her the red-tail had barely waited for her to leave.  While the kestrel’s back was turned the red-tail swooped in and killed him.  Not a happy ending.

But there is a happy middle.

In the morning E2 spent at least 45 minutes attacking and finally moving that red-tailed hawk away from the area.  E2 was as focused and relentless as he is when his own fledglings are threatened.  Yet he has no babies this year.  Why did he attack the red-tail?

I think E2 recognized the fledgling as a baby falcon — not a peregrine, but certainly a falcon — and his protective instincts kicked in.  He doesn’t have his own “kids” this year but when he saw a dazed juvenile falcon he knew the red-tail was up to no good and did everything in his power to move the danger away.  He did a good job.  The red-tail was deterred.

Vulnerable American kestrels often fall prey to red-tailed hawks.  The kestrel’s own parents could not have protected him, but a peregrine did.

Falcons stick together.

 

p.s.  Kestrels are known to help peregrines: see this blog from 2012.

(photos by Michelle Kienholz)

4 responses so far

May 29 2014

Whooo Is That?

Three eastern screech-owl chicks perch on a branch, curious about the world.  They’ve just emerged from their nest hole and flown for the first time.  Everything is new.

“What is that over there?”  They bob and weave to get a better look.

Pat Gaines watched this owl family nest and fledge along the Spring Creek trail in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Click on the links below to see more of his photos:

These owls live in a part of the country were both eastern and western screech-owls occur.  Cornell’s Birds of North America says the two species are so similar that they can only be distinguished from each other by bill color and voice.

Neither species migrates so ornithologists have been able to pinpoint their ranges.  In Colorado eastern screech-owls live east of the Rockies, western screech-owls live west.  Their ranges have a narrow contact zone in Colorado Springs but don’t overlap.

It’s a place where birders ask the screech-owls, “Whooo are you?”

(video by Pat Gaines)

One response so far

May 25 2014

Little Against Big

During the nesting season small songbirds chase large predators away from their eggs and young.  It’s a topsy-turvy time when the pecking order is reversed.

Sharon Leadbitter saw this in action last week at Allegheny Cemetery when a blue jay repeatedly bopped a red-tailed hawk on the head, trying to drive it away from his territory.

Eventually the blue jay was just too annoying ….

(video by Sharon Leadbitter)

5 responses so far

May 12 2014

Start Late, Finish Early

Gulf Tower chicks eat dinner, 6 May 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

With two Pittsburgh raptor nests on camera we’re able to watch the nest cycle differences between peregrine falcons and bald eagles.  A big difference is timing: Peregrines nest later but they finish earlier.  We’re about to see that unfold.

Back in March it felt like peregrine egg laying was “late” because the Hays bald eagles had been incubating for two and a half weeks before Dori laid her first egg at the Gulf Tower.  In fact Dori was early, even by her own standards.  We just didn’t realize how much earlier bald eagles begin.

On May 6 (above) the peregrine nestlings were still developmentally behind the eaglets.  They weren’t very mobile and were still covered in fluffy white down with no apparent flight or facial feathers. They looked like babies.

On that same day the eaglets had been mobile for two weeks, had already grown some head and body feathers and had started to grow flight feathers.  They already looked like eagles (below).  PixController’s YouTube video of the bald eagles’ growth in April shows how they got to this stage.

Pittsburgh Hays eaglets, 6 May 2014 (photo from the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam by PixController)

 

Despite their late start the Gulf Tower peregrine chicks are about to surpass the Hays bald eagles.  The table below shows they’ll depart their nest two+ weeks before the eaglets.  The peregrine fledglings will fly right away (departing a cliff nest requires flight) while the eaglets will likely flutter from their tree to lower vegetation or the ground where they may wait 1-3 weeks before flying again.

Keep in mind that fledge dates are just estimates.  Young birds learn to fly on their own schedule.

2014 NESTING LANDMARKS FOR THE GULF TOWER PEREGRINES AND HAYS BALD EAGLES:

____________ 1st Egg Hatch 1st Flight/Nest Departure
Gulf Peregrines 3/10 4/20-4/23 5/28-6/02 (5.5 wks)
Hays Eagles 2/20 3/28-4/02 6/16-6/28 (11-12 wks)

 

 

Start late, finish early.  Peregrines are faster than eagles in everything they do.

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower and the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam via PixController)

 

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May 07 2014

Eagles And The Rats

Published by under Birds of Prey

Bald eagle at the Hays nest feeds a rat to her young (snapshot from Pittsburgh Hays Eaglecam by PixController)

Five weeks ago fans of the Hays bald eagle family were worried that the smallest eaglet would starve.  That didn’t happen.  There’s plenty of food and all three are thriving but a new and opposite fear has taken its place.  Just across the river one possible source of food is scheduled to be poisoned.  What if the eagle family eats a poisoned rat?

Bald eagles eat a lot of fish but they’re also opportunistic omnivores.  If a prey item is easy to catch they’ll eat it.  Eaglecam viewers have seen the family eat many fish, some birds and quite a few rats.

No one thought much about Rats As Food until a bankrupt business across the river in Hazelwood made the news.  The privately owned Pittsburgh Recycling Center closed its doors in January and walked away leaving behind stinking piles of garbage and lots of rats.  Over the winter the rats multiplied and overflowed into the neighborhood.  Nearby residents became so upset that they held a protest outside the warehouse last Friday.

On Monday the old warehouse was sold and the judge ordered the new owner to clean it up right away.  Hazelwood breathed a sigh of relief that the rats would be poisoned but the eagle watchers began to worry.  The Hays bald eagles are known to eat rats (see snapshot above).  If they eat a poisoned rat it will kill them.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife knows this all too well.  In 2009 they worked out a careful plan to kill the rats on an Aleutian island that had been a seabird nesting site 200 years ago.  They air-dropped poisoned bait cakes, the rats died, the seabirds came back to nest.  Only one thing went wrong.  They found the corpses of 43 bald eagles, 213 glacuous-winged gulls and a peregrine falcon.  Toxicology tests on several victims showed the project’s brodifacoum had killed them.  USFW’s Bruce Woods told Scientific American that with further study “we will attempt to figure out what we can do better.”

How likely is it that the Hays eagles will eat a rat from the poisoned warehouse?  We don’t know… but the warehouse is just a short flight away as seen by this snapshot from the eaglecam.  The red arrow points to the big white roof of the old warehouse.
View of rat-infested warehouse across the river from the Hays eagles' nest (photo from PixController)

The eagle watchers are so concerned that they’ve contacted the newspapers and television, started an online petition, and written letters to the Allegheny County Health Department and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.  (The County Health Department is in charge of rat cleanup.)   These efforts have made everyone aware of the potential problem.

The rats are multiplying and have got to go.   To do it right without harming wildlife will take some ingenuity.  Fortunately, the pressure of the eagle watchers is making everyone put on their thinking caps.

 

p.s.  Peregrine fans:  Notice the obelisk on the horizon above the red arrow’s tail in the scene above.  That obelisk is the Cathedral of Learning, home to peregrine falcons Dorothy and E2.  As you can see, the eagles’ home is an easy commute for the peregrines.

(snapshots from PixController’s Pittsburgh Eaglecam.  Click on the eagle photo to watch the eaglecam.)

5 responses so far

Apr 12 2014

Holding His Own

Three healthy eaglets at Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest, 11 April 2014 (phot ofrom the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam)

If you’ve been worried about the survival of Eaglet#3 at the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest, you can ease your fears a bit.  Today the eaglets are 15, 13 and 10 days old.

On April 3 I described how competition among bald eagle siblings can cause the smallest eaglet to starve if food is scarce.   The good news is that the older they get, the better their chances for survival.

So far so good.  Eaglet #3 is active and growing and he’s getting fed.  Food is abundant. He’s holding his own.

The food supply is one more indication that Pittsburgh is a great place to raise a family.  But we knew that.  :)

 

(snapshot from the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam.  Click on the image to watch the live stream)

Update:  Hmmmm. At 9:25am the three eaglets were very hungry and there was nothing to eat yet.  Eaglet#1 took a whack at Eaglet#3 who crouched with his face down to avoid attention.   Hmmmm. We shall see…

Eaglet#3 crouches to avoid another hit from Eaglet#1 (snapshot from the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam)

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Apr 06 2014

Here’s How They Did It

You may be wondering how far the eaglecam is from the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagles’ nest and how it works out there in the woods.

This video from the Pennsylvania Game Commission shows how the eaglecam was installed last December and all the gear that makes it run.

I don’t know who climbed 75 feet up the camera tree but he was surely brave!

The man on the ground arranging the solar panels and batteries is Bill Powers of PixController.  He installed Pittsburgh’s two falconcams, too.

Many thanks, Bill, for all you do!

(YouTube video from the Pennsylvania Game Commission)

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Apr 03 2014

Three Eaglets … For Now

Third bald eagle egg hatches at the Hays nest (snapshot from the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam)

Yesterday afternoon around 5:00pm the third and final egg hatched at the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest.  This happened during rush hour so a lot of us missed it … or did you stay late at work to watch?

Click on the photo above to watch the eaglet emerge from his egg.

An hour later all the eaglets are visible as Mom feeds the oldest chick.

Her actions reminded me that we will soon see a characteristic of bald eagle family life that’s quite different from peregrines’ –  the tendency for the oldest eaglets to thrive and the youngest to die, sometimes killed by their siblings.

Bald eagle eggs hatch asynchronously so each new eaglet is two days smaller than the previous chick.  Bald eagle parents feed the chick that asks for food, and since the oldest is bigger and more active he’s fed more than his siblings.  Eagle chicks are aggressive toward their siblings and the parents don’t breakup the fights.  The third chick often starves.  Cornell’s Birds of North America Online describes it this way, referring to a study in Saskatchewan:

Hatching asynchrony and differential growth leads to differential mass in siblings, facilitating competition and fratricide. Sibling competition and mortality is greatest early in nestling period, when size differences are greatest. Third-hatched chicks in Saskatchewan nests received little food and usually starved.

This behavior is quite different from the peregrines’ lifestyle.  Peregrine falcon eggs hatch almost simultaneously so all the chicks are close in age and size.  The last chick may be smaller at first because he hatches two days later, but peregrine chicks are not aggressive and their parents make sure everyone eats at every feeding.   Mother peregrines “chup” to their babies to encourage them to stand up and be fed.  Click here see how effective (and cute) this is.

For now there are three eaglets at the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam … but be prepared for the day when there might be only two.

 

(videos and snapshots from the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam)

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