Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Feb 23 2015

Across The Sahara

Eleanora falcon with satellite tracking backpack (photo by Pacual López/ SINC via Science Daily)

When you know a bird’s winter and summer homes, can you guess the route it takes on migration?  Not necessarily.

Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) spends the summer on islands in the Mediterranean and winters at Madagascar.  How does it travel from Europe to that big island east of Africa?  For decades ornithologists assumed it followed the coast — the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The assumption makes sense because in Europe Eleonora’s falcons eat small birds that they capture in the air over the sea.  Of course this falcon would take a water route … until a 2009 tracking study proved it wrong.

From 2007 to 2009, researchers from the Universities of Valencia and Alicante satellite tagged and tracked 16 Eleanora falcons on the Balearic and Columbretes Islands off the coast of Spain.  The data showed the falcons indeed spent the winter on Madagascar but they didn’t take the long, dog-leg coastal route to get there.

If you draw a straight line from the western Mediterranean to Madagascar it crosses 6,000 miles (more than 9,500 km) of the African continent.  That’s what the falcons did.  Flying both day and night they even crossed the Sahara.

Perhaps they were eating insects as they flew.  That’s what they do in Madagascar.

Read more here at EurekAlert.


(photo of satellite tagged Eleonor’as falcon by Pacual López/ SINC via EurekAlert)


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Feb 22 2015

It’s a Hard Life

Hays bald eagle on nest in snowstorm, 18 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays eaglecam)

“It’s a hard life” certainly describes the first few nesting days of the Hays bald eagle pair.

Above, on February 18 Mother Eagle waits out a snowstorm while incubating the egg she laid the day before.

Below, it’s -4 degrees at the nest on Friday morning, February 20.  The sun is shining so it has already “warmed up” from a low of -7.  (*temperatures are from the Allegheny County airport less than 3 miles away)

A very cold morning at the Hays bald eagle nest, 20 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

Later that day, at 4:40pm, she laid her second egg.  It was 11oF at the time.  Click here or on the picture for video of her second egg.

Pittsburgh Hays female bald eagle, 2nd egg on 2/20 at 4:40pm (screenshot from PixController)

Then yesterday, Saturday February 21, it snowed several inches and …

Hays bale eagle in snow on nest, 21 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

… then turned into rain .. and then freezing drizzle.  Below she sleeps in the icy nest before dawn this morning (February 22).

Bald eagle in icy nest, 22 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays bald eaglecam)


Our warm indoor lives are soft compared to this!

Click here to watch the real-time eaglecam.


(screenshots from the Hays bald eaglecam presented by Pix Controller and Audubon of Western PA)

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Feb 18 2015

First Hays Eagle Egg of 2015

If you haven’t been watching the Hays Bald Eaglecam, now’s the time to start.  Last night Mother Eagle laid her first egg of 2015, revealed on camera at 7:37 pm.

Bald eagles are one of the earliest birds to lay eggs in Pennsylvania because their young take so long to grow up and fledge.  The pair at Hays in the City of Pittsburgh has been courting, mating, and tidying their nest since January.  Then on Sunday the female eagle started spending her nights on the nest — just in case.

We saw the first egg on Tuesday, February 17 at 7:37pm when she stood up and looked at it.  (After laying an egg the female bird usually stands over it until the shell dries.)

Dedicated eagle watchers are already calling this egg “H5″ in anticipation of its hatching.  (“H” is for Hatch Hays, 5 means the fifth hatchling (see the comment below from Joyce))  Its hatching event is a pretty good bet.  The first egg a bald eagle lays is always the first to hatch — if it’s fertile — and fertility is not in doubt with the amount of mating this pair has been up to.

Egg #2 is due on Thursday or early Friday when the temperature dips to -8 oF.  Mother Eagle will certainly be clamped down to keep the egg(s) warm!  We’ll have to keep an “eagle eye” on her to see her reveal Egg#2.

Click here to watch the eaglecam and chat with fellow eagle watchers on the PixController website.


p.s. Thank you to Bill Powers of PixController for installing the eaglecam.

(YouTube video from PixController)

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Feb 12 2015

Owls Coming to PBS, February 18

Screenshot from PBS NATURE's Owl Power program

Who can see in the dark, fly silently, and hear their prey beneath deep snow?  Owls!

Owls live on every continent except Antarctica, some in extreme heat, others in extreme cold.  How do they thrive in the nighttime world?  PBS NATURE explores their special talents on Owl Power, premiering next Wednesday, February 18.

The show explains some amazing facts about owls.  Did you know that … Their eyes take up 70% of their skull.  Their ear tufts aren’t for hearing, they’re for expressing moods(!).  Owls can hear the sound-frequency of a mouse 10 times better than we can.  And, to an owl the night is 2.5 times brighter than it is for us.

And there are cool video segments including…

  • A thermal-sensing camera shows what’s really happening at night!
  • The barn owl’s slow flight style is compared to a peregrine and a greylag goose.
  • Great gray owl babies fall branch to branch when they “fledge” from the nest.
  • Super-sensitive microphones record the sounds of a pigeon, a peregrine and a barn owl in flight. Only the barn owl is completely silent. (Of course, peregrines don’t need to be silent … just very fast!)

Click on the screenshot above for a preview, then watch Owl Power on PBS next Wednesday February 18, 8pm EST/7pm CST.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(screenshot from PBS NATURE’s Owl Power)

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Feb 10 2015

Aging Red Tails

Published by under Birds of Prey


Immature red-tailed hawk at Oakmont's Riverside Park (photo by Rachel Baer)

Did you know that red-tailed hawks don’t have red tails until they’re more than two years old?

In January Rachel Baer photographed this immature hawk dining at Oakmont’s Riverside Park.  You can see that his tail is brown with horizontal stripes.  Here’s how you know he’s less than two years old:

Adult red-tailed hawks have rusty red tails (click here to see) but, as Cornell  Lab of Ornithology explains, immature birds usually molt into adult plumage — including the red tail — at the beginning of their second year.

During their first winter (age 6 months) and second winter (age 1.5 years) they look like the hawk Rachel photographed.

Here’s the top side of his tail, brown and striped.

Immature red-tailed hawk (photo by Rachel Baer)

And the underside — white (not even faintly rusty) with faint brown stripes.

Immature red-tailed hawk (photo by Rachel Baer)

In the spring of their second year (age 2.0 years) red-tailed hawks begin to replace their brown tail feathers with red ones.  That summer their tails show both colors. Click here to see a red-tail with a half-red tail.

By their third winter (age 2.5 years) their red tails advertize their maturity.  They’re now full adults and ready to court in the spring.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Cornell’s Birds of North America Online says that 5-10% of immature red-tails can molt into adult basic plumage at age 1.

The “aging” rule works only 90-95% of the time.  😉


(photos by Rachel Baer)

(*) NOTE: Red-tailed hawks are widespread across North America and the subspecies look different.  This blog post describes the eastern subspecies of the red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis borealis.  (The click-through image of a red-tail with a partially red-tail is a dark western bird.)

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Jan 14 2015

Eagles Fight in Russian Winter

Published by under Birds of Prey

Gloden eagle grabs Stellers sea eagle by the leg in a fight over food (screenshot from National Geographic online)

In North America we think of our bald and golden eagles as large birds but they’re no match in size for the Steller’s sea eagle.

Steller’s sea eagles live on the coast of northeast Asia so they rarely encounter North America’s bald eagle but they do run into goldens who are lightweights by comparison.  The largest Steller’s can outweigh a golden eagle by a factor of two.

At Lake Kuril on the Kamchatka Peninsula Steller’s sea eagles and golden eagles compete for food.

Click here or on the screenshot above to watch them fight in the Russian winter.  



(screenshot from National Geographic’s Wild Russia series)

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Jan 11 2015

I’m Gonna Get You!

Raven chases bald eagle chasing osprey (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This photo is tiny but it shows the pecking order in the sky.

The bird on the left is an osprey, the middle one’s a bald eagle, the right one is a raven.  Click here or on the photo to see a full size image with a better view of the birds.

The bald eagle wants the osprey’s fish. The raven’s harassing the bald eagle. It’s unusual that all three lined up in one big chase.

“I’m gonna get you!”


(photo by Ciar via Wikimedia Commons.  Click here to see the original photo with documentation.)

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Jan 07 2015

Raiding The Pantry

How brave is a hungry owl?

In Bath, England St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church hosts a peregrine nestbox where The Hawk and Owl Trust runs a falconcam.  The peregrines can be seen on the webcam all year long because they use the nest ledge as a cache area in the off season.

Early last month the webcam picked up night-time activity when a tawny owl(*) discovered the peregrines’ cache.  In the video the owl feasts on leftover pigeon, eventually nervous that he might be seen.  Would the peregrines show up or would they sleep through his visit unaware?

The owl ate his fill without incident and remembered where he’d found this easy meal.  On subsequent nights he raided the pantry again and again until the peregrines got wise to him and stopped caching on the ledge.

The owl still visits and makes a thorough search, just in case. Here he stops by on New Year’s Day.

Oh well.  The party’s over.  There are only so many times you can raid the pantry before the owners stop stocking it!


Thanks to Hawk and Owl Trust for tweeting these cool videos.  Visit their website for more information about the Bath and Norwich peregrines.

(videos from Hawk and Owl Trust, UK)

(*) Tawny owls are Eurasian woodland birds whose closest North American relative is the barred owl.

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Dec 12 2014

The Falcon Of The Queen

Screenshot of Falco della regina (screenshot from YouTube)

This beautiful YouTube video shows a family of Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae) at their summer home in Sardinia.

Eleonora’s falcon is an Old World hobby(*) falcon that winters in Madagascar and East Africa and nests on barren islands in the Mediterranean.  It was named for Eleonor of Arborea, national heroine of Sardinia. When you know Eleonor’s history you can see the honor of this name.

Eleonor took over Arborea, a sovereign state in west-central Sardinia, in a moment of crisis in 1383. The Crown of Aragon based in Barcelona had conquered all of Sardinia except Arborea and succession to the Arborean throne was shaken by the murder of Hugh III. Eleonor’s infant son Frederick was next in line to the throne so she rushed to Arborea and became regent Judge at age 36. In the first four years of her reign she united the Sardinians in a war against Aragon and won back nearly all of the island.

Eleonor’s greatest legacy was the Carta de Logu, the laws she promulgated in 1395.  Advanced for its time the laws were a uniform code of justice, publicly available, that set most criminal penalties as fines instead of imprisonment or death and preserved the property rights of women.  The Carta de Logu was so good that it lasted four centuries.

Eleonor passed another important though lesser known law: the protection of this falcon that bears her name.

As the video title says in Italian, this is the Falcon of the Queen.


(video posted on YouTube by santonagriva)

(*) Hobbies are smaller than peregrines, larger than American kestrels, and were often used by falconers to hunt birds. “Hobby” does not mean amateur pastime. Instead this word comes from Old French, probably derived from Middle Dutch “hobeler” which means to turn or roll.

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Dec 10 2014

Jackie O

Published by under Birds of Prey

Jackie O, barn owl at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Meet the beautiful Jackie O.

Jackie was just a nestling when she was rescued by Ohio DNR who’d arrived to band barn owl chicks at her nest.  They discovered that Jackie’s left eye had been severely damaged, probably by one of her siblings, so she was taken to Medina Raptor Center where she’s lived ever since.

Jackie’s on the small side for a barn owl so the Raptor Center thought she was male and named her Captain Jack (a one-eyed pirate…).  As she matured her plumage looked female and a DNA blood test confirmed her sex so she was renamed Jackie.

The first time Jackie meets you she uses her good eye to check you out (above).   Eventually she shows you her whole face and you can see that her left eye is missing.

Barn owl, Jackie O, at Medina Raptor Center (photo by Kate St. John)

Among all the birds at the Raptor Center Jackie’s story is unique.  She’s the only one whose injury was caused by a bird.  Every other raptor was injured by humans, directly or indirectly — hit by vehicles, crashed into buildings or wires, poisoned, or shot.  It’s very sad that we cause so much trouble for birds.

Jackie O travels to events as an educational bird ambassador, teaching us how to prevent raptor injuries and how barn owls benefit us by controlling rodent populations.

You can sponsor her and other birds at Medina Raptor Center by clicking this link.


p.s.  O is for Owl. 😉

(photos by Kate St. John)


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