Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Dec 27 2013

Pittsburgh Eaglecam!

Thanks to Bill Powers of Pix Controller and the PA Game Commission the first bald eagle nestcam in Pennsylvania is right here in Pittsburgh!

Installed one week ago, it’s already capturing the activities of the Hays bald eagle pair at their nest above the Monongahela River.

As you can see, installing the camera involved some scary tree climbing by Derek Spitler of the PA Game Commission.  (The nest is in the center of the photo.)  Click on the TribLive screenshot below to read Mary Ann Thomas’ report and see close-ups and video of the installation.
Screenshot of the eaglecam from TribLive video

Pittsburgh’s eaglecam has already captured the pair at their nest.  The video at top was taken on Christmas Day and there are videos of the pair together on December 23 and one eagle in snow on December 26 (yesterday!).

Though the site is within the city limits it is quite remote.  There is no electricity and no Internet connection so the camera must run on solar power and transmit using the cell network.  Right now Bill Powers is working out the kinks — too little battery power to run all night and thin data bandwidth from Sprint — but he has to fix all of it within the next two weeks before his access to the site is cut off.

Bald eagles abandon nest sites with too much human disturbance so the PA Game Commission has allowed PixController to visit the camera only until January 15.  All other access is off limits.  Don’t even dream of going there yourself!  The area is posted and you’ll be fined $1,000 to $10,000.

Trib Total Media will stream the live feed on its website beginning in February.  Meanwhile you can see new video clips and watch the eagles online at PixController’s eaglecam site. If the camera is not streaming, rest assured that Bill is working on it.


(Pittsburgh bald eagle nestcam video by PixController. Screenshot of camera installation from TribLive.)

p.s. While you wait for activity in Pittsburgh, watch eagle chicks on camera in Ft. Myers, Florida!  The first eaglet hatched on Christmas Eve, the second on Christmas Day. Watch them on the Southwest Florida Eaglecam.

8 responses so far

Dec 23 2013

I Am Not Starving

Snowy owl in Wattsburg, PA (photo by Shawn Collins)

Joe Monahan of Boone County, Iowa generated a heated discussion on PABIRDS last week when he urged folks to save snowy owls by feeding them store-bought mice.  According to Joe the owls are starving: “The dead owls found here that were necropsied were found to be emaciated. Which is why I decided to start feeding the one remaining in our area.”

His idea raised ethical issues but Joe’s argument was that, based on those found dead, snowy owls are starving and ought to be fed.  The core of the discussion came down to: Were the dead owls evidence of a starving population?  Will feeding help or hurt?

Deciding the leading cause of death of a population — and what to do to help that population — based on those “found dead” is quite misleading.   If you visited Moore, Oklahoma on May 11 the majority of people found dead were killed by a tornado.  If we acted on that very real but skewed statistic we would move people out of Oklahoma because it’s a state known to have many tornadoes. However, the real leading causes of death in Oklahoma are heart disease and cancer, as elsewhere in the US.  Moving people away from Tornado Alley would not help and could hurt — upsetting some so much that they’d die prematurely (the autopsy would say it was heart disease).

Snowy owl studies by Paul Kerlinger, Norman Smith and colleagues show that as a population, wintering snowies are not starving at all.  Kerlinger’s study says: “Trauma-induced mortality was the cause of death in 64% of all cases, and starvation was implicated in just 14%, a figure the authors felt was likely inflated by several factors. Almost half of all snowy owls examined had moderate to heavy fat, and many of those lacking fat had suffered massive injuries.”   (Note that a bird that’s suffered massive injury starves because it cannot hunt.)  And, “of the 20 snowy owls Norman Smith satellite-tagged at Logan Airport, only four died – one from a plane strike and three from gunshot wounds.”  (People do hunt snowies up north.)

Will feeding help or hurt the birds?  Joe described his feeding method:  Holding a live mouse by the tail he would wait for the owl to fly toward him, then he toss the mouse when the owl was within 100 yards. Or he tossed a live mouse on a gravel road for the owl to retrieve.

Since the real leading cause of death in snowy owls is trauma, Joe’s well intentioned effort will probably backfire.  The owls will learn to trust humans and roads and may die prematurely, hit by a car or a bullet.

For everyone’s well being, learn more before you act.

“I am not starving,” says the snowy owl.


(photo by Shawn Collins)

p.s.  A big new snowy owl study has just been launched. Click here for details.

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Dec 15 2013

Wish I’d Been There!

Peregrine falcon attacking snowy owl at Gull Point, Erie, PA (photo by Steve Gosser)

I’ve been hoping to witness a clash between peregrines and snowy owls but so far I’ve never been in the right place at the right time.  Others have been luckier:

  • On November 29 Steve Gosser captured this photo of a peregrine attacking a snowy owl at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Shawn Collins saw them, too.
  • On December 2, Tom Johnson captured a video(!) and stills of a peregrine attacking a snowy owl at Stone Harbor Point, New Jersey.  Click here to see it on 10,000 Birds.
  • During the snowy owl invasion two years ago, Rick Remington captured close-ups of a resident peregrine falcon strafing a snowy at Chicago’s Montrose Harbor in late January 2012.  The snowy defended itself by doing somersaults to present its talons to the peregrine!
  • Speaking of talons, take a peek at this photo by John Mattera of a peregrine and snowy at Jones Beach, Long Island during a fight in December 2009.  Click here for the story and photos from New York DEC’s newsletter.

Peregrines are so cool.

Wish I’d been there!


(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Dec 09 2013

Snowy Owl Respect

If you read PABIRDS you’ve seen this discussion and perhaps the video, but it’s well worth passing along.

This winter has quickly shaped up to be an “invasion” year for snowy owls. These big, beautiful birds are popping up in open spaces, on buildings and at shorelines across the northern United States.  On the PABIRDS listserv alone, at least 33 snowies have been reported in Pennsylvania since December 1 — about half of them at Presque Isle State Park.

Snowy owls “invade” in the winter when they’ve had a hugely successful breeding season up north because of super-abundant lemmings last summer.  Most of the visiting birds are young owls on their first trip away from home. They’ve come south to eat our abundant food and rest between meals.  Studies have shown this is a good move on their part.  Scott Wiedensaul points out that the vast majority eat well and return to the Arctic in spring.  Of those that die, the leading cause of death is trauma, not starvation.

But they shouldn’t be harassed. Last Saturday there were seven snowy owls at Presque Isle as well as birders, photographers and owl enthusiasts.  Most people kept a respectful distance but two photographers approached the owls and flushed them repeatedly even though observers warned them not to. This prompted Jerry McWilliams to write:

“Just a reminder to birders and photographers who are interested in observing or photographing the Snowy Owls. You should resist the urge, as we have all experienced, to try and approach too closely. The owl that visited my waterbird count this morning was very alert and did not remain in one spot for long. Between the Coyotes and enthusiastic humans, it is a challenge for these northern invaders to have a chance to rest and find a meal. Please come and enjoy them, but keep your distance and respect their needs.”

The disrespect is not limited to Pennsylvania.  A similar discussion occurred on NJBIRDS about incidents in New Jersey.

Presque Isle Audubon and the state park are doing something about it.   Presque Isle Audubon is organizing volunteers to alert visiting photographers and birders about owl etiquette as they enter the Gull Point Trail.  State Park rangers (DCNR) will also be monitoring the situation.

If you see people harassing wildlife, speak up or report them to park rangers.  If you would like to volunteer at the Gull Point Trail, click here for Presque Isle Audubon contact information.

A gentle reminder to respect the owls will go a long way.


(video by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, first published in 2010)

p.s. Click here to read an excellent explanation of wild bird reactions to humans — with a special emphasis on raptors and owls — by Julia Ecklar of the National Aviary.

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Dec 02 2013

The Battle Is On

Peregrine falcon at Presque Isle State Park, 29 Nov 2013 (photo by Shawn Collins)

Ever since the first snowy owl showed up at Presque Isle State Park on November 23 Erie’s resident pair of peregrine falcons has been on the warpath.  Peregrines hate owls and snowies are no exception.  How dare an owl invade their territory!

On November 26 a second snowy arrived and perched near the first at Gull Point.  On November 30, a third and darker owl came to Beach 6.  The snowies like the banquet at the lake.  They’re eating visiting waterfowl.

Snowy owl on the breakwater at Presque Isle State Park,29 Nov 2013 (photo by Shawn Collins)

Their arrival has kept the peregrines quite busy. Many observers have seen the peregrines attacking the owls.

One owl is annoying, two are worth shouting about.  On Friday while Shawn Collins was on his way to Gull Point he heard a peregrine whining and warning at Beach 10.  The peregrine was so upset and distracted that it remained perched and whining on a telephone pole while Shawn snapped several pictures.

Angry and swift, the peregrines teamed up to convince the owls to leave.  Would it work?

The owls are bigger and know about large, powerful falcons.  They come from the land of the gyrfalcon.

But the peregrines are persistent.

Who will win?

Snowyowl atPresque Isle State Park, 29 Nov 2013 (photo by Shawn Collins)


(photos by Shawn Collins)

10 responses so far

Dec 01 2013

Pharoah’s Chicken

Pharoah's Chicken, Egyptian vulture (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

During this turkey weekend I found a bird called Pharoah’s Chicken, though he isn’t a chicken at all.

This large bird of prey is an Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) whose nickname refers to his use as a symbol of Egyptian royalty.

He lives in Europe, Asia and Africa but he no longer lives well.  Sadly he’s endangered, having declined by 50% in Europe in only 20 years (1980-2001) and drastically in India where there’s a vulture crisis caused by livestock antibiotics that are poisonous to the vultures.

This bird posed nicely for a photograph in a zoo in Spain.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 24 2013

The Falcon That Laughs

Laughing Falcon (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Snakes seem to be a subtext on my blog lately.  Snakes caused the extirpation of the Guam rail, they’re one of many foods eaten by secretary birds, and now I’ve learned there’s a falcon in Central and South America that eats poisonous snakes and laughs.

The laughing falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) is named for his two most obvious traits.  Herpetotheres roughly means to “mow down snakes,” cachinnans means to “laugh immoderately.”

He captures snakes by watching from a perch, then pouncing to break their necks or behead them.  And he really does laugh.  Listen to this recording of a pair “singing” a duet.

Laughing falcons are about the size of peregrines and are often pictured with their head feathers raised, a pose that makes them resemble ospreys not falcons.  When they lower their head feathers, as in this photo on Wikimedia Commons, you can see their falcon family resemblance.

I first heard of this species when Charlie Hickey posted photos from his trip this month to Puntarenas, Costa Rica.  (Click here for Charlie’s photos.)  I wonder if it was hard to find this bird in Costa Rica.  According to BirdLife International the laughing falcon has declined drastically in some locations but has such a wide range that it has not yet been listed as “vulnerable.”


(photo by Charlie Hickey)

2 responses so far

Nov 19 2013

An Eagle Like A Crane

In Africa there’s a bird of prey with legs so long he looks like a crane.

Though the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) can fly he prefers to walk as he browses for food in the underbrush.  His legs are so long he has to crouch to get his beak to the ground.

A scorpion is a snack, a mongoose is a meal.  Secretary birds even eat poisonous snakes, adders and cobras, which they stun and kill by stomping with their feet.

Perhaps that’s why these birds are so tall.  Their bodies are out of reach of their dangerous prey.

I love to watch them walk:  crane-like eagles with black knee-pants.


(video from WildlifeVideoChannel on YouTube)

One response so far

Oct 19 2013

Fishing At Bayswater

Published by under Birds of Prey

Osprey at Bayswater, NY (photo by Gintaras Baltusis)

Some cities have great birds.

Even though New York is the largest city in the U.S. they have a wide variety of habitat and some great places to go birding.  I didn’t know about Bayswater until Gintaras Baltusis, a long time follower of this blog, told me about it.

Gintaras was in Queens at Bayswater Park last weekend to photograph airplanes approaching JFK airport.  While he was focused on airplanes this osprey came over with a newly caught fish.



(photo by Gintaras Baltusis)

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Oct 17 2013

Catch-22 For Cape Vultures

Cape vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Birds love to perch on wires and power poles, the bigger the bird the bigger the wire.  Unfortunately this affinity poses a threat to very large birds because their long wings can touch two wires at the same time and electrocute them.  Vultures are especially vulnerable because they roost in large gregarious groups.  If they jostle their buddies too much … ooops!

Cape vultures (Gyps coprotheres) of southern Africa, like most Gyps species, are declining.  They are listed as threatened because of decreased carrion for their chicks, poisoning from medication in livestock carcasses, electrocution and collision with wires, and exploitation for traditional medicine/religion.

Cape vultures live a long time and reproduce slowly so significant losses of any kind pose a problem.  There are protected areas in southern Africa where the vultures aren’t exposed to so many threats but there is also a growing power grid.

W. Louis Phipps and his team decided to find out how cape vultures used the power grid so they affixed GPS trackers on nine cape vultures — five adults and four immatures — to see where they would go.  The results were somewhat surprising.

The cape vultures’ home range is larger than expected; some traveled more than 600 miles one way.  Given the opportunity to travel the power corridors, that’s what they did.  Cape vultures are cliff birds so the power towers gave them high perches and clear sight lines in formerly useless habitat.  The study also found that the vultures fed more often on private farmland than in protected areas.  (The vultures would say, “Well, that’s where the food was.”)

It’s the classic Catch-22.  The power corridors have expanded the cape vultures’ range but the wires sometimes kill them.  In a declining population it makes a difference.

For more information read the full study here at PLOS One.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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