Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Oct 04 2013

Baby Grays

Published by under Birds of Prey


Have you ever seen a great gray owlet?

Most of us haven’t because the bird nests in bogs in the remote north woods.

Last summer photonaturalist Sparky Stensaas jumped at the chance to film a family of great gray owls at their nest in Aitkin County, Minnesota.

His video captured the owlets when they were just ready to leave the nest.  They’re fluffy and almost cute — except they have to grow up to match their beaks.

I’m impressed at how wise and old Mother Owl looks as she watches nearby.  I am also very impressed by the constant noise and vision of bugs flying close to the camera.  Were there mosquitoes in the bog?  Need I ask?

Play the imbedded video above or click here to watch the full screen video on Vimeo.

These babies are growing up great.


(video by Sparky Stensaas,

p.s. A quiz for those who can bird by ear!  Can you identify the bird songs in the background?

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Jul 29 2013

Will They Kill 3,600 Barred Owls?

Barred Owl (photo by Chuck Tague)

A troubling plan slipped under the radar of Easterners who care about barred owls and native birds.

In the Pacific Northwest, northern spotted owls have been listed as threatened since 1990 under the Endangered Species Act.  The number one cause for their decline is the logging of old-growth forest.  The logging stopped in the national forests in 1991 but the spotted owl continues to decline, especially in smaller forest tracts.

Barred owls are distant relatives of the northern spotted owl.  They formerly lived only east of the Great Plains but for 100 years they have slowly spread north and west and now inhabit the Pacific Northwest as well.

In recent years biologists studying spotted owls noticed the spotteds declined in zones where barreds increased, so U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed killing barred owls as an experiment to see if this helps the northern spotted owl.

The proposal, published in March 2012 as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, included a public comment period.  We may not have noticed the proposal but westerners saw and commented.

The comments were overwhelmingly negative from “Don’t do it!” to “This is stupid!” to an excellent letter by biologist Elizabeth Ellis who has studied northern spotted owl populations and pointed out the flaws in the proposal including the lack of barred owl population studies (it is threatened in parts of its range!), unknown human contribution — if any — to the barred owl’s range movement, the fact that the proposal tracts where barred owls have gained a foothold are known to be too small to adequately protect the northern spotted owl, and the wisdom of using limited management funds to kill an unstudied species.

If I’d had a chance to comment I would have said…  (stepping up on my soapbox)…

Humans directly caused the disappearance of 90% of the Pacific Northwest old growth forest. When species are going extinct because of our actions we have a choice:  Do we cut down the last 10% of the forest or stop logging?  We can control the things that humans do, however…

We cannot control the rest of Nature.  Humans did not actively introduce the barred owl.  We don’t fully know why it arrived.  It is hubris to think we can control what’s happening by killing it.

The barred owl is so closely related to the northern spotted owl that the two can interbreed. The barred owl may be adding strong genes that the spotted owls need to survive.  Interbreeding is anathema to species purists but it’s how nature works.  Would we cull blue-winged warblers because they interbreed with and seem to out-compete the less abundant golden-winged warbler?  Culling native birds to protect a favorite species is a dangerous precedent.

The Pacific Northwest is not an isolated island so barred owls will continue to naturally arrive in the northern spotted owl’s territory.  If the proposed experiment works the culling will have to continue as long as humans have the stomach and the money to do it.

I could go on and on…

At this point it is up to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to go forward with their plan.  I hope they drop it like a hot potato!

(stepping down from my soapbox…)

Thanks for listening.

Click here for information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website on their plan to kill 3,600 barred owls in the Pacific Northwest.

(barred owl in Florida, photo by Chuck Tague)

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Jul 24 2013

Has Used A Motorcyle

Aplomado falcon (photo from

Some raptors have special techniques for finding food.  This one has used trains and motorcycles.

Aplomado falcons (Falco femoralis) are native to grassland and marshland from Mexico to South America where they eat birds, insects and small vertebrates.  Sometimes they hunt while soaring or from a perch but when hunting birds they prefer to fly fast through thickets to flush them from cover. This technique is similar to a Coopers hawk.

Mated pairs like to hunt cooperatively.  The male makes a distinctive “chip” sound to call his mate to a hunt.  Sometimes the female will even come off the nest to participate.  The male corners the prey by hovering above the thicket.  The female flies through and flushes it.

When his mate can’t come out to hunt, what’s a guy to do?  Borrow a motorcycle.

Aplomados have figured out that our large, loud vehicles scare small birds into flight.  According to Birds of North America online, one researcher reported an aplomado following a motorcycle to pick off small birds flushed from the side of the road.  Another reported a falcon flying with a train and switching sides to check out the ditches.

These falcons were extirpated from the U.S. in the 1950′s and only recently made a comeback in New Mexico and south Texas, partly on their own and partly thanks to reintroduction programs.

When I travel southwest to find an aplomado I wonder … will it help to watch for motorcycles?


(photo from

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Jul 18 2013

Dives Vertically to Capture Prey

Shikra, adult male (photo from Wikipedia)

What does this bird …

… have in common with this roller coaster?

SheiKra roller coaster, Tampa Bay, FL (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The roller coaster was named for him.

The SheiKra roller coaster in Busch Gardens Tampa amusement park dives 200 feet at 70 miles an hour.  In the photo above, the sloped run takes the cars up.  The dive section is so vertical you could mistake it for a support strut.  Yow!

The coaster was named for the shikra (Accipiter badius), a hawk of Asia and Africa, because the hawk will dive vertically to capture prey.

He looks a lot like a Coopers hawk because both are accipters.  In fact he’s very similar in lifestyle and size to our sharp-shinned hawk.  When they’re upset they nearly sound the same.  Here’s the voice of a shikra, and here’s the voice of a sharpie.

I would not know of the shikra’s existence except for a Wikipedia article that featured the roller coaster.  When it mentioned a bird I had to look.

I love these connections.

(both photos from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on an image to see its original)

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Jul 10 2013

Falcon From Down Under

Brown Falcon, Australia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Browsing through photos on Wikimedia Commons, this portrait of a falcon caught my eye.  He’s one of six species of falcons found in Australia, new to me because he doesn’t occur in North America.  The only falcon we all have in common is the peregrine.

The brown falcon (Falco berigora) is slightly smaller than a peregrine and has a different lifestyle.  Rather than capture prey in the air he uses a perch-and-pounce method to capture small mammals, lizards and snakes, small birds, and insects.  This is similar to the red-tailed hawk’s hunting technique.

Brown falcons don’t need to fly fast.  Their wing beats are slow and they glide in a shallow V the way northern harriers do.

Though they share characteristics with hawks, Perth Raptor Care says they have a lot of personality.  Click here for a video at that gives you a window on the lives of brown falcons: contending with crows, sharing with a mate, feeding the “kids.”

I love their brown pantaloons.

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

One response so far

Jul 05 2013

Large Broods Wear Us Out

Common kestrel nest in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Any parent can tell you that raising kids is hard work and even harder if there are multiple infants the same age. (Think triplets!)

Most birds experience this multiple effect every time they nest.  In fact, the work is so exhausting that having “extra” kids beyond their normal clutch size decreases the parents’ life expectancy in some species.

This was shown in studies of common kestrels in Europe in the 1980s.

A team led by Cor Dijkstra artificially lowered and raised brood sizes of common kestrels by removing eggs from some nests and adding them to others.  Kestrel parents whose brood size of five remained normal or was reduced to three experienced the typical winter mortality of 29%.  On the flip side, adults whose broods were augmented were much more likely to die the next winter.  60% of the kestrels who raised two extra chicks were dead by the following March.

For thousands and thousands of years the clutch size of the common kestrel has been honed by the deaths of those who raised too many.  The birds settled on the number five.  More than that can kill them!


(photo of common kestrel nest in Germany from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.
Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 521 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.

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Jul 02 2013

Our Bald Eagle Fledged on June 29

Published by under Birds of Prey

Bald eagle juvenile takes off  at Hays (photo by Tom Moeller)

So many of us have been watching the bald eagles’ nest in Pittsburgh’s Hays neighborhood that we’ve  begun to think of them as “our” eagles.

Last Saturday, June 29, was a big day for the young eaglet.  After weeks of flapping she lifted off.  Tom Moeller photographed her flying for the very first time.

Above she takes off from the area of the nest.  Below she crosses over to fly toward her father’s perch.  She is huge!

Bald eagle juvenile at Hays, City of Pittsburgh (photo by Tom Moeller)


The entire photo series of her first flight is here on Tom Moeller’s Picasa site.

Do you want to watch Pittsburgh’s eagles on the Fourth of July?  Join the Audubon Society of Western PA at the observation area on the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail on July 4 from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm. They’ll have binoculars and spotting scopes on hand for you to see the eagles.  Check their Facebook page for more information.

Click here for a map showing how to get there.  –> Park near the Glenwood Bridge at Sandcastle’s back lot and walk less than half a mile on the bike trail.


(photos by Tom Moeller)

One response so far

Jun 04 2013

An Afternoon With Pittsburgh’s Eagles

It was hot and breezy last Saturday when Glenn Przyborski went down to the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail to see the bald eagles’ nest at Hays.

Glenn is a cinematographer so of course he took his camera and a really good scope.  His resulting video is a gorgeous, intimate look at the bald eagle family and their nestling who’s due to fledge near the end of this month.

Watch it on YouTube above, or see it in HD on Glenn’s Vimeo site.

(video by Glenn Przyborski, Przyborski Productions)


p.s.  You can tell it was hot on Saturday because the eagles are panting.

p.p.s  Glenn used a 2000mm Celestron C8 telescope to get these great close-ups!

6 responses so far

May 27 2013

The Family Of The Pizza Hawk

Red-tailed hawk family, Schenley Park, 2013 (photo by Gregg Diskin)

Just because the red-tailed hawks didn’t nest this year on the Panther Hollow Bridge doesn’t mean they didn’t nest at all.  This year they’re over by the golf course, a short flight from the bridge but conceptually far for us land mammals who must walk or drive around the Phipps Run valley.

Gregg Diskin photographed the family at their nest this weekend.  One of the two babies is already stretching his wings.  Click on the image above to see more baby pictures.

A few weeks ago Gregg also photographed one of the adults gathering food … really weird food … pizza.

I remember seeing that pizza at the Westinghouse picnic shelter as I walked to work one morning.  The picnickers had carefully put the pizza in the garbage but the raccoons had pulled it out and scattered it.  Lots of it!  I put it in the garbage again.

The hawk found the pizza long before I did.  I’m amazed he picked up a slice and carried it to a light pole.

Red-tailed hawk with pizza in Schenley Park (photo by Gregg Diskin)

Gregg has more photos of the pizza episode here.

I wonder if the hawk offered pizza to his family…?

(photos by Gregory Diskin)

2 responses so far

May 23 2013

Red Wing Versus Red Tail

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s wetland restoration at Schenley pond has gone so well that a red-winged blackbird has decided to nest there.

Though I haven’t seen his mate there must be a nest because he defends the area from all potential threats.  Yesterday morning I was pleased to see a second vote for the wetland when he had to chase off the competition — another male red-winged blackbird.

Shortly thereafter one of the resident red-tailed hawks flew in to perch on a dead snag.  Mr. Red-wing was on him right away!

Though I didn’t record this video, it shows exactly what happened.  The blackbird perched above the hawk, shouting and flashing his red epaulettes.  He repeatedly dive-bombed the hawk and pecked its back.

At first I thought the red-tail would ignore the red-wing but he could not be ignored.   The hawk whined and flew to shelter under the roadbed of the Panther Hollow Bridge.

Persistence pays off.  In the match-up between Red Wing and Red Tail the blackbird wins.


(video on YouTube from Illinois’ Lake County Forest Preserve District)

p.s. The red-tailed hawk in this video is a juvenile so he whines a lot more than the adult at Schenley Park yesterday.

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