Archive for the 'Birds of Prey' Category

Feb 15 2014

Owl In Full Sun

Northern hawk owl (photo by Jessica Botzan)

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.

(photo by Jessica Botzan)

2 responses so far

Feb 14 2014

Call Me Crazy

Great gray owl at Sax Zim Bog (photo by Jessica Botzan).

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?

Well, I have a list of northern birds I’ve never seen and my best chance to find them is at the Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival this weekend in Meadowlands, Minnesota.

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.

Call me crazy.  ;)

 

(photo by Jessica Botzan)

p.s. Thanks to Jess Botzan who’s providing photos from her trip to illustrate my expedition.

7 responses so far

Feb 07 2014

Under Construction

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.

Bald eagles also nest earlier than peregrines so watch the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam for live updates.  If you miss the action, browse the archives here.

 

(bald eaglecam video by PixController, streaming provided by WildEarth)

One response so far

Feb 02 2014

Bald Eagles at Safe Harbor Dam

Published by under Birds of Prey

Link to video of bald eagles at Safe Harbor Dam by Meredith Lombard

In the winter bald eagles move to sites of abundant food along North America’s rivers.  One such location is Safe Harbor Dam on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

In mid-January Meredith Lombard found this crowd of immature birds jostling for a good position on the rocks.  They’ve been chumming for dam-stunned fish.

(video by Meredith Lombard)

3 responses so far

Jan 21 2014

Falcon Identification Challenge

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.

Is this a tundra peregrine?  (Compare to this tundra peregrine in Pittsburgh in 2008.)   Is it a peregrine hybrid, perhaps a falconer’s escaped bird?  Or have I just been fooled by a bird with unusual head feathers?

What do you think?

 

(video by Ginataras Baltusis)

 

4 responses so far

Jan 18 2014

Looking For Lunch

Published by under Birds of Prey

Coopers Hawk at Marcy Cunkelman's, Jan 2013 (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Yesterday the weather was cold and sunny but the birds could tell snow was coming.

Seed and fruit-eating birds were busy chowing down at the feeders and fruit trees.  Birds of prey patrolled those areas looking for lunch.

When all the little birds flush at once, look for a hawk.

Perhaps it will be an immature Cooper’s hawk like this one.

Click here for tips on the difference between look-alike Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks.  Start practicing now for the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 14-17.

 

(photo of “Mr. Cooper” by Cris Hamilton)

6 responses so far

Jan 06 2014

Help Study Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl in flight (photo by Kim Steininger)

Are you curious about the snowy owls visiting us this winter?  Would you like to know who the owls are and where they’re going?  So would a team of scientists.  They’re going to find out and you can help.

This winter’s snowy owl irruption is so huge that by December ornithologists and wildlife managers realized they had a golden opportunity to find the answers to many questions:  How old are the owls? What sex are they? Have they been exposed to toxins?  Where are they going?

Thus was born Project SNOWstorm, a collaboration of 18 scientists and 13 organizations.  The project tags snowy owls, collects data on their age, sex, and blood toxins (if any), and maps their movements via satellite.  The project also collects location-specific photos of snowy owls from anyone who wants to help.

So far Project SNOWstorm has tagged two owls, one at Buena Vista, Wisconsin, the other at Assateague, Maryland.  As soon as each owl was released his tag began transmitting at regular intervals.  Their location data is continuously collected, then mapped to make a picture of the owls’ movements.

With only two tagged owls we can already see two different approaches.  “Buena Vista” never moves far from his favorite winter territory (click here for his late December  map).  “Assateague,” on the other hand, loves to wander and has visited three states in only two weeks!  (Click here for Assateague’s map).

You can help Project SNOWstorm in two ways.  If you take pictures of snowy owls this winter, you can submit them to the project to add to their database.

Better yet, help buy more transmitters and tag more owls by making a tax deductible contribution to Project SNOWstorm via the Indiegogo website.

Click here to see a video about Project SNOWstorm and contribute via Indiegogo.

 

(photo by Kim Steininger)

5 responses so far

Dec 29 2013

Take Me To The River

Peregrine bathing in the Monongahela River (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

Yesterday, while the Christmas Bird Counters were absent from Duck Hollow, Michelle Kienholz stopped by to take a run on the Duck Hollow Trail.  Surprise!  From the parking lot she saw a peregrine falcon taking a bath in the Monongahela River.  Very cool!

A long time passed — at least 10 minutes — and the peregrine continued to stand in the water.  Michelle noticed a fisherman in waders standing further out than the peregrine but the falcon didn’t leave.  Why was it staying there so long?  Was something wrong?  She emailed me with a snapshot.

Peregrine bathing in the Mon River, 28 Dec 2013 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

Peregrine bathing in the Mon River, 28 Dec 2013 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

I was at home logging the 6,000 crows I counted over my house at dawn when I received her message so I drove down to Duck Hollow to take a look.  No peregrine in sight but there was a merlin in the river near the fisherman!

The fisherman left the water, the merlin flew to a dead snag overlooking the river, and my phone beeped with another message from Michelle saying the peregrine had flown upriver after 20 minutes in the water.

I looked at the snag again.  The merlin was gone, a kestrel was standing in its place, and the merlin was in the river taking a bath.  Michelle came back from the trail and I showed her the other two birds.

Here’s the merlin bathing. Quite a different bird!

Merlin bathing in the Mon River, 28 Dec 2013 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

And then the merlin left…

Wet merlin leaving the river, 28 Dec 2013 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

 

I wish I’d been there earlier.  In Pittsburgh there are only three possible falcons — American kestrel, merlin and peregrine falcon — and Michelle saw all three within half an hour.  A Falcon Sweep!   Her sightings were added to the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count.

 

p.s. One of Michelle’s photos showed the peregrines’ bands. The USFW band is pinkish and shows ‘160’ or ‘760’ (right leg, left side of photo). The color band (left leg, right side of photo) is black/green and the black seems to end in ‘5’. Who might this be?

Peregrine bathing in the Mon River at Duck Hollow (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

Dorothy, the matriarch at the University of Pittsburgh nest, has a pinkish USFW band with the number 1807-77607. Her black/green band is 5/*A.   Hmmmmm!

(photos by Michelle Kienholz)

11 responses so far

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.

3 responses so far

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