Archive for the 'Nesting & Courtship' Category

Jul 14 2015

Find The Whimbrel

Whimbrel with eggs (photo by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS)

Whimbrel with eggs at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada (photo by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS)

Can you see the whimbrel and four eggs?

These ground-nesting shorebirds have natural camouflage but I’ll bet you can see the one above because the eggs have shadows and the bird’s mouth is open.  If you were holding the camera you’d hear the whimbrel shouting like this.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) nest in the northern tundra around the world.  In North America they lay eggs in the first week of June that hatch in the first week of July.  Mom stays with the family 3-14 days after the chicks hatch.  Then she leaves on migration while dad stays with the kids until they fledge in August.  The kids don’t leave until September.  This means that some sort of whimbrel is on the move in North America from July through September.

Successful mothers and birds whose nests have failed arrive on northern coasts in July on the first stage of their long migration.  Mary Birdsong saw this one yesterday at Presque Isle on Lake Erie’s shore (video below).

Their early stops are only way stations where the whimbrels fatten up for their transoceanic trips.  Some North American whimbrels fly non-stop 2,500 miles to South America.  (Others save time by wintering on the southern U.S. coast.)

Asian whimbrels spend the winter as far south as Australia. Here’s a group in Singapore.

Whimbrels wintering in Singapore (photo by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons)

Whimbrels wintering in Singapore (photo by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons)

But on migration they travel alone.

This month, if you’re lucky, you might see a whimbrel on the shore.  You’ll see it when its long down-curved bill stands out. Woo hoo!

 

(photo of whimbrel at nest by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS. Video of whimbrel at Presque Isle State Park 13 July 2015 by Mary Birdsong. Photo of whimbrels in Singapore by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons.)

 

p.s. I often go to Conneaut Harbor, Ohio to find shorebirds but the sandspit is inundated right now because the harbor water level is 20 inches higher than normal.  See this message at OhioBirds.

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Jul 13 2015

Father-Daughter Pair in Norfolk

'Dad' and 'tHE Missus', Norfolk, Virginia (photos by Mike Inman, used by permission)

‘Dad’ and his mate ‘HE’ in Norfolk, Virginia, 2015 (photos by Mike Inman used by permission)

In a recent Peregrine FAQ I described how peregrine falcons are not social creatures like we are.  In fact most raptors don’t hang out with their relatives, so that siblings from different years and birds separated by more than one generation can’t know that they’re related.

Since they don’t know their relatives, how do raptors avoid interbreeding?  By traveling.

Young raptors naturally disperse far from home and females typically travel twice as far as males, thereby mixing the gene pool.  Here’s how far some of Pittsburgh’s peregrines traveled from where they were born:

  • Downtown Pittsburgh: Louie dispersed 2.3 miles, Dori traveled 93 miles from Akron, Ohio
  • Cathedral of Learning: E2 dispersed 2.3 miles, Dorothy traveled 450 miles from Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Neville Island I-79: Beau dispersed 10.7 miles, Magnum traveled 79 miles from Canton, Ohio

Bald eagles are much more social than peregrines. They fish and roost together in early winter but when it comes time to breed they disperse far and wide.  Close interbreeding among bald eagles is rare.

That’s why it was such a surprise to discover that this year’s pair nesting near Norfolk Botanical Garden is father and daughter.

The male is not banded but he has a unique tiny black dot in his left iris, called an inclusion, that’s visible in good photographs. This identified him as the 25-year-old male that used to nest in the Garden.

His mate is banded with the code “HE,” a band she received six years ago when she was a nestling at Norfolk Botanical Garden.  Yes, she’s his daughter.

Their close relationship was reported this spring by the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) that monitors bald eagles in Virginia and banded “HE” in 2009.   CCB’s blog article provides details and photos.

It’s unusual for a female to settle so close to her birthplace but this location has had many challenges.  After the old female was killed by an airplane at nearby Norfolk International Airport in 2011, eagles were no longer allowed to nest at the Garden.  The male and all his potential mates were harassed away.  Nine nests were destroyed.  All the females left. The male didn’t nest for three years.  (Click here for the story.)

Unusual as this pairing is, the good news is that he finally found a mate, they found a safe place to nest, and together they fledged one eaglet on May 29.

It all worked out in the end.

 

(photos of the NBG pair courtesy of Mike Inman, inmansimages.com)

p.s. As part of their monitoring efforts CCB recently identified a female bald eagle with an unusual story. Click here to read about ‘Dolly’, born at the Birmingham (Alabama) Zoo to injured, unreleasable parents, she now nests along the James River in Virginia.

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Jul 04 2015

277 and Counting

Hays bald eagle carrying nesting material, March 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Hays bald eagle carrying nesting material, March 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

277.  That’s how many bald eagle nests there are in Pennsylvania this year. What an improvement since the time when there were only 3 nests back in 1983!

As the PA Game Commission explains:

“So far this year, 277 bald-eagle nests have been documented in Pennsylvania, with nesting eagles present in at least 58 of the state’s 67 counties.  That shatters the 2014 preliminary number of 254 nests, which also was an all-time high. And more nests remain to be counted as the year goes on.”

The count will go up, not because bald eagles are building new nests in July, but because observers will report additional nests in the days ahead.

Many people don’t realize that the nest count starts over every year. Nests that are used year after year must be reported again to be included in the count.

Patti Barber, a biologist with the Game Commission’s Endangered and Nongame Birds section, says, “Even if nests are well known locally, please don’t hesitate to report them. You might be adding a new nest to the list, or making certain that one reported in a previous year is accurately counted this year.”

It’s easy to report a nest. Just email the Game Commission at pgccomments@pa.gov with “Eagle Nest Information” in the subject line, or phone it in to your Game Commission Region Office or the Harrisburg headquarters.

Perhaps your report will help bald eagles break the 300 mark.

 

(photo of a bald eagle at Hays by Dana Nesiti)

p.s. Peregrine falcons are rare compared to bald eagles. There are only 45 peregrine nests statewide this year.

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Jun 16 2015

Nest Watching In The Sagebrush Sea

Watching raptor nests on the Internet may give you the impression that any nest can be monitored this way, but many species are too skittish or too remote for a webcam.

When Cornell Lab of Ornithology filmed The Sagebrush Sea they included footage of ferruginous hawks nesting in a remote sagebrush prairie.  No electricity.  No Internet.  No road.  How did they get that footage?

The video above shows Gerrit Vyn’s long hours of hiding alone in a very small space.  Thanks to his efforts we get a special view of ferruginous hawk family life that’s rarely seen on camera.

If you missed last month’s broadcast of The Sagebrush Sea, watch the complete program online here at PBS.

Nest watching can be a lot harder than sitting at a desk!

 

p.s.  The activity at this nest has a lot in common with other raptor nests.  I love the interactions among the chicks!

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

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Jun 10 2015

Below The Nest

The chick almost matches the nest, 8 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine chick gazes toward the sky, 8 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Some of you watching the Cathedral of Learning falconcam have worried that the chick is missing (sometimes) or that he will fall off the nest.  Here’s why neither of those things have happened and what you can expect in the future.

Peregrine falcon nestlings will not step off the edge until they are fully feathered and ready to learn to fly.  This inherited safeguard is hard-wired because all of today’s peregrines are descended from birds who would not step off the edge.

At 28 days peregrine nestlings move around the nest area but they’re speckled and hard to find.  If you don’t see them, they didn’t fall.  They’re hidden in plain sight.

At 35+ days they’re fully feathered and ready for wing practice.   At this point they have to move to nearby ledges (off camera) or they’ll never learn to fly.

Stepping out can be dangerous at bridge sites.  Bridges have water below, no lower ledges, the wind blows hard, and if a fledgling lands on the ground it may be killed by predators or vehicles.  Bridges have higher fledgling mortality rates than good cliffs.

None of these hazards apply to the Cathedral of Learning.  There is no water, there are many ledges for landing below the nest, and it’s impossible for a young bird to fall directly from the nest to the street.

The nest box stands on a floor surrounded by walls. A chick that jumps or bumps to the floor cannot get to the street. The front wall is so tall that Dorothy and E2 use it to perch above the nest (above the camera).  You see them arrive and depart from that direction.  Here’s an overhead diagram of the site.

The Cathedral of Learning nest is surrounded by high and low walls (diagram by Kate St. John)

The Cathedral of Learning nest is surrounded by high and low walls (diagram by Kate St. John)

The box itself is elevated with room to explore underneath it.  If a chick reaches the floor, Dorothy teaches him to come back to the surface by waiting for him to climb up on his own.  This is an important learning experience for the chick.  The explorer always resurfaces.

Nestbox looks like this if it stood alone (diagram by Kate St. John)

Nest box is elevated (diagram by Kate St. John)

Our most famous under-nest explorer was Green Boy in 2010.  One of five in an active crowded nest, his brother bumped him off the front perch.  Green Boy spent many hours exploring the gully and then came topside in this hotspot video footage.  (Read all about his adventure and see additional footage here.)

So, no worries about the gully.

The only First Flight hazard for a young peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning is this:  Curious People.

Curious people think “It won’t hurt if I sneak up close to take a look/picture.”  But it will.

Before a peregrine learns to fly it walks off the nest to nearby ledges and practices flapping its wings (off camera).  Adult peregrines teach their kids that humans are dangerous.  If a youngster sees a human near him while he’s ledge walking, he may try to fly away before he is able and crash below.

So, curb your curiosity.  Stay away from peregrine nests while youngsters are learning.

You don’t want to be the one who scared the chick and ended his life in a crash!

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh. Diagrams by Kate St. John)

p.s.  You cannot see the nest from inside the building nor can you see it from the street. To see the Pitt peregrines, come down to Schenley Plaza.

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Jun 02 2015

Pitt Peregrine Discovered at Neville Island

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Peter Bell)

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge was born at Pitt (photo by Peter Bell)

Though all eyes were on the peregrine chick at the Cathedral of Learning last Friday, it was also Banding Day at a second Pittsburgh area nest.

After wrapping up in Oakland, I went with PGC’s Art McMorris and Dan Puhala to the Neville Island I-79 Bridge.

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

While Art and Dan climbed in the bridge structure with their PennDOT guide, I kept my feet firmly on the ground with nest monitors Anne Marie Bosnyak and Laura Marshall, and with three peregrine enthusiasts: Pitt follower Peter Bell, and Canton, Ohio peregrine monitors Chad Steele and Ray Glover.  Chad and Ray drove two hours to see this banding because the mother bird, Magnum, hatched in downtown Canton in 2010.

Magnum kaks a warning, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

Magnum defends her nest, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

Magnum kicked up a fuss(!) kakking, swooping, even running, always shouting at the top of her lungs.

Her nest is hidden in a box-like recess so the only way Art could retrieve the chicks was to perch over open water and reach in barehanded to feel for them one at a time.  Magnum positioned herself inside the nest between Art’s hand and the chicks and slashed at him with her talons every time he reached.  Ow!

Art McMorris of the PA Game Commission hands off a peregrine chick at the Neville Island I-79 bridge, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

Art McMorris of the PA Game Commission hands off a peregrine chick at the Neville Island I-79 bridge, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

While this was going on Magnum’s unidentified mate gave vocal support from a distance.  For years we’ve known he’s banded but couldn’t read his bands. In the excitement he perched above us and Peter got a clear photograph: Black/Green 05/S.

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Peter Bell)

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Peter Bell)

I whipped out my Pittsburgh peregrine genealogy (who else would carry this!) and scanned the band numbers.  Surprised to find a match, I learned this bird hadn’t traveled far.  He hatched at the Cathedral of Learning in 2010, son of Dorothy and E2 and the older brother of this year’s chick.  Unnamed at banding, (temporary name was White) Anne Marie and Laura can now give him a permanent name.

His four nestlings at Neville Island I-79 Bridge — three male, one female — are E2’s grandkids.  They’re due to fledge around June 11.

The Pitt Peregrine dynasty continues!

 

(bridge photo by Kate St. John.  All other photos by Peter Bell)

PGC = Pennsylvania Game Commission

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May 30 2015

Nestling News From Pitt

First indoor look at Dorothy and E2's 2015 chick (photo by Kate St. John)

First in-hand look at Dorothy and E2’s 2015 chick (photo by Kate St. John)

I filed a brief report yesterday on the peregrine chick banding at the Cathedral of Learning. Here’s news to fill in the gaps with a note about pronouns.  I’m using the pronouns “he” and “him” though we really don’t know his sex.

Yesterday the chick’s in-hand exam showed he has no deformities but has experienced delayed development.  Peregrine chicks develop so fast that biologists can age them by examining their behavior and measuring their legs and emerging feathers.  Because we have a webcam we know the chick hatched on May 10 making him 19 days old on Banding Day.  If we didn’t know when he hatched, his behavior and measurements say he’s 14 days old.

Here he waited and watched while the vet observed him quietly.

Pitt Peregrine chick (photo by Kate St. John)

Pitt Peregrine chick waits quietly (photo by Kate St. John)

The vet examined his skin and feathers and found parasites (insects) under his wings and in his feathers. Insects arrive at the nest on the bodies of newly killed bird(s) that parents feed to the chicks.  This transfer of insect pests happens so often to young peregrines that the banders always carry medicated powder to dust and debug the nestlings.  This chick was powdered yesterday and soon, or now, is bug-free.  The powder is long-lasting.  He will stay bug-free even if more bugs arrive at the nest.

The chick’s mouth was examined for trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection of the mouth, throat and jaw.  Fortunately he showed no sign of “trich.”

Disease and parasites consume a nestling’s energy and can delay development.  Delay can also result from a less nutritious yolk, a common occurrence in the eggs of older birds (Dorothy is 16).  If the yolk (food) is not nutritious, the embryo is malnourished.  We don’t know if that happened here.

Delayed development made it challenging to determine his sex.  At banding age, male peregrines weigh considerably less than females (2/3) so weight plus days-since-hatch indicate the sex.  How old is this nestling?  19 days on camera but 14 days in-hand.  Since his sex could not be determined he was given the larger size female band in case he/she grows into it.

The vet drew blood for a blood test that will take 10-14 days to complete.  (I’m not a vet and have no idea what they are testing.)  The preliminary result shows the chick is anemic — no surprise since parasites were sucking his blood.  Now that he’s bug-free he can absorb nutrition at a much higher rate.

By the end of the exam he was sitting up and squawking — a really good sign!

Sitting up (photo by Kate St. John)

Sitting up like a Buddha. Peregrines have very large feet (photo by Kate St. John)

With new “bling” on his legs he went back to his parents and spent lots of time sleeping off the excitement.

He’s had some challenges but he’s got great parents and stands a good chance of catching up.

Coming soon:

  • Peregrine nest area diagrams to show that this bird cannot jump/fall off the Cathedral of Learning — even if he wanted to.
  • News of other peregrine nests in Pittsburgh — Neville, Downtown, Westinghouse.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Someone asked if the fluffy leg feathers (“pants”) on Dorothy are a sign of parasites.  No, it’s just one of the many expressive ways birds hold their feathers.  In ravens it’s a way of showing power and superiority.  I don’t know what it means among peregrines.

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May 29 2015

Stay Tuned

Pitt peregrine chick at Cathedral of Learning banding (photo by Kate St. John)

May 2010 Peregrine chick at Banding Day event

Please excuse this blue-tinted old photo from May 2010 but I’m using it as a reminder that today is Banding Day(*) in Pittsburgh.

Peregrine falcon chicks will be banded at two locations:

  • At the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning where there’s one famous nestling, and
  • At the Neville Island I-79 Bridge where there are two chicks.

Stay tuned here at Outside My Window for news.

NOTE! I will be at peregrine banding & research events all day. I will post news today but may not have time to answer your questions until tomorrow.

 

(photo from May 2010 by Kate St. John)

(*)  For my British readers (Hello, Derby watchers!), banding is the same as ringing … but you know that.  :)

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May 28 2015

Props And Tarsi

Yesterday Dorothy and E2’s chick stayed upright all day long and began to walk around.

In the video above he tips backward but does not fall, perhaps because his tail feathers (called rectrices) grew long enough to act as a prop. One day earlier he used the wall as a prop and was mostly successful. During his week of toppling over (5/19 to 5/26/2015) he needed a prop but hadn’t found one.  Toppling is not normal.

Yesterday he walked and explored a bit.  In the short video below he walks on his tarsi (plural of tarsus, the leg section from toes to heel).  Peregrine chicks normally walk on their tarsi at first, then stand up on their toes.

Adult birds walk on their toes with their heels in the air.  Their legs look to us as if their knees are bent backward but the “knees” are actually their heels and the tarsi are the lower section of their legs.  We humans have tarsi, too — the many bones in our feet.  We walk on our tarsi all our lives.

It is very hard to tell whether the chick’s improvement is a leap forward or merely a compensation that masks his underlying weakness.

Meanwhile, he made KDKA news last night.  Click here to watch.

The chick will be examined thoroughly tomorrow, Banding Day.  Watch this blog for updates.

 

(videos captured from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh, streamed from Wildearth.tv)

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May 27 2015

Up And Down And Up Again

Dorothy presents food to the upright chick as E2 exits the nest area (photo from the National Avairy snapshot camera)

Dorothy presents food as E2 exits the nest area (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

News of peregrine falcon activity at the Cathedral of Learning, 26 May 2015:

The chick was up, the chick was down, the chick came up again.  He is an active “Special Needs” nestling.

Don’t worry if you hear him ‘crying.’  All peregrine chicks cry or whine when they are hungry.  This is not a sign of distress, it’s a call of hunger.  Watch what Dorothy and E2 do when the chick cries.  They bring him food.  After he eats he stops crying and falls asleep with a full crop as shown below.

He's not dead, he's resting.  He just ate & is sleeping as he digests the lump of food in his crop (neck).  (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

He’s not dead, he’s resting. The chick just ate & is sleeping as he digests the lump of food in his crop (neck). (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine parents use food as a teaching tool.  For instance, they teach their youngsters to hunt by holding food just out of reach in the air so the youngsters will fly up to grab it.  You might see Dorothy or E2 holding food just out of reach when the chick is on his back.  They are working with him.

We can see on camera that the chick’s legs are wobbly (see end of video).  Yesterday he compensated by using the wall for support.  Grown up peregrine falcons roost standing up with their faces to the cliff wall. The chick showed good progress by roosting in the position shown below.

Chick is in the normal roosting position for young birds his age (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Chick is in the normal roosting position (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

Dorothy and E2 conferred on the chick’s condition.  They’re adapting to the situation and giving him extra special care, feeding him on his back and even helping him get up. I have never seen peregrines do that! I’m learning something new and gaining even more respect for Dorothy and E2 because we can see them on camera.

E2 examines the chick. He and Dorothy confer (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy and E2 examine the chick, 26 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Some aspects of the chick’s condition are visible on camera but we cannot diagnose from a distance.  The chick will be given a thorough health check on Banding Day this Friday.

NOTE! that the banding event is not open to the public.  I will be there and post an update as soon as possible afterward.  Stay tuned at this link — Outside My Window — for the latest updates.

 

(photos from the National Aviary camera at University of Pittsburgh)

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