Archive for the 'Nesting & Courtship' Category

Feb 28 2015

New Nest Box at Tarentum

Tarentum Bridge nestbox project, The Bucket Truck, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

The PennDOT Bucket dips down to the middle pier at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

If you saw the peregrine banding at the Tarentum Bridge last May, you’ll remember the nest was in a dangerous place.  The entrance hole pointed down over open water and there were no perches nearby.  After banding the chicks the PA Game Commission placed them on the mid-river pier where they learned to fly in safety.  (Click here to see last year’s site.)

Thinking ahead to this year, it’s no wonder the Game Commission decided to place a nestbox on the bridge. Rob Protz, Marge Van Tassel and I braved 9oF to watch the installation yesterday morning.

Brrr!   Marge took our picture with one of the PennDOT crew.

PennDOT bridge worker + Rob Protz + Kate St. John (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

PennDOT bridge worker, Rob Protz and Kate St. John at Tarentum Boat Ramp, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

Before the installation began we saw two peregrines!

Around 9:00am the female 69/Z, nicknamed Hope, flew from the bridge.  Rob Protz saw her land in a tree so we went over and Marge took her picture.  (This was one of the few times I’ve ever seen a peregrine perched in a tree.)  Within a half hour, Hope’s mate came by for a courtship flight and the pair disappeared upriver.

Female peregrine, Hope, perched in a tree in Tarentum, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

Female peregrine, Hope, perched in a tree in Tarentum, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

Meanwhile PennDOT District 11 blocked a lane of traffic on the bridge, set up the Bucket Truck, and delivered PA Game Commission biologist Tom Keller to the catwalk.  While he climbed down the ladder to the mid-river pier, Hope returned and noticed something was up. She watched the project from the upriver navigation light.

Female peregrine, Hope, watches the nestbox project from the upriver navigation light (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

Female peregrine, Hope, watches the nestbox project from the upriver navigation light (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

The Bucket delivered tools, gravel and the new nestbox to Tom.

Tom Keller guides the nestbox as it drops from The Bucket Truck (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

Tom Keller guides the nestbox as it drops from The Bucket Truck (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

While he cleared ice from the pier he was joined by another member of the PennDOT crew.

PGC's Tom Keller and PennDOTworker installing nestbox on Tarentum Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

PGC’s Tom Keller and PennDOT worker install nestbox at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

They positioned the box with its back to the prevailing wind, drilled holes to anchor it, added a perch pole, and filled it with gravel.

Tarentum Bridge nestbox (photo by Tom Keller)

Tarentum Bridge nestbox (photo by Tom Keller, PA Game Commission)

Ta dah!

Tom Keller, PGC, and PennDOT worker District 11 next to new peregrine nestbox on the Tarentum Bridge (photo from Tom Keller)

Tom Keller and PennDOT worker with new peregrine nestbox at Tarentum Bridge (photo from Tom Keller)

Now we wait and see, and hope that “Hope” will use it this year.

 

(photos by Marge Van Tassel, Kate St. John and Tom Keller.  See captions for photo credits)

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Feb 25 2015

Peregrine Nesting Season is Almost Here!

Peregrine nestlings, two weeks old at the Gulf Tower, 7 May 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Though the Hays bald eagles are incubating eggs in their icy nest, Pittsburgh’s peregrines are hanging back — but that’s about to change.

Peregrines in western Pennsylvania lay eggs from mid-March to early April.  In late February they make courtship flights together when the weather is good (when has it been good?!).  Then in early March they bow at the nest.

You can watch this up close on the National Aviary falconcams:

Drama is possible at any site in March. Younger peregrines arrive to challenge the older ones.  (Not only is Dorothy 16, but Louie at the Gulf Tower is 13 this year.)  Nevertheless by mid-May there will be bright-eyed nestlings on camera.

To get you in the mood for nesting season, click here or on the photo above for nesting highlights from last spring at the Gulf Tower.

Peregrine nesting season is almost here!

 

p.s.  Pittsburgh’s six other peregrine sites can be monitored from the ground:

  • Tarentum Bridge: PGC and PennDOT will install a nest box this Friday 2/27 at 9:00am.  Come watch from the boat ramp under the bridge.  There were 2 chicks here last year.
  • Monaca-East Rochester Bridge: 4 chicks in 2014
  • Westinghouse Bridge: 2 chicks in 2014
  • Neville Island I-79 Bridge: 1 chick in 2014
  • McKees Rocks Bridge: Nest could not be found
  • Green Tree water tower:  No nest in 2014

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower)

p.p.s.  Right on schedule, guess who came to visit at the Cathedral of Learning nest this afternoon … E2 calls, “Hey, Dorothy!”

E2 calls for Dorothy to come bow at the nest (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Pitt)

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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 17 2015

Who Made This Hole?

Pileated woodpecker hole in dead white ash tree, Pennsylvania (photo by Kate St. John)

Sometimes you can tell who drilled a hole just by looking at it.

This one caught my eye at Raccoon Creek State Park.  I can tell by its big, rectangular shape that it was made by a pileated woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) are the size of crows, mostly black with white on their necks and faces, white on their wings (seen in flight) and a red crest. Males, like the one below, have red foreheads and mustaches where the females are black.

Male Pileated Woodpecker (photo by Dick Martin)

Male pileated woodpecker (photo by Dick Martin, 2009)

These are huge woodpeckers! And so are their holes.  Here’s a closer look.

Pileated woodpecker hole in deah ash tree (photo by Kate St. John)

As you can see, the hole is oblong — about 9″ tall by 3.5″ wide — and hollow inside.  The male chooses the site and excavates the interior, gathering wood chips in his beak and throwing them out the “door.”  Eventually his mate helps, too.  It takes them 3-6 weeks to finish a new nest hole each spring.

They only use the nest for one season, but nothing goes to waste.  Pileated woodpeckers stay on territory all year long and use their old holes for roosting at night.  They usually roost alone but on cold winter nights like these “Ma” and “Pa” may roost together to stay warm.

Maybe even in this hole.

 

(photos of woodpecker hole by Kate St. John. photo of pileated woodpecker in Cumberland County, PA by Dick Martin, 2009.)

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Dec 29 2014

Watch Baby Penguins In Pittsburgh

Published by under Nesting & Courtship

African penquins, Sidney and Bette, at their nest (snapshot from Penguincam at the National Aviary)

In case you missed it … there are two baby African penguins at the National Aviary!

African penguins nest in burrows or caves on the southwestern coast of Africa where they’re endangered due to overfishing, habitat loss and human encroachment.   The birds are monogamous so once they’ve picked a mate they’re together for life.

These penguin parents, Sidney and Bette, are members of the penguin flock at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.  They’ve been a couple for four years and have already hatched three sets of chicks.  This fall they spruced up their nest and Bette laid two eggs on November 9 and 11.  The eggs hatched right on time: December 15 and 18.

Above Sidney watches as Bette turns to rearrange the nesting material while she keeps the chicks warm.  Below, Sidney broods them too.

Sidney boords the chicks while Bette watches (screenshot for the National Aviary penguin cam)

This is a good time to watch the nest online.  After the first of the year National Aviary staff will move the babies indoors to hand-rear them.  The Aviary explains, “This special upbringing will ensure they are ready to fulfill their future roles as ambassadors for their species in the National Aviary’s educational and interactive programs.”

Click on the screenshots or here to watch them online.  After they move indoors visit the National Aviary to watch them grow up.

 

(screenshot from the National Aviary African Penguin nestcam)

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Dec 09 2014

Modern Home

Barn owl in flight near its nest box (photo by Chuck Tague)

Since Chuck Tague first posted this on Facebook, his photo of a barn owl near a white box has stuck with me.  As odd as it looks, the box is the barn owl’s home.

Barn owls nest in structures — often in barns — but they don’t need entire buildings to make them happy.  A right-sized hole and good interior space are what they look for when they’re ready to nest.  If you can satisfy their needs with a smaller structure the owls will make it home.

As barn owls declined due to habitat loss, wildlife agencies across the U.S. worked to restore their populations by installing barn owl nest boxes.  This modern-looking box, designed and sold by Pittsburgh-based Barn Owl Box Company, was installed at Lake Apopka Restoration Area in Orange County, Florida.

The boxes are also popular with farmers and vintners who’ve learned that barn owls are a great alternative to poison rodent control.  The owls are tolerant of humans, tolerant of each other (no fights), breed like crazy at successful sites, and focus their hunts on the highest density rodent locations.  Lots of rodents lose their lives to feed the baby owls.

Click on this link to watch an America’s Heartland video of owls patrolling California vineyards where they’ve installed these modern homes.  As they say on the video webpage, “The next time you raise a glass of fine wine, you might want to thank an owl .”

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Aug 26 2014

A Look Back at the Hays Eagles

 

It’s hard to believe it’s been less than two months since crowds flocked to the Three Rivers Heritage Bike Trail to see the bald eagles fledge at Hays.  A few dedicated eagle watchers still visit the site but this month they usually come up empty-handed.  The young eagles have left for parts unknown and the adults lounge out of sight.

Boring as the eagles are right now, they’ve fostered a huge fan club and several reunions including a picnic last Saturday. Love for these birds has created many lasting friendships.

WQED’s Michael Bartley captured the excitement when he visited the bike trail in May.  On site, he chatted with me about the eagles’ popularity and with the National Aviary’s Bob Mulvihill on what to expect from the eagle family in the weeks and months ahead.  Though the video was filmed on a weekday in May you can see the trail was crowded with watchers.

As Michael says, “We haven’t seen the last of bald eagles in Pittsburgh. If you can’t wait til next year, here’s a look back at the birds that flew away with the city’s heart.”

 

(webisode by WQED Pittsburgh)

 

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Aug 23 2014

Waxwing Update

Cedar waxwing nestlings (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Remember the cedar waxwing nest I wrote about this month?  Marcy Cunkelman sent me an update this morning.

The eggs hatched more than a week ago and the parents have been busy feeding the nestlings.

All those trips to the fruit bushes have paid off.  Three healthy youngsters are tall enough now to be seen in the nest.  They have yellow wrinkled “baby” beaks and crests that look like bad toupees.

It won’t be long before they fly.

Keep growing, little guys.  Your”hair” will look better soon.

Click here to see what a just-fledged cedar waxwing looks like.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Aug 13 2014

Late Nesters

Published by under Nesting & Courtship

Cedar waxwing on nest, early August (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Last week Marcy Cunkelman found a cedar waxwing nesting in her garden.  For other birds, this would be a very late nest but for cedar waxwings it’s right on time.

Waxwings build their first nests in mid June when other birds have already fledged young.  They start late because their main food source is sugary fruit and that’s not available until mid-summer.  Yes, waxwings eat insects (have you seen them fly-catching?) but they only feed insects to their young during the first 1-2 days of life.  After that they feed them mostly fruit.

This early August nest is the pair’s second brood.  In order to complete the cycle before the end of summer Mrs. Waxwing starts building her second nest before the first “kids” have flown, on approximately Day 10 of their 15.5 days in the nest.  By the time she finishes building, her first kids are fledging and she’s laying eggs.

She’s able to do this because her mate does the vast majority of the feedings.  He feeds her on the nest and he feeds the “kids” until 6-10 days after they’ve fledged.  In August he’s one busy bird!

Cedar waxwings’ dependence on fruit makes them highly nomadic with little site fidelity.  They’ll nest where there’s lots of fruit — cherries, dogwoods, raspberries, crabapples, honeysuckle and ornamentals  — and won’t come back if it’s gone.

Marcy has plenty of fruiting trees and shrubs in her garden.  The waxwings obviously love it.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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