Archive for the 'Nesting & Courtship' Category

May 22 2015

Downtown Peregrines Found!

Peregrine nest, Downtown Pittsburgh, 19 May 2015 (photo by Larry Walsh)

Peregrine with chicks in background, Downtown Pittsburgh, 19 May 2015 (photo by Larry Walsh)

Late Tuesday Art McMorris* and I got an email from Larry Walsh, Pittsburgh Principal & COO of Rugby Realty at the Gulf Tower, “Are you aware that the Peregrine (presumably the one from Gulf) has a nest with babies?”

My gosh, Larry has found them!

It turns out that he was visiting an office across town and the staff said, “We have a peregrine family near us.”  He thought they must be mistaken until he saw the birds. The peregrines and their nestlings are well known and loved by the entire office.  The nest was only a secret by accident because the staff didn’t know anyone was looking for it.

On Wednesday morning Larry introduced me to the staff and the viewing zone.  Using binoculars I read the parents’ bands and confirmed that they are indeed Dori and Louie from the Gulf Tower with three nestlings that hatched on May 6.

Dori with three chicks, 20 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dori with three chicks, 20 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

The nest site is perfect with shelter, deep gravel, and no human intrusion but it has one enormous flaw.  It is only on the 7th floor — way too low for the nestlings to fledge successfully.  They will surely land on the street and will only survive with the help of Fledge Watch volunteers.

Right now, while Art McMorris is figuring out if the nestlings can be banded, I am purposely vague about the nest location and the wonderful people I met on Wednesday.  Soon, however, I’ll tell you where it is because this peregrine family desperately needs Fledge Watch volunteers on the street, June 10 to 20!

Mark your calendar and stay tuned for more news including beautiful photos from Matt D.

 

(photos by Larry Walsh and Kate St. John)

* Art McMorris is the PA Game Commission’s Peregrine Coordinator.

39 responses so far

May 19 2015

Feathering Their Nest

Published by under Nesting & Courtship

Tree swallow nest with guineafowl feathers (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Tree swallow nest (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Whose feathers are in this nest box?

Last week when Marianne Atkinson checked on the 12 bluebird boxes she maintains near DuBois, Pennsylvania, she found this tree swallow nest in one of them.  She could tell tree swallows built it because they adorn their nests with feathers; bluebirds don’t.

The black polka-dot feathers caught her attention because they showed where the swallows had been.

A quarter of a mile away as the swallow flies, one of Marianne’s neighbors keeps helmeted guineafowl that make their presence known every day.  Marianne says, “We can hear the guineafowl shouting for many hours a day, since the wind blows from that direction and carries the sound! [Even] when the winds are calm, they are easy to hear.”

Though guineafowl have never visited Marianne’s nestbox field, her tree swallows apparently visited the guineafowl and used their distinctive black feathers with white polka dots.

They feathered their nest with style.

 

(photo by Marianne Atkinson)

2 responses so far

May 11 2015

Feather Storm

E2 and Dorothy prepare Sunday evening's meal for their nestling (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

E2, Dorothy, and nestling before the meal begins, 10 May 2015, 6:13pm

Dorothy has always been a messy housekeeper but she normally keeps the nest clean until she’s finished brooding the chicks, eight days after they hatch.  Last evening she broke with tradition.

Just after 6:00pm E2 brought a mourning dove for dinner for their half-day-old nestling.  Dorothy couldn’t wait for him to prepare it and began plucking like crazy. The feathers flew!

Dorothy makes the feathers fly (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Feeding in the feather storm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Mission accomplished, the nestling ate his fill and fell asleep among the feathers.

Messy nest so soon (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Most peregrine nests are cleaner than this but Dorothy is an exception … in many ways.

 

Watch the action here on the National Aviary falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning.

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

2 responses so far

May 10 2015

First Egg Hatched!

First nestling of 2015 (photo from National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

First nestling of 2015 (photo from National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy and E2’s first egg of 2015 hatched this morning at 4:49 am.  Teresa Buszko was quick to save this snapshot of the first nestling for Pittsburgh Falconuts.

The chick will be hidden when Dorothy broods it but you can be assured an egg has hatched because there’s an eggshell to Dorothy’s right.

First Egg Hatched at Univ of Pittsburgh, 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam)

First Egg Hatched at Univ of Pittsburgh, 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam)

But look quickly for the shells.  Dorothy eats them for their calcium.

Dorothy eats the eggshell, 10 May 2015 (photo from the Nartional Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy eats the eggshell, 10 May 2015 (photo from the Nartional Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Watch the action on the webcam here.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning)

18 responses so far

May 09 2015

Westinghouse Yes! Tarentum No

An angry Storm. The female peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Tom Keller, PA Game Commission)

An angry Storm. The female peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge, 8 May 2015 (photo by Tom Keller, PA Game Commission)

Yesterday Tom Keller of the Pennsylvania Game Commission checked several peregrine bridge sites to get an estimate for hatch and banding dates.  His visits solved two mysteries.

At the Westinghouse Bridge we’ve been debating the identity of the female peregrine ever since Dana Nesiti captured photos of her bands last month.  By mid-April we decided that they read Black/Green 66/C so I wrote “Surprise!  Canton, Ohio’s “Storm” has regained her nest site after a three year absence.”

But that seemed more surprising than was actually possible.  Storm is 10 years old and would have re-won the site from six-year-old Hecla who triumphed over her in 2012.  Where did Storm go for three years?  Why didn’t she come back earlier?  We doubted the band was 66/C.  It was Curiouser and Curiouser.

Tom Keller solved the mystery.  Storm was so angry when he approached her nest that she nailed his helmet half a dozen times and he got a very good photo of her bands (66/C).  He also got a blurry photo of the male’s bands, below.  Art McMorris says that the partial reading indicates the male is from Virginia.

Male peregrine bands atthe Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Tom Keller, PGC)

Male peregrine bands at the Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Tom Keller, PGC)

Meanwhile, we were disappointed but not surprised to learn that Tom found no evidence of a peregrine nest at the Tarentum Bridge.  Hope (69/Z) has kept the bridge as her territory but she doesn’t have a mate and was not aggressive when Tom walked the catwalk.  The good news is that she dug a scrape in the new nestbox.  We hope she has a mate next year.

Stay tuned for Banding and Fledge Watch dates at the Westinghouse Bridge.

Westinghouse, Yes!   Tarentum, alas, is No.

 

(photos by Tom Keller, PA Game Commission)

LATE BREAKING NEWS! A young male (still brown) was seen with Hope at the Tarentum Bridge this morning.

3 responses so far

May 08 2015

Yes, It’s Hot!

E2 panting at the nest in the heat, 7 Mat 2015, 10:48am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

E2 panting as he shades the eggs (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This week’s hot and sunny weather has been 14-16 degrees above normal  — so hot that peregrines are panting at their nest.

The official thermometer said our high was 85F yesterday but at the Cathedral of Learning peregrines’ nest it was probably in the high 90’s by late morning because the rocky surface faces south in full sun.

The peregrines adapted, switching from incubating the eggs (which adds heat) to merely shading them for air circulation.  But that meant Dorothy and E2 had to stand in full sun to create the shade.  No wonder E2 is panting, above, with his wings open.

During the worst of the heat the pair relieved each other more often.  Dorothy gave E2 a break just after noon and, with the eggs in shadow, she took the opportunity to sunbathe. The sun probably felt good because she’d spent the last two hours in the shade.

Dorothy sunbathing (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy sunbathing (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)[/em]

She raises her feathers and pants to keep cool while the heat works its way to her skin.

Dorothy panting in the heat (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy panting while the eggs are in the shade. (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

Dorothy and E2 will be panting a lot in the next few days.  The forecast calls for sun with highs of 86-87F degrees.

Yes, it’s going to be hot.

 

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

p.s. On Friday, May 8 the high temperature in Pittsburgh was 19 degrees above normal.

2 responses so far

May 05 2015

How To Stay Dry In A Downpour

E2 about to take over incubation, Cathedral of Learning, 5 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera)

E2 about to take over incubation, Cathedral of Learning, 5 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera)

This morning a heavy downpour hit at 8:45am.  E2 usually gets soaked when this happens, but this time he had a plan.

Click on his photo to see the slideshow.

 

(photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at the Cathedral of Learning)

p.s. The eggs are due to hatch on May 9 or 10.  Soon I will zoom in the snapshot camera so we can watch for pips.

7 responses so far

Apr 29 2015

For These Eagles, A Much Better Year

Eaglet at the NBG eagles' nest, 18 April 2015 (photo courtesy of Mike Inman, inmansimages.com)

Eaglet at the NBG eagles’ nest, 18 April 2015 (photo courtesy Mike Inman, inmansimages.com)

Nothing’s been simple for the bald eagle pair at the Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG), right down to the fact that they don’t nest at the Garden any more.

As one of the first bald eagle pairs to have their own webcam the NBG eagles were well watched and now loved by people around the world.  Their nesting seasons have had many ups and spectacular downs, particularly in 2008 when they had a Peyton Place event, two nest failures, and their third try ended with an eaglet who caught avian pox.  Buddy‘s beak was deformed so badly that he could never fly free.

Life was good again until their nest site became a problem in 2011.  Norfolk Botanical Garden is on the edge of Lake Whitehurst and surrounded on two sides by Norfolk International Airport. Bald eagles and airplanes occasionally share space.  This was fatal for the female eagle in late April when she landed on the runway and was killed by an airplane.  Concern that the male could not feed the chicks without her help prompted their removal from the nest to a rehab location where they were raised until they fledged.  It was a very bad year for the eagles.

Things got worse.  The female’s death underlined the dangers of the birds’ proximity to air operations so in 2012 U.S Fish and Wildlife told the City of Norfolk that the eagles’ nest had to go.  The male had found a new mate, but every time they built a nest USDA removed it.  Eagle lovers formed Eagle On Alliance and filed a lawsuit to protect the eagles from harassment. Ultimately USDA removed nine nests.

This year the NBG eagles took the hint and moved out of harms way to the other end of Lake Whitehurst.  Their new nest is on private property, far enough to satisfy the FAA.  They don’t have a webcam but Eagle On Alliance obtained permission from the landowner to photograph and film the eagles.

The pair has hatched one or more chicks and is currently raising a family.  Peek between the branches in Mike Inman’s photo above and you’ll see a hungry eaglet.  This has been a much better year!

For more news, see the NBG eagles at Eagle On Alliance.

 

(photo courtesy of Mike Inman, inmansimages.com)

p.s.  Eagle On Alliance dropped their lawsuit last January.

p.p.s  Here’s how close the Garden is to the airport

Proximity: Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk International Airport (screenshot from Google Maps. Click on this image to see the map)

Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk International Airport (click on the screenshot to see the Google map)

One response so far

Apr 28 2015

Nest Box Competitors

Published by under Nesting & Courtship

Carolina Chickadee (photo by Cris Hamilton) and House Wren (photo by Chuck Tague)

Carolina Chickadee (photo by Cris Hamilton) and House Wren (photo by Chuck Tague)

Last week in Schenley Park I watched a house wren claiming a nest box at the golf course.  While the wren sang near the box, a Carolina chickadee peered out of the hole.  One of them was going to win the box.  My bet is on the house wren.

Good nest locations are highly contested both within and between species.  Chickadees, house wrens, bluebirds, tree swallows and house sparrows all compete for the same nest boxes.   The winners are determined by timing, temperament, and weaponry.

Chickadees are brave but small. They usually lose.

Eastern bluebirds and tree swallows are well matched and can share the same territory if two nest boxes are placed next to each other.  The bluebirds begin nesting earlier and pick a box. The swallows arrive later and pick the other.  But it can go either way.

Eastern bluebirds checking out a nest box. Tree swallow comin in with a food delivery (both photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

Eastern bluebirds checking out a nest box. Tree swallow arriving at the nest (both photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

House wrens don’t need to nest in boxes but when they’ve picked one they are persistent, quick builders and will remove the eggs and very young nestlings of other birds.  They trump the other three.

By law you can’t interfere with these native species but you can put up more boxes.  The wider the selection, the less they’ll compete.

House sparrows are another story, though.

House sparrow eyeing a bluebird nest box (photo by Bobby Greene)

House sparrow eyeing a bluebird nest box (photo by Bobby Greene)

Aggressive and well armed, house sparrows always win. They claim several boxes even though they use just one.  They kill the nestlings and even the adult bluebirds incubating eggs.  The only way to protect bluebirds is to trap and kill the house sparrows.  You can to do this because house sparrows aren’t protected by law.  They’re “listed” as an invasive species.  (Click here to read more at the bluebird website, sialis.org.)

In the city there’s cruel justice for house sparrows.  When another invasive species wants their nest they’re out of luck.  The starlings win.

 

(photos by Cris Hamilton, Chuck Tague, Marcy Cunkelman and Robert Greene, Jr.)

4 responses so far

Apr 20 2015

Looking For An Old Man’s Beard

Northern Parula (photo by Steve Gosser)

Northern Parula (photo by Steve Gosser)

Northern parula warblers (Setophaga americana) will be migrating through western Pennsylvania in the next few weeks.  They’re on their way to northern breeding grounds, but plenty of them nest south of Pennsylvania.  Why don’t they nest here, too?

My guess is that they used to.

Northern parulas are very versatile about climate.  Their range map shows they breed from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada but there’s a gap in the Rust Belt states, New Jersey, and New England that divides their northern and southern populations.

Breeding parulas are hard to find in western Pennsylvania because they’re picky about nesting material.  They look for a site near water with Old Man’s Beard (Usnea lichen) or Spanish moss where they hollow out a cup in the hanging mass and line it with soft fibers. (On rare occasions they choose other hanging material such as flood debris in trees.)

Shown below at left is old man’s beard lichen (Usnea species), at right is Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).  Both are epiphytes that grow on other plants but they aren’t parasitic. They get their nutrition from the air.

Old Man's Beard lichen and Spanish moss (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Old Man’s Beard lichen and Spanish moss (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Spanish moss is a southern plant whose northern limit is in coastal Virginia. Usnea grows in North American and European forests where the air is clean, but Old Man’s Beard has been missing from western Pennsylvania for more than a century, killed by our air pollution.  Though Pittsburgh’s air isn’t as bad as it used to be, it’s still too polluted for a plant that lives on air.  Without Old Man’s Beard, the northern parula passes us by.

So, yes, northern parulas probably used to nest here … and they might come back.  Pennsylvania’s forests have regrown since deforestation a century ago, and the air in the mountains is clean enough for lichens.  Breeding northern parulas have increased in the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains and on the high plateau.

When our air is clean enough for Old Man’s Beard we’ll have northern parulas, too.

 

(photo of northern parula by Steve Gosser. Photos of Old Man’s Beard lichen and Spanish moss from Wikimedia Commons. Click on these links to see the original Wikimedia photos)

2 responses so far

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