Archive for the 'Nesting & Courtship' Category

Apr 29 2015

For These Eagles, A Much Better Year

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

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

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,

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)

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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,

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.)

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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)

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Apr 09 2015

Four Eggs!

Dorothy incubating after laying her 4th egg (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At 2:02pm Dorothy laid her fourth egg.

She looks tired. Now she can rest!


LATER:  Here’s the entire Pitt peregrine family at 4:39PM.

E2 inspects the 4 eggs as he relieves Dorothy in incubation (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh)

E2 inspects the four eggs when he comes to relieve Dorothy (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh)


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

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Apr 09 2015

Location, Location, Location: PBS NATURE April 15

Last night we learned about nests on PBS NATURE‘s Animal Homes.  Next Wednesday Episode 2 will take us inside bird and mammal homes chosen for their prime locations.  Tune in at 8:00pm EDT to learn:

  • When beavers hear running water they feel compelled to build. Once started they alter the landscape and never stop improving their dams, canals, lodges and storage facilities.  Did you know they move rocks?
  • Hooded mergansers nest in hollow trees 50 feet above the forest floor.  When the “kids” leave the nest, watch out below!
  • Find out why eastern woodrats are called “packrats.”
  • Learn that the safest place to build a black-chinned hummingbird nest is near the ultimate enemy.
  • Visit a bear den in the Allegheny Mountains of Garrett County while Maryland DNR tags a black bear mother with four cubs.  How do you keep bear cubs warm while their mother is “out cold?”  Cuddle them!

Watch Animal Homes: Location, Location, Location on PBS NATURE, April 15 at 8:00pm EDT.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(video from PBS Nature, Animal Homes Episode 2, Location, Location, Location)

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Apr 08 2015

Peregrines Around Town

Though all eyes are on Dorothy and E2 at the Cathedral of Learning, there are up to 10 other peregrine sites in the Pittsburgh area. Here’s all the news.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:

Dorothy incubating her eggs, 8 April 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at University of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy incubating her eggs on a gray morning, 8 April 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at University of Pittsburgh)

The Big Sit begins:  Except for a few standing-up moments, it appears Dorothy began incubation yesterday so we can expect her eggs to hatch around May 10 if they are viable.   In the meantime she’s now a media star for having laid three eggs at age 16 after her egg bound episode last spring.  Click on these links to read about her third egg, learn what egg bound means, and why those of us who know her can see that she’s showing her age.


Westinghouse Bridge:

Peregrine falcon, Hecla, at the Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Hecla at the Westinghouse Bridge, 4 April 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Peregrines have nested at the Westinghouse Bridge since at least 2010 but can be hard to find.  Volunteer monitor John English solved this problem by introducing local peregrine fans to the site — and they have helped.  Dana Nesiti photographed the female on April 4 and confirmed she’s still Hecla, born at the Ironton-Russelton Bridge, Ohio in 2009.  Then on April 6 Dave Kerr heard a peregrine calling and watched as it presented prey to Hecla on the catwalk.  The nature of that exchange indicates she’s on eggs.  Yay!


I-79 Neville Island Bridge:

Magnum at the I-79 Neville Island Bridge (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Magnum at the I-79 Neville Island Bridge, 4 April 2015 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

In 2012 we learned that peregrines were nesting at the I-79 Neville Island Bridge when one of their young was found swimming in the Ohio River.  Last year a similar mishap probably killed their lone nestling who went missing after a bad storm.  But, so far so good this year.  Anne Marie Bosnyak has seen the pair calling, mating, and exchanging prey and their behavior now indicates they are probably incubating eggs.  Anne Marie confirmed that the female is Magnum, hatched at Bank One, Canton, Ohio in 2010.  The male is still unidentified.


Tarentum Bridge:

Peregrine "Hope" at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Steve Gosser)

Hope at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Steve Gosser)

Hope from Hopewell, Virginia (2008) has made the Tarentum Bridge her home since 2010.  Rob Protz checks on her every week — sometimes several times a day — but she is quite skilled at avoiding detection. Rob saw her eating prey on Easter Day but he couldn’t see where she went when she flew under the New Kensington side of the bridge.  Last year’s nest site was so inaccessible that the PA Game Commission installed a nestbox for her this winter.  She doesn’t seem to be using it yet.


Elizabeth Bridge: NEW SITE?

One of two peregrines on the Elizabeth Bridge, 26 March 2015 (photo by Jim Hausman)

One of two peregrines on the Elizabeth Bridge, 26 March 2015 (photo by Jim Hausman)

Imagine Jim Hausman’s surprise when he examined his photos of a peregrine on the Elizabeth Bridge and found out there were actually two!   This bridge over the Monongahela River hasn’t been on our radar as a peregrine nest site but now it is.  Jim keeps checking but hasn’t seen any peregrines there again.  However, these birds are notoriously sneaky when they’re nesting so they might be at the Elizabeth Bridge, just keeping a low profile.  If so, this site would be the ninth location in our metro area.


Downtown Pittsburgh:

Empty Gulf Tower nest, 19 March 2015 (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

The Downtown peregrines are nesting somewhere but not at Gulf (photo from the Gulf Tower falconcam)

Speaking of sneaky peregrines, the downtown peregrines have abandoned the Gulf Tower again but are still nesting in the city center. At Peregrine Quest on March 22 we saw peregrines Downtown, could tell by their behavior that they were probably nesting, but did not get a hint at their nest location.  Later Heather Jacoby made several trips to their last known sighting — 9th Street at Liberty Avenue — but came up empty though she saw them flying by. The pair is Downtown but they’re not letting us know where.  If you see them, please leave a comment to let us know!



Highland Park area: Solo Peregrine

Peregrine in Highland Park ,March 2015 (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Peregrine in Highland Park, March 2015 (photo by Maury Burgwin)

For a week in mid-March, Maury Burgwin saw and photographed this peregrine in the Highland Park area.  If it had stayed in Pittsburgh it could have made a tenth peregrine site, but it was alone and it hasn’t been seen lately.  Perhaps it moved on.

And finally, these three sites are mysteries:

  • On March 30 Leslie Ferree saw a possibly immature peregrine at the McKees Rocks Bridge where peregrines have been known to nest for many years.
  • The peregrine pair at Monaca, Beaver County have moved to the inaccessible railroad bridge instead of using the easy-to-monitor Monaca-East Rochester Bridge.  Extremely sneaky!
  • And, though nesting was attempted in 2013, there are no peregrines at the Green Tree water tower this year.  None at all.


(photo credits:
Cathedral of Learning: Dorothy and 3 eggs from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh. Click on the image to watch the live feed.
Westinghouse Bridge: peregrine female, Hecla, by Dana Nesiti
I-79 Neville Island: peregrine female, Magnum, by Anne Marie Bosnyak
Tarentum Bridge: peregrine female, Hope, by Steve Gosser
Elizabeth Bridge: unidentified peregrine by Jim Hausman
Highland Park area: unidentified peregrine photographed by Maury Burgwin

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Apr 05 2015

Two Eggs!

Dorothy with 2 eggs, 4 April 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy with 2 eggs, 4 April 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday morning Dorothy made news in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with an article about her miracle egg, laid at age 16 (click here to read).

Then yesterday afternoon at 3:33pm she performed another miracle and laid a second egg.

A year ago on this date she was recovering from being egg bound on egg#2 so she’s already doing better this year than last. Definitely a healthy sign.

Last evening I saw Dorothy shake open her brood patch and warm the eggs but …

Dorothy incubating 2 eggs, 4 April 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy appears to be incubating at 6:42pm … (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

… this was not the start of incubation.  It was only a temporary warming.  As you can see from this overnight footage she isn’t incubating yet.

Not incubating yet, 1:39am, 5 April 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy roosting near her two eggs, 5 April 2015, 1:39am  (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrines begin incubation after the female lays her next-to-last egg.  Technically the eggs hatch in 32 days but it’s hard to tell when incubation begins.  (The textbooks used to say 33-35 days. )

Delayed incubation results in synchronous hatching.  All the peregrine eggs hatch on the same day (except for the one laid after incubation began) and all the chicks are the same age.  Peregrine nestlings do not compete with each other for food like bald eaglets do.  There is no danger of siblicide.

The fact that she isn’t incubating means Dorothy thinks there’s another egg in her but we don’t know how many.  We have no hatch date estimate yet.


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

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Apr 02 2015

Learn About Nests on PBS NATURE, April 8

Just in time for nesting season PBS NATURE premieres their three-part series Animal Homes.  Episode 1 on April 8th is devoted to Nests.

Using time lapse photography, infrared light and tiny HD cameras, the producers got up close and personal during all the stages of nest building.  The Anna’s hummingbird above is just a taste of the beautiful footage and intimate looks at the birds.

Each nest is custom made.  The wonder is that strong, resilient, and intricate nests are woven out of grass and twigs using only a beak.  And some build with mud, sticks or merely leaves:

  • Red ovenbirds (rufous hornero) of South America build an oven-shaped nest entirely of mud with an amazing internal baffle that forces them to squeeze in sideways.  Watch what they do when the cowbirds come.
  • A male osprey attracts a mate while he builds a 400-pound nest from scratch, stick by enormous stick!
  • Male Australian brush turkeys build compost heaps of leaves where multiple females deposit their eggs, as many as 50 eggs per heap.  It doesn’t matter whose kids they are.  The “kids” are self sufficient when they hatch.
  • Chalk-browed mockingbirds battle shiny cowbirds at the nest and sometimes win.

And if you bird by ear, don’t just “watch” the show.  Listen, too!  There’s a message in the soundtrack, the song of a familiar North American bird whose name is a nod to the name of the program.  I thought its voice was misplaced in the South American footage until I read on Wikipedia that “It occurs from Canada to southernmost South America and is thus the most widely distributed bird in the Americas.”

Very cool, PBS NATURE!  I learn something new every day.

Watch Animal Homes: Nests on PBS NATURE, April 8 at 8:00pm EDT.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(video from PBS NATURE)

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Apr 02 2015

Dorothy Laid An Egg

Dorothy inspects her egg, 2 April 2015, 6:41am (snapshot from the Naitonal Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy laid her first egg of 2015 this morning at 6:41 am at the Cathedral of Learning.

At 16 years old she is elderly for a peregrine falcon, so every egg is a miracle.  This is her latest ever first egg date.  In her prime, she always laid in mid March.

Shortly after laying the egg, she called E2 and he came to see.

Dorothy and E2 discuss the first egg (photo from teh National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)


7:52am:  E2 brought breakfast for Dorothy. After she left to eat he zoomed in to guard the egg.

E2 arrives to guard the egg (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam ay University of Pittsburgh)


And here’s a video of the egg laying, thanks to Bill Powers at PixController. There is no color in the video because it happened just before dawn.

Watch Dorothy and E2 here on the National Aviary falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning.

If you’re new to peregrines, click here for information on their nesting habits.  Learn about the color of their eggs and their strategy for incubation.


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

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Mar 30 2015

Night Roost

Dorothy roosting at the nest, 29 March 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy roosted at the nest last night.  Here she is standing over the scrape with her beak under her right wing.

She’s probably feeling “egg-y.”


(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh, 29 March 2015, 10:16 p.m.)

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