Archive for the 'Peregrines' Category

Nov 17 2014

Dorothy’s Oldest Granddaughter

Published by under Peregrines

Pittstop at Medina Raptor Center, 15 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dorothy, the matriarch peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, is 15 years old and no longer fertile but she’s fledged 42 youngsters and has many descendants.  Last weekend Karen Lang and I traveled to Medina Raptor Center to visit her oldest granddaughter.

Pittstop has lived at the Raptor Center in Spencer, Ohio ever since she was found with an injured wing in North Olmsted on September 12, 2003. Though her injury happened in September, she’d been flying for only two months. She hatched in early June because her parents had had such an eventful spring.

Louie (Dorothy’s son) was only a year old that spring when he fought and killed Boris at the Gulf Tower and left Boris’ body in camera view. After the dust settled Louie and Tasha (a wild-born female who claimed the Gulf Tower in 1998) paired up and laid four eggs.  “Pittstop” was born in Pittsburgh and stopped in Ohio when she apparently hit a building.

Here, Annette Piechowski holds Pittstop high while she tells her story.  You can see that Pittstop’s wing is not quite right … but that’s not why she’s unreleasable.

Pittstop with Annette, glove up, 16 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

When her wing first healed Pittstop looked good in the flight cage and on the creance cord but she was stopped by incapacitating seizures. They’re related to her injury but no one knows how.  Sometimes they’re mild, sometimes grande mal, so she’s on medication to control them.  Evidently Pittstop knows when a seizure is coming on. Annette says she gets a faraway look on her face and flies down to the ground before the seizure happens.

Because of the seizures Pittstop does her educational work at the Raptor Center where she can receive immediate attention (and not alarm the public).  She’s a great peregrine ambassador.  Here she shows her concentration working with Toni McNamara.

Pittstop with Toni, 16 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)


I’ve sponsored Pittstop for many years so I was anxious to see how she’s doing.  The last time I saw her she was still in juvenile plumage.  Here we had a little reunion.

Pittstop with Annette Piechowski and Kate St. John, 16 Nov 2014

Then Pittstop had a message for me though I couldn’t hear it. (She silently opened her beak.)

Pittstop says "Hey" to Kate St.John, with Annette Piechowski


Later Annette Piechowski, Toni McNamara and Jackie Cabonor gave us a great tour of the Raptor Center and showed us the many educational birds:  owls, hawks, more falcons and Migisi the bald eagle.  I’ll be blogging about these beautiful birds in the near future.

Thank you to Laura Jordan and everyone at Medina Raptor Center for the good work you do for raptors and for taking such good care of Pittstop.

It was great to see Dorothy’s oldest granddaughter.


(photos from Kate St. John’s camera taken by Kate St. John, Toni McNamara and Jacki Cabonor)

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Sep 29 2014

Follow An Arctic Peregrine On Migration

Published by under Migration,Peregrines

Arctic peregrine, Island Girl (photo from the Southern Cross Peregrine Project)

Since 2007 the Falcon Research Group’s Southern Cross Peregrine Project (SCPP) has satellite-tracked some of the longest migrating peregrines in the Western Hemisphere.  Tagged at their wintering grounds on the coast of Chile, these peregrines have shown amazing stamina as they travel back and forth from Chile’s coast to the tundra cliffs of northern Canada.

Over the years the project has tracked 13 birds but now only “Island Girl,” pictured above, has a working transmitter.  First tagged in 2009 she’s provided many years of data.

In the screenshot below SCPP mapped her 2009-2013 north and south migrations.  As you can see she changes her route a bit year to year and season to season.  Heading south (red) she prefers to fly the shortest route to Chile, often across the Gulf of Mexico.  On her way north (blue) she travels by land and arcs across central Canada.  Click on the screenshot to see Island Girl’s combined 5-year map and explore her routes.

5-year map of arctic peregrine -- Island Girl -- migration routes (map from Southern Cross Peregrine Project)

Winter comes early to the Arctic so Island Girl began her southward journey this month, leaving her Baffin Island home on September 17.  By the time she roosted last night she’d already traveled 1,478 miles and was spotted by satellite at Vandeleur, Ontario just west of Eugenia Lake.

Where will she go today?

Click here for Island Girl’s Tracking Page, then drill into a date on the right to see her latest location.  Zoom the map to see the data points or click here for detailed location maps.

Follow an arctic peregrine as she migrates over North America on her way to Chile.  Go, Island Girl!


(photo and map from the Falcon Research Group’s Southern Cross Peregrine Peregrine Project.  Click on the images to see the originals)

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Sep 19 2014

Volunteers Count!

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine at Tarentum (photo by Steve Gosser)

When a bird is on the Endangered Species List wildlife biologists pay a lot of attention to it.  When it’s de-listed funding dries up and official monitoring wanes.  How can we know a “recovered” species is doing well without official monitoring?  Volunteers count!  California’s peregrine falcons are a case in point.

This month in ESA’s Ecological Applications, Tim Wootton and Doug Bell compare California’s current peregrine population to the prediction they made in 1992.  In the process they highlight the value of dedicated volunteers.

Peregrine falcons were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970 after they went extinct in eastern North America. By 1975 the U.S. had only 159 breeding pairs so wildlife agencies in many states established reintroduction programs to raise chicks in captivity for release in the wild.  California was one of them.

By 1992 California’s reintroduction program was so successful that state wanted to end the program.  Would the peregrine population falter without human assistance?  That year in Ecological Applications Wootton and Bell published a population viability analysis that predicted the future peregrine population with and without the reintroduction program.  It looked like peregrines would be OK on their own.

Fast forward to 2014.  How are California’s peregrines doing?  Was the model right?

Wootton and Bell ran the analysis again but found that peregrine studies were hard to come by.  “The challenge was to come up with data,” said Wootton. “Once a species falls off the endangered species list, there is not a lot of funding to track how management, or lack of management, is doing.  There was limited data that was appropriate being collected on the falcon, so we turned to a couple of well-known bird censuses that cover wide geographic areas.”

Enter the volunteers!  Wooton and Bell calibrated data from the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Surveys to the few intensive surveys done by wildlife biologists.  Interestingly, the Christmas Bird Count provided the best data.  “The greater number of ‘eyes on the skies’ in the Christmas Bird Count was key to obtaining a reliable sampling of the rare peregrines … Mustering many observers lowers the likelihood of undercounting rare birds.”

So how are California’s peregrines doing in 2014?

In 1992 the authors predicted that northern California would perform best because there were some population “sinks” in Southern California where the birds didn’t do well.  Thanks to volunteers, 2014’s analysis finds that though the population is lower than hoped for it’s well within the recovery trajectory.

Volunteers, give yourselves a pat on the back!  Your bird counts make a difference.

Read more about the study here in Science Daily.


(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Aug 12 2014

Dorothy Is Challenged

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy flies in to roust a challenger, 10 Aug 2014 (photo by Peter Bell)

On Sunday afternoon I received a text from Peter Bell, “Intruder at Pitt. On about 4th floor windowsill of Union.  Dorothy and E2 are at top corners angrily e-chupping and diving.”

I live only 10 minutes away so I hopped in the car and went over to see.

As I waited for the light at Schenley Plaza I saw a solo peregrine flying eastward over Posvar Hall.  I surmised that I’d missed them and I was right.  Peter was waiting on the corner to fill me in.

Returning from a weekend trip, he’d gotten off the airport bus near Pitt’s Student Union and immediately heard unusual peregrine sounds.  Peter looked up to see three peregrines on the building.  Two angry birds had claimed the high ground.  The third was in an uncomfortable spot on the 4th floor windowsill.

Peter happened to have his camera so he fired off as many shots as possible while the action unfolded.  Ultimately Dorothy zoomed in and chased off the third bird (shown above).  I arrived in time to see E2 bringing up the rear.  Click on the photo to watch a slideshow of the action.

August seems an unusual time for an intruder but I know why she’s here.  Dorothy is 15 years old and has many physical challenges.  In March she laid only one egg, then became egg-bound.  She survived by expelling the malformed egg, then started to molt early.  Three months later Dorothy still looks very ragged, a sign that she’s not in good condition.

On camera at the nestbox she exhibits “tired” behavior.  After 13 years of watching her, I now see her pausing in new postures as if she aches.  In the slideshow the intruder looks sleek and nimble.  Dorothy does not.  Dorothy is challenged in more ways than one.

Under these circumstances, it’s obvious to other peregrines that Dorothy is not at the top of her form.  Wandering female peregrines will try their chances to win the site.  Sunday’s challenger flew away but she, or another, will be back.  Dorothy will chase again but at some point a new female will return to the Cathedral of Learning and Dorothy will not.

This is not unusual or “terrible” activity.  Chases and fights are the normal, natural way that peregrines insure strong birds own every site and produce healthy young peregrines for the future. Old humans fade away slowly, surrounded by family (or not).  Old peregrines go out with a bang.

We are privileged to watch and learn.


(photos by Peter Bell)

p.s.  Peter saw in his photos that the intruding female is banded.  He couldn’t read the band but the colors are Black/Red.

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Jul 17 2014

TBT: New Tenants?

Pigeon at the Pitt nest box, 21 June 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT), a 2014 replay of something that’s happened only three other times since 2008…

Word must have gotten out that the Pitt peregrine nestbox wasn’t used much this spring. Some surprising new tenants stopped by last month.

On June 21 a pair of pigeons inspected the site for three hours.

“Wow, honey!  Look at this perfect location.  I’ve heard it’s dangerous up here but this area looks completely safe.  What a cool place to nest.  We could move in immediately!”

Pigeons at the Pitt peregrine nest, 21 June 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

After three hours they began to wonder… “Did you hear something? I have a creepy feeling we’re in danger.”

Cathedral of Learning pigeons on alert (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


The pigeons never moved in.  ;)


Click here for a story about pigeon nest-shoppers in 2008.


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

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Jul 16 2014

Bridge Gone, But Not Its Peregrines

Published by under Peregrines

I-90 Inner Loop Bridge demolished in Cleveland, Ohio, 12 July 2014 (screenshot from video)

(screenshot from


Perhaps you saw the news Dick Rhoton sent me of the I-90 Inner Belt Bridge demolition in Cleveland last Saturday, but you might not have realized its significance to birds.

The bridge is gone, but not its peregrines.

The old span, built in 1959, was home to a pair of peregrines for all their productive years but was also rusty, corroded and becoming dangerous.  Pictured below on a foggy day in a 2012 by Chad+Chris Saladin, you can see a pier of the new I-90 bridge being built to its right.   The new span is finished now, carrying traffic in both directions while it waits for the eastbound lanes to go up where the old bridge stood.

Underside of old I-90 Inner Loop span in 2012 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Though a nest box was provided on the new span, Newt and Bolt chose the old bridge as usual this year and raised one juvenile who fledged at the end of June — all this despite the fact that demolition contractors were taking apart the bridge around them.   By the time of the final implosion, their home was a gap-toothed structure with four of its five spans already gone.

Here’s a photo of the nest site in 2012 by Chad+Chris Saladin.  Look at the condition of that bridge!  Traffic was still using the bridge when this picture was taken.

Peregrine nest at old I-90 Inner Loop span, 2012 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Everyone worked together to make sure the peregrines were safe.  As demolition day approached, Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW), Ohio Dept of Transportation(ODOT) and the demolition contractor discussed the peregrines’ status and decided that with two weeks of flight experience the juvenile would be able to get out of the way.  The remaining danger was that the birds might be perched on the old structure during the explosion so the contractor scheduled a warning blast to tell the birds to evacuate.

Saturday morning Laurie and Jenny from DOW were stationed with binoculars and spotting scope to watch for the peregrines.  The warning blast went off five seconds ahead of the main blast and then ….  BOOM!  Click here or on the screenshot at top to watch the bridge collapse.

After the dust cleared at least two, maybe all three peregrines, were found.  As Chris Saladin wrote:

“I’m thrilled to report that the juvie and at least one adult were spotted by DOW’s Laurie and Jenny following the explosion of the remaining parts of the dismantled old I-90 Bridge this morning!! We would assume that both adults are probably okay, since two of the three peregrines were spotted (and if the juvie “sensed” her need to leave the structure one would assume that each adult would have an even more developed sense of danger and would know to depart). … [Laurie] let us know that after the “dust cleared” she and Jenny were able to see the juvie through the spotting scope and then saw an adult fly by the juvie. Additionally, Tom from ODOT let Laurie know that as DOW was moving to a different angle for viewing he saw one adult plucking prey on a top beam of the fallen span, about 30 feet off the ground!”

We hope Newt and Bolt will find the nest box on the new bridge just as inviting as the old one.  It will be impossible to “go home” next spring.

(top photo is a screenshot from  Click on it to read the whole story.  Remaining two photos by Chad+Chris Saladin)

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Jul 14 2014

Peregrines, Eagles and Two Events

Peregrine at Green Tree water tower, 1 April 2014 (photo by Leslie Ferree)
Here’s the latest news of Pittsburgh’s peregrines and bald eagles plus information on two events:  Westinghouse Bridge Fledge Watch, July 18-20, and the Eagle Lovers Outing on August 2.

Peregrine News

Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Joseph Elliott, Library of Congress)
Westinghouse Bridge
Peregrine season isn’t over!  Two nestlings at the Westinghouse Bridge will fledge next weekend.  John English has organized a Peregrine Fledge Watch for Friday July 18, 6-8pm, Saturday July 19, 2-4pm and Sunday July 20, 2-4pm.  Click here and scroll down for directions.  Please contact John at Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page or leave a comment on this blog if you plan to attend.  I’ll be there on Saturday. C’mon down!

Green Tree Water Tower
Green Tree wins the prize for strangest peregrine behavior.  After a long absence during the heart of the breeding season, a pair of peregrines is again at the Green Tree water tower.  What happened between April 1 (the date of Leslie Ferree’s photo above) and now?  Did the old pair leave and a new pair show up?  Stop by the Green Tree water tower and tell us what you see.  Peregrines always surprise us.
UPDATE, 16 July:  Tim and Karena Johnson visited the water tower recently and saw a pair of red-tailed hawks perched on the railings. Since we know that peregrines drive out red-tails — and all other hawks — within their territory it’s probable that the peregrines are not at the water tower at all.
UPDATE, 17 July: Mary Jo Peden, one of the long-time Green Tree monitors, saw a peregrine at the water tower today. It had been exactly two months since she last saw one there. So, yes, they are there but not often.


Dorothy and E2 after a bowing session at the Cathedral of Learning nestbox (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
University of Pittsburgh, Cathedral of Learning
Dorothy and E2 are present every day but not often seen because they’ve found new hiding places in which to molt.  The snapshot camera shows they still visit the nestbox for brief bowing sessions (last Friday, above).  Meanwhile the streaming falconcam and infrared array have both shut down and need an on-site visit from a skilled technician with access to the ledge.  This maintenance will be scheduled in the fall.


Peregrine with pigeon meal, Tarentum Bridge, 3 July 2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)
Rob Protz reports that “mom” peregrine (nicknamed Hope) was at the Tarentum Bridge with her remaining juvenile for several hours on July 8.  The youngster, whom Rob calls “Screecher,” was begging loudly for food.  It sounds like Hope is weaning him from dependence on his parents.  Pun intended!

Gulf Tower, Monaca Bridge, Neville I-79 Bridge and McKees Rocks Bridge:  No updates from any of these sites but at this time of year that’s good news.


Bald Eagle News

One of the juvenile Bald Eagles from the Hays PA nest (photo by Dana Nesiti)

All three eaglets fledged successfully in late June and are flying so well that they’re hard to find. They are out and about learning the ways of eagles and how to find food.  Meanwhile, to wrap up the season, Eagles of Hays PA and Urban Eagles in Pittsburgh are planning an Eagle Lovers Outing and tour on Saturday August 2, starting at 11am at Vallozzi’s Restaurant in Greensburg, PA.  Click here for more information.

Harmar and Crescent Township  There’s no update from our other eagle sites but, as for peregrines, no news is good news at this time of year.


With no nest activity, the next six months will be very boring for peregrine and bald eagle fans.  We’re looking forward to 2015.


(photo credits in order of appearance:
Peregrine at Green Tree water tower, 1 April 2014 (photo by Leslie Ferree)
Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Joseph Elliott, Library of Congress)
Dorothy and E2 at the Cathedral of Learning nestbox (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera)
Peregrine with pigeon meal, Tarentum Bridge, 3 July 2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)
Juvenile bald eagle from the Hays PA nest (photo by Dana Nesiti)

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Jul 02 2014

Two Peregrine Chicks at Westinghouse

Published by under Peregrines

Two peregrine chicks at Westinghouse Bridge on banding day, 1 July 2014 (photo by Thomas Keller, PGC)

Two peregrine chicks at Westinghouse Bridge on banding day, 1 July 2014 (photo by Thomas Keller, PA Game Commission)


Just when you thought peregrine nesting season was over, there’s one more nest remaining to fledge in Pittsburgh.

Yesterday morning Tom Keller of the PA Game Commission rode with PennDOT in their graciously provided bucket truck to band the nestlings at the Westinghouse Bridge.  This late nest was first confirmed on May 20 when Dan Brauning and Tom Keller found the female incubating three eggs.  On June 10 Tom confirmed the first hatchling.  Yesterday he banded two females.  (One egg didn’t hatch.)

This late-in-the-season nest cycle is probably a re-nesting after the first attempt failed.  Nest failures at natural cliff sites can be caused by predation but this location is so inaccessible that the re-nest is probably due to a changeover in adults after a peregrine-vs-peregrine challenge.  The banded female, Hecla, hatched in 2009 at the Ironton-Russleton Bridge in Ironton, Ohio and has been present at Westinghouse since 2012.  Perhaps her banded mate is new but no one has been able to read his bands.  He’s still unidentified.

Westinghouse site monitor (and proud “papa”), John English, organized a Banding Watch under the bridge.  Thanks to photos from watchers Maury Burgwin and Donna Memon, I’ll tell the rest of the story in pictures.

The bucket near the nest, peregrine "mom" flies by (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Bucket at the nest, upset peregrine mother, Hecla, flies by (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Female peregrine on the attack on Banding Day (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Hecla is very angry. “Get away from my babies!” (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Hecla's mate (unidentified) does a barrel roll to defend his nestlings on Banding Day (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Hecla’s mate (unidentified) in a barrel roll defending his nestlings (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Female peregrine, Hecla, defending her nest on Banding Day, 1 July 2014 (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Hecla flies under the bridge to attack the banding crew (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Male peregrine drives a gull away from the Westinghouse bridge during the excitement on Banding Day (photo by Donna Memon)

Worked up about the banding, the male peregrine drives away everything from the Westinghouse bridge including this hapless gull. “Sorry! Just leaving!” says the gull. (photo by Donna Memon)


Stay tuned for Fledge Watch, July 18, 19 and 20!   Check John English’s Westinghouse Peregrines webpage or Pittsburgh Falconuts for details.


(photo credits:
Nestlings by Thomas Keller, PA Game Commission.
Action shots of adult peregrines by Maury Burgwin.
Peregrine-vs-gull encounter by Donna Memon

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Jun 23 2014

Downtown Lunch

Published by under Peregrines

Five peregrines in Downtown Pittsburgh, 21 June 2014 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Five peregrines in Downtown Pittsburgh, 21 June 2014 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Is this a flock of crows?  No!

Anne Marie Bosnyak went Downtown last Saturday to find Pittsburgh’s Gulf Tower peregrines and she hit the jackpot.  At the corner of Fifth and Wood she saw two on the edge of the Citizen’s Bank Building.  As she watched, an adult arrived with food and four juveniles popped in for a meal.  From the looks of this, I doubt they were planning to share.

When they aren’t hanging out elsewhere the youngsters have lunch at the U.S. Steel Tower where Patti Mitsch can watch them outside her 38th floor window.  Here are four snapshots from cellphone videos she shared with me on Facebook.

Peregrine leftovers on the ledge, U.S. Steel Tower (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Juvenile peregrine with leftovers on the ledge, U.S. Steel Tower (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Two snapshots, juvenile peregrine on US Steel Tower ledge (photos by Patti Mitsch)

Peekaboo at the US Steel Tower ledge (photos by Patti Mitsch)


And just to prove that peregrines match the buildings, here’s another close-up.

Peregrine falcon juvenile at U.S. Steel Tower (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Juvenile peregrine at U.S. Steel Tower, 9 June 2014 (photo by Patti Mitsch)

If I had a peregrine outside my window I’d be unable to work for days! ;)


(top photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak.  Juveniles at U.S. Steel Tower by Patti Mitsch)

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Jun 20 2014

Take That, You Pesky Airplane!

Published by under Peregrines

Adult female peregrine attacks remote-controlled model glider (photo by Steve Shinn)

It looks like Photoshop, but it’s not.  The bird and the plane are actual size, frozen in time in Steve Shinn’s photograph.

The peregrine is a wild bird who nests on the seaside cliffs near Los Angeles, California.  She has “kids” on the cliff and won’t tolerate anything flying near them.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

The plane is a radio-controlled glider, guided by a human on the ground.  Model airplane enthusiasts love the wind above the cliffs for testing their equipment.  They have not thought that peregrine falcons could be a hazard.

Steve Shinn stops by the cliffs frequently during peregrine nesting season to capture awesome photos of their activities.  He was lucky to be there the day this female peregrine had had enough.

Annoyed by the glider invading her airspace, she flew out ahead of it, talons dangling, watching her chance.

Boom!  She grabbed it in mid-air and bit the “neck” to sever its spinal cord but it didn’t die quickly.

Peregrine grabs and bites the "neck" of a radio-controlled model glider (photo by Steve Shinn)

Steve writes, “Having grabbed this invader, she naturally wanted to chew off its head.  Fiberglass is a tough nut to crack even for a Peregrine.  … She has been reported to have ripped off the canopy of one plane and caused another to plunge into the ocean.”

You’d think the glider fans would learn.

“Take that, you pesky airplane!”


(photos by Steve Shinn.  Click here to see more of his peregrine photos.)

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