Archive for the 'Peregrines' Category

Aug 07 2013

Positive Identification

Published by under Peregrines

Female peregrine, Blue, identified at Green Tree (photo by Shannon Thompson)

Exciting news at Green Tree!  Thanks to Shannon Thompson we now know the identity of the female peregrine at the water tower.

Shannon made it her goal this spring to read the female’s bands.  It was a challenge!  After months of frustration she finally saw “Black/Green 74/AE” last Sunday and sent the numbers to Pennsylvania’s Peregrine Coordinator, Art McMorris, who tells us …

This is a bird we’ve met before.  She hatched and fledged at the Cathedral of Learning in 2011, a daughter of Dorothy and E2.  Back then she was nicknamed “Blue” because of the blue tape on her USFW band.

Blue barely left home, choosing to nest only 5.25 miles from her birthplace. Her mate is unbanded so we’ll never know where he came from but we do know he was born in 2012 because of his juvenile plumage.

Blue was not one of the stars of the 2011 brood.  She kept a low profile while Henry (“Red”) and his sister Yellow stole the show.  Henry is now famous in Shaker Heights, Ohio and Yellow died in a window kill.  Blue is making up for lost time by twice halting work at the water tower.

Blue and her mate raised a ruckus when major maintenance began this spring so work was halted to allow them to nest.  The nest was unsuccessful and the nesting season was over so the Game Commission told the water company they could resume work in July.  When they did, workers heard young peregrines calling from an unseen location on the tower.  Work halted again.  Now, three weeks later, no young peregrines have been seen at all and we’re beginning to wonder.  Time will tell. (Later: see the comments for an update.)

Meanwhile I’m glad Blue finally allowed Shannon to read her bands.  It’s great to know that another of Dorothy and E2′s kids is doing well.

A very positive identification.  :)

(photo by Shannon Thompson)

4 responses so far

Jul 19 2013

Peregrine Chicks at Green Tree!

Published by under Peregrines

Vantage point for watching the Green Tree peregrines (photo by Shannon Thompson)

For a month now we’ve had no peregrine nesting news in Pittsburgh.  I thought the season was over…  right?

Not!   This afternoon Art McMorris, Peregrine Coordinator for the PA Game Commission, reported that the peregrine pair at the Green Tree water tower have nestlings!   Here’s an excerpt from Art’s email:

“As you know, the peregrines’ nesting attempt this spring failed, and all indications were that they were not re-nesting, so we (PA Game Commission) gave the water company the go-ahead to resume the work they postponed to protect the peregrines. Today the contractors started working — and they saw the adults flying in and out of the nest feeding chicks that they could hear, but not see.

They have agreed to suspend work, again, to protect the peregrines. …  Since the workmen could hear the chicks, I think they must be at least 10 days old; but beyond that, I have no idea. For all we know now, they could even fledge tomorrow.”


Art needs our help monitoring the Green Tree site.  How many chicks are there?  Have they appeared at the nest opening yet?  Let’s make sure they fledge safely.  Stop by the Green Tree water tower (visit the park behind the Green Tree Borough City Office) and look under the bulb of the water tank at the shelves beneath.

Congratulations to this persistent pair at the water tower. (“Mom” & “Dad” pictured below.)
Green Tree water tower peregrine pair

Hooray, it’s peregrine season again!


(photos by Shannon Thompson)

12 responses so far

Jun 28 2013

Why Here?

Peregrine about to land on the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Sean Dicer)

Why do peregrines nest on buildings and bridges instead of cliffs?

“Raptors imprint on their natal nest sites.  Consequently, they choose a similar situation several years later when they reach maturity.”(1)

This explains why they’ve chosen to nest at the Tarentum Bridge, pictured above.  The adult female, nicknamed Hope, was born on the Benjamin Harrison Bridge in Hopewell, Virginia.  That bridge is such a dangerous place to fledge that Hope was hacked in the Shenandoah Mountains, but she remembered where she was born and picked a bridge when she chose a place to nest.

There are exceptions to the natal imprint rule.  Though Dorothy’s daughter Maddy was born on the Cathedral of Learning, a 40-story Late-Gothic Revival building, she chose the I-480 Bridge in Valley View, Ohio.  I can’t think of anything less like the Cathedral of Learning than this.  (The nest is at a broken patch of concrete on the bridge support.)

Maddy's nest at the I-480 Bridge, Valley View (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

The exceptions have saved at least one species from extinction.

Mauritius kestrels used to nest in tree cavities but monkeys were introduced to the island and ate the eggs and young. By the 1960′s the kestrels were down to two pairs — almost extinct — when one of the pairs decided to nest on a cliff ledge where the monkeys couldn’t reach them. That nest was successful, their youngsters nested on cliffs, and the species rebounded.

The exceptions benefit the rule.


(photo of Hope at the Tarentum Bridge (blue structure) by Sean Dicer.  Photo of Maddy’s nest site at the I-480 Bridge at Valley View (busy highway) by Chad+Chris Saladin.
Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by and includes a quote(1) from page 444 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.

5 responses so far

Jun 26 2013

I’m On A Tight Schedule

Published by under Migration,Peregrines

Island Girl, 2009 (photo by Bud Anderson from the Southern Cross Research Project)

Late June is an intensely busy time for peregrine parents in North America’s mid latitudes. If their nests were successful they have young about to fledge or already on the wing who must become independent in just four to eight weeks.

If you think that’s fast, consider the life of an arctic peregrine.

Island Girl, pictured above, is an arctic peregrine tagged with a satellite transmitter in southern Chile in 2009 by the Falcon Research Group. They’ve tracked her migrations every year in amazing detail, able to determine latitude, longitude and altitude of her roosts and see the neighborhood where she chooses to sleep via Google Earth.

Island Girl nests on Baffin Island, Canada and spends November to April on the coast of southern Chile. To do this she travels nearly 17,000 miles per year.  This spring she left Chile on April 17 and arrived at her eyrie in Canada on June 3, covering 8,868 miles in only 48 days. She got home early.

Here’s a screenshot of her trip.  (Click on it to see the real map.)  This is the feat of an athlete!
Screen shot of Island Girl's migration tracking map, Spring 2013 (from Southern Cross Peregrine Project)

Now that she’s on her breeding grounds Island Girl has a very compressed schedule. She arrived on June 3 (the day Silver Boy fledged) and absolutely must leave in late September.  Winter comes quickly on Baffin Island so Island Girl always leaves between September 20 and 24.  Always.

This gives her about 111 days to court, lay eggs, incubate, raise nestlings, and teach fledglings.

Her schedule probably looks like this:

  • Courtship and egg laying:  14-18 days, June 3 to June 19.  This is the most optimistic schedule, assuming an established mate, an established territory and no intruders.
  • Incubation: 33-35 days, June 19 to July 23
  • Nestling phase, 39 to 45 days, July 23 to September 3
  • Fledged young dependent on parents, 4-8 weeks,  September 3 to October 1 or October 29.

There’s barely time to fledge young and begin to teach them before she has to leave for Chile. In fact her kids might leave with her and learn to hunt while traveling.

Arctic peregrines are certainly on a tight schedule!


(Island Girl photo by Bud Anderson and Spring 2013 migration tracking map from the Southern Cross Peregrine Project, Falcon Research Group Click on the images to see the originals)

3 responses so far

Jun 21 2013

Light Cues

Peregrine falcon tail feather (photo from Shutterstock)

Though Pitt’s peregrines, Dorothy and E2, are courting again today’s solstice will change that.

All living things have endogenous biological clocks that can run without light cues but we get out of synch with each other and the seasons in the absence of our external timekeeper, the sun.   Today our clocks struck twelve and began to head down again.

For peregrines in northern mid-latitudes the summer solstice ends their breeding cycle (initiated by the winter solstice) and triggers molting and preparation for migration.

Molting is a chilly and energy intensive activity in which birds replace all their feathers.  Since feathers provide warmth it’s cold to lose them.  Growing thousands of new feathers requires protein, increased blood to the feather sites, and changes in the birds’ calcium distribution.  And while flight feathers are being replaced flying is somewhat less efficient, an important consideration for precision-flying peregrines.

It makes sense to schedule this activity for a time when food is abundant and temperatures are warm.  Dorothy and E2 molt their flight feathers in July and August.  Good timing!

Our peregrines don’t migrate but arctic peregrines face an additional challenge.  They begin their molt in the arctic but don’t have time to complete it before they must leave on migration. Their bodies have adapted by starting the molt in the arctic, pausing during migration, and resuming at their wintering grounds in South America.  Very ingenious!

So when the sun paused this morning our birds got in synch.

We did too, we just don’t realize it.

(photo of a peregrine falcon tail feather from Shutterstock. Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 262 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

One response so far

Jun 18 2013

Since He’s Been Gone

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy leaves the nest after courting with E2, 15 June 2013 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)

Since Silver Boy’s death his parents have changed gears.  They’re courting again.

In all my previous experience, Dorothy and E2 have always had other young to feed and teach after the death of a juvenile.  Dorothy would mourn for a day while E2 took care of the “kids.”  Then Dorothy would pick up where she left off and family life would return to normal.

But this year with only one fledgling their parenting duties ended abruptly last Friday.  Instead of mourning they are courting.

When peregrines lose their entire clutch of eggs they immediately resume courtship and lay a second clutch within 14 days.  The earlier in the season this happens, the more likely the second clutch will succeed and fledge.  A complete and early loss of fledglings might trigger the courtship reaction.


On the afternoon of Silver Boy’s death E2 invited Dorothy to bow with him at the nest.  As shown above she sometimes quit bowing before he did, but soon she got into the swing of things.  They’ve been courting several times a day.

Dorothy and E2 court on a rainy day in June (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)


As she does before egg laying, Dorothy has begun hanging out at the nest.  Here she stands at the nest in an “egg-y” position. Yesterday I saw her dig the scrape.

Dorothy thinking about eggs, 15 June 2013 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)


And she spent last night at the nest.

Dorothy spent the night at the nest, 17 June 2013 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)


Will they raise a second family this year?  No.  There is no record of peregrines ever fledging two broods per year in North America.  Our young peregrines must become independent no later than September.  It takes four to five months to raise a peregrine from egg to self-sustaining juvenile.  There just isn’t time.

And the sun will have its effect.  After this Friday’s solstice the days will get shorter and Dorothy and E2′s breeding hormones will decline.  Soon they’ll stop courting and begin their summer life, lounging and molting.


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

9 responses so far

Jun 14 2013

Sad News: Pitt’s only fledgling is dead

Published by under Peregrines

Silver Boy is dead (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning I got a call from Peter Bell and the news was bad.

Peter had just gotten off the bus to come watch Pitt’s peregrine family but instead of finding E2 and his son in the air, he found Silver Boy’s body in the middle of Forbes Avenue in front of the art museum.  He’d been hit by a car.   One of his parents was on Heinz Chapel steeple, staring at the spot where Silver Boy died.

We got permission from the Game Commission to bury this year’s only fledgling. Peter dug the hole and we said goodbye.

The season’s over.  Silver Boy is dead.

(photo by Kate St. John)


p.s.  please see my comment here.

79 responses so far

Jun 14 2013

The Air Show

Published by under Peregrines,Tenth Page

Two juvenile peregrines learn independence in Wilmington, Delaware (photo by Kim Steininger)

June is “air show” month for our local peregrines.  Where the nests have emptied the action is in the air.

After they fledge, young peregrines are dependent on their parents for six to ten weeks while they learn to supply their own food.

Fortunately, as with all predators, they’re born with an instinct to hunt.  Kittens instinctively stalk and pounce.  Peregrines are programmed to chase.  This means they can develop hunting skills without much parental assistance — which is why hacking works.

In their first weeks after fledging, juvenile peregrines chase anything that flies: their parents, their siblings, butterflies, even turkey vultures.

After two to three weeks they begin to focus on prey the right size.  Eventually they capture something, almost by surprise.

In the meantime they play at all the right moves:  chasing, mock dogfights, roll-overs, talon grappling and prey exchanges.

Above a juvenile in Wilmington, Delaware chases his sibling who won the prize.

Keep looking up and you’ll see the air show.


(photo by Kim Steininger.  This Tenth Page is inspired by and quoted from page 501 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

One response so far

Jun 12 2013

Peregrine News Around Town

Published by under Peregrines

Silver Boy chases Dorothy at Pitt (photo by Peter Bell)

At Pitt:  Our youngster is in the “chase me” phase.  If he had brothers and sisters he’d be chasing them. Instead he chases his parents who willingly oblige.  Above, he dives on Dorothy.  Notice the size difference!  Female peregrines are larger.

Those of us who watch him from the ground are currently calling him Silver Boy in keeping with the tradition of ID-by-color of the USFW band.  (His band has no colored tape; it’s silver.)  When we text each other he’s SB, two initials that happen to include all his previous non-names as well.

Downtown:  There’s been no news of this family since the week they fledged except for this:  Last Friday a dead female juvenile peregrine was found on Grant Street, her body recovered by Beth Fife.  This was one of at least two females hatched at the Downtown nest this year.  We know there were at least two because one female was rescued on May 30 while another was still unfledged in the nest.

If you have any news from Downtown, please post a comment.

I-79 Neville Island Bridge:  These peregrines have been a lot of fun to watch.  At 4:00pm yesterday Laura Marshall reported that all three birds had fledged and were staying up high.  Then at 7:00pm she and Anne Marie Bosynak were standing in the park-n-ride lot when one of the juvie males flew rapidly across the river from Glenfield and tried to land in the bushy trees near them.  This was probably his first encounter with vegetation and he got tangled in the branches.  Like any toddler he called for Mom, picked himself up and apparently tried again on another set of bushes.   His parents merely watched.  Youthful enthusiasm!

Westinghouse Bridge:  Fledge Watch begins tomorrow!

Monaca Bridge:  Last Friday Becky Smith saw two peregrines flying and swooping with each other at the big black railroad bridge.  Their behavior this spring indicates they have young in the nest who may be ready to fly.  Stop by the bridge and see if you can spot fledglings.

Tarentum Bridge:  Though this nest failed Rob Protz reports that the peregrines are still there.  Occasionally he gets a good view of the female.

Green Tree water tank:  This nest failed as well but Mary Jo Peden and Shannon Thompson report that one or both peregrines are visible nearly every time they stop by.  I stopped by on Sunday and saw the female.


Our peregrines are off camera now but they’re really busy.  Check them out at any of these locations.

(photo by Peter Bell)

10 responses so far

Jun 11 2013

New! Westinghouse Fledge Watch, June 13-18

Published by under Peregrines

Westinghouse Bridge peregrine nest location (photo by John English)

Late breaking news!  A healthy young peregrine will fledge from the Westinghouse Bridge this weekend.  Join his Fledge Watch, June 13-18.

This is a Watch we thought would never happen.

When Dan Brauning and Art McMorris visited the Westinghouse Bridge on May 16 the lone nestling was seven days old and appeared to be handicapped and unlikely to survive.  In late May PennDot’s John Kleiber checked on the bird and was surprised to find a healthy, well fed youngster.

Yesterday Dan Brauning and Tom Keller of the PA Game Commission visited again, intending to band the bird, but he was too old to approach.  In Dan’s photo below you can see he’s already fully feathered and might have flown too soon with dangerous results.

Nestling at Westinghouse Bridge, 10 Jun 2013 (photo by Dan Brauning, PA Game Commission)

Dan estimates this youngster will fledge on or about June 15.

So, yes, there will be a Fledge Watch at the Westinghouse Bridge beginning this Thursday.  John English is organizing the watch and has provided everything you need to know on his website including contact information.

Contact John to coordinate your visit.  Check his website or Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group for more information.

Happy flying, little bird.

(bridge photo by John English.  Peregrine photo by Dan Brauning, PA Game Commission)

3 responses so far

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