Jun 05 2015

How To Find A Raptor

Red-tailed hawk mobbed by crows (photo by Dori via Wikimedia Commons)

Red-tailed hawk chased by crows (photo by Dori via Wikimedia Commons)

Are you looking for a hawk, an owl, or a fledgling raptor?  Have you seen a juvenile peregrine fly around the corner but now that you’ve made that walk (or run!) you can’t find him?

Stop, listen, and watch for other birds.  They’ll tell you where he is.

Small birds sound the alarm when a bird of prey is near.  In the breeding season they surround and mob the raptor if they think they can get away with it.  They’re trying to drive the raptor away from their nests.

Robins are my favorite hawk-alarms because they’re so loud and persistent.  Other species join them and they all get louder and louder.  When the crows show up it becomes a chase.

So if you need to find a raptor (at a Fledge Watch, for instance) listen for the smaller birds, look where they’re looking and you may find the raptor — though perhaps not the one you’re looking for.


(photo by Dori via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. American robins’s eyes look sideways, not straight on like ours, so you’ll have to pick one side of the head and follow the sight-line from there.  Confusing!

p.p.s.  Mark your calendars for Downtown Pittsburgh Fledge Watch, June 13-20, daylight hours.  Announcements and instructions will roll out in the next several days.  Stay tuned at Outside My Window. Check the Events page for updates.

3 responses so far

Jun 04 2015

Don’t Make Me Lower My Voice!

Song sparrow (photo by John Beatty)

Song sparrow (photo by John Beatty)

When observing songbirds closely, I sometimes notice that a bird is singing softly.  He sings his species tune but he’s whispering.

Among American robins I’ve seen soft song used in courtship but with song sparrows it’s not a sweet activity.

In a study conducted by Duke University, researchers found that song sparrows use soft song only in aggressive male-on-male interactions.  In fact, “the amount of soft song produced is the only singing behavior that can be used to reliably predict a subsequent attack by the singer.”

In other words, if a song sparrow lowers his voice he’s really angry.  Click here to read the study.

“Don’t make lower my voice!”

It’s a useful parenting tool among humans, too.  😉


(photo by John Beatty. Click on the image to see the original)

4 responses so far

Jun 03 2015

Estimated 2015 Fledge Dates for Pittsburgh Area Peregrines

Published by under Peregrines

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

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

Now that peregrine nestlings have been examined and aged in the Pittsburgh area, we can estimate when each site will make its first flight.

The fledging dates below are just estimates, calculated as the 39th day after hatch(*).  Young peregrines fly at 40-45 days old but the actual fledge date is up to the individual bird and sometimes the weather.  Males fly earlier than females because their lighter weight makes it easy to get airborne. In a nest with both male and female chicks the youngest females are alone at the nest for a day or two after the males have left.

In Pittsburgh, point-based Fledge Watches are set for a day or two before expected fledge through at least the second day after the last bird has flown.  Two days before flight it’s fun to watch the birds ledge-walk.  Two days after fledge, young peregrines have enough strength and flight ability to move faster and further than Fledge Watchers can navigate, especially in Downtown Pittsburgh.  At that point the official Fledge Watch dissolves while we wait for random reports of young peregrines peering in windows (nice to know) or accidents requiring rescue.

The table below shows the estimated dates.  Note that end dates always depend on activity at the site.

Nest Site Nestlings 39-day Estimated Fledge Date Watch for accidents until…
Neville Island I-79 Bridge 3 males, 1 female 6/10/2015 (Actual: Two left bridge on 6/6) 6/17 depending on activity
Downtown near corner of
Fifth & Grant
3 chicks, sex unknown, not banded 6/14/2015 (Actual: 1st flew on 6/11) 6/20 depending on activity
Cathedral of Learning at Pitt 1 chick, sex unknown,
development delayed by
5 days as of 5/29/15
6/18 or 6/23/15 due to unknown sex and
delayed development  (Actual: 6/21)
2 Days after the chick fledges
Westinghouse Bridge 2 chicks, sex unknown 7/3/15 7/10 depending on activity


Four of Pittsburgh’s eight peregrine nest sites have either no nesting activity or are a mystery this year.

  • Mystery: Monaca, Beaver County. Nest site is inaccessible on top of the big black P&LE Railroad bridge that crosses the Ohio River from Monaca to Beaver.
  • Mystery: McKees Rocks Bridge. Every year the peregrines’ nest is notoriously hard or impossible to find, even with a bucket truck.  This spring an adult pair was seen on May 24 and the pair “kakked” at a kayaker on the Alcosan side of the river on May 31.  It appears they have young but we have no idea where.
  • No nest:  Tarentum Bridge: This pair has not attempted to nest, perhaps because the male is young and still in juvenile plumage.
  • No peregrines: Green Tree water tower. Nest was attempted in 2013. No peregrines this year.

(photo of a fledgling at the U.S.Steel Tower, June 2014 by Patti Mitsch)

(*) The official first-flight age is 40 days after hatch, but can appear to be 39 days when a bird hatches overnight.

18 responses so far

Jun 02 2015

Pitt Peregrine Discovered at Neville Island

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Peter Bell)

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge was born at Pitt (photo by Peter Bell)

Though all eyes were on the peregrine chick at the Cathedral of Learning last Friday, it was also Banding Day at a second Pittsburgh area nest.

After wrapping up in Oakland, I went with PGC’s Art McMorris and Dan Puhala to the Neville Island I-79 Bridge.

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

While Art and Dan climbed in the bridge structure with their PennDOT guide, I kept my feet firmly on the ground with nest monitors Anne Marie Bosnyak and Laura Marshall, and with three peregrine enthusiasts: Pitt follower Peter Bell, and Canton, Ohio peregrine monitors Chad Steele and Ray Glover.  Chad and Ray drove two hours to see this banding because the mother bird, Magnum, hatched in downtown Canton in 2010.

Magnum kaks a warning, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

Magnum defends her nest, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

Magnum kicked up a fuss(!) kakking, swooping, even running, always shouting at the top of her lungs.

Her nest is hidden in a box-like recess so the only way Art could retrieve the chicks was to perch over open water and reach in barehanded to feel for them one at a time.  Magnum positioned herself inside the nest between Art’s hand and the chicks and slashed at him with her talons every time he reached.  Ow!

Art McMorris of the PA Game Commission hands off a peregrine chick at the Neville Island I-79 bridge, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

Art McMorris of the PA Game Commission hands off a peregrine chick at the Neville Island I-79 bridge, 29 May 2015 (photo by Peter Bell)

While this was going on Magnum’s unidentified mate gave vocal support from a distance.  For years we’ve known he’s banded but couldn’t read his bands. In the excitement he perched above us and Peter got a clear photograph: Black/Green 05/S.

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Peter Bell)

Male peregrine at Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Peter Bell)

I whipped out my Pittsburgh peregrine genealogy (who else would carry this!) and scanned the band numbers.  Surprised to find a match, I learned this bird hadn’t traveled far.  He hatched at the Cathedral of Learning in 2010, son of Dorothy and E2 and the older brother of this year’s chick.  Unnamed at banding, (temporary name was White) Anne Marie and Laura can now give him a permanent name.

His four nestlings at Neville Island I-79 Bridge — three male, one female — are E2’s grandkids.  They’re due to fledge around June 11.

The Pitt Peregrine dynasty continues!


(bridge photo by Kate St. John.  All other photos by Peter Bell)

PGC = Pennsylvania Game Commission

26 responses so far

Jun 01 2015

The Rain Missed Us Again

Published by under Weather & Sky

Just a trace of rain (image from the National Weather Service / FAA)

Just a trace of rain (image from the National Weather Service / FAA)

The ground was parched and cracked in my backyard yesterday morning, so I looked forward to the thunderstorms predicted in the afternoon.

It rained north and west of here but only a trace in my backyard and at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The real rain missed us again.


(image composite from the National Weather Service /FAA)

2 responses so far

Jun 01 2015

All About Names

Published by under Peregrines

Nestling and Dorothy, 31 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

With Dorothy, 31 May 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Now that the chick at the Cathedral of Learning is banded many of you have asked, “When will he get a name?”

The long answer is explored at this FAQ How Do Peregrines Get Their Names? but in short:

  • Some states name the nestlings on Banding Day.  Pennsylvania takes the scientific view and does not.
  • When peregrines nest, it becomes too difficult for observers to discuss them without a name. In Pennsylvania the person(s) who discover/monitor the nest site are the ones who name the adults.  If we can read the peregrine’s band we try to find out if it already has a name.  Most peregrines are unbanded.

In Pennsylvania, fledglings have temporary names during Fledge Watch, based on the colored tape the bander applies to the USFW band on the nestling’s right leg.  Colored tape is used so that Fledge Watch volunteers can identify individual birds with binoculars.  (The black/green band is too hard to read from a distance.)  When there’s only one nestling no colored tape is applied.  The USFW band is silver in Pennsylvania.

The colors don’t change and we reuse the same names year after year: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, White, Silver.  The tape is temporary but is useful in late spring and early summer when the peregrine family is still together in the vicinity of the nest.

At Fledge Watch we describe a bird’s location like this, “Green is on 38th floor, west patio edge.”  If we know the bird is male we might say “Green Boy.”

This nestling has no tape on ‘his’ USFW band and we really don’t know ‘his’ sex so we won’t say Boy or Girl.  At Fledge Watch he’ll just be Silver.

I may as well start calling ‘him’ that right now.


By the way, please do read the naming FAQ.  It explains how Dorothy, E2, Louie and Dori got their names and much much, more.

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

27 responses so far

May 31 2015

This Morning’s Walk in Schenley Park

Participants in May 31 Walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Participants in May 31 Walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Great turnout this morning — 21 people, including myself — and the weather cooperated!

From our meeting place at the Visitors Center we could see E2 on the lightning rod at the Cathedral of Learning so we talked about peregrines and I answered questions before we walked to Panther Hollow Lake.

Best sightings included beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles at their nests, a house wren at its nest in a street lamp, and northern rough-winged swallows taking flight-baths in the lake.  Two wood thrushes sang in the woods and common whitetail dragonflies chased at the lake edge.

Spend time outdoors in the weeks ahead.  In mid-June come to Peregrine Fledge Watches (to be announced) at Schenley Plaza, Downtown, Neville Island and the Westinghouse Bridge.  And on Sunday June 28 I’ll lead another walk in Schenley Park.

Check the schedule on my Events page for the latest updates.



(photo by Kate St. John)

One response so far

May 31 2015

Named For A Dogs’ Body Part

Published by under Plants

Houndstongue, Ohio's Lake Erie shore, 16 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cynoglossum officinale, Ohio’s Lake Erie shore, 16 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

And now for something completely different.  This morning I’m taking a break from peregrines to tell you about an unusual name.

I found this plant blooming on Lake Erie’s sandy shore at Magee Marsh, Ohio this month.  It took me a while to identify it because it’s non-native.

Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is native to Eurasia but was accidentally introduced to North America where it happily grows in waste places.  It’s been spreading for so long that Michigan declared it one of the worst weeds in the state more than 100 years ago.  This one was growing just across the lake from Michigan.  Perhaps it migrated to Ohio.

The plant is twice-named for a dog’s tongue: “houndstongue” and cyno (dog) glossum (tongue).  Theoretically, if you put a houndstongue leaf in your shoe no dogs will bite you, but that outcome is statistically likely even without the leaf.

If I’d crushed a leaf I would have noticed the plant smells bad — like “rats and mice” — which is one of its nicknames.  Nonetheless people have used it as a cure for baldness, hemorrhoids, respiratory problems, and madness.   There’s no proof that it heals but it will make you sick.  Houndstongue contains cancer-causing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, toxic to the liver and to livestock.

Be careful when you put that leaf in your shoe.


(photo by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

May 30 2015

Nestling News From Pitt

First indoor look at Dorothy and E2's 2015 chick (photo by Kate St. John)

First in-hand look at Dorothy and E2’s 2015 chick (photo by Kate St. John)

I filed a brief report yesterday on the peregrine chick banding at the Cathedral of Learning. Here’s news to fill in the gaps with a note about pronouns.  I’m using the pronouns “he” and “him” though we really don’t know his sex.

Yesterday the chick’s in-hand exam showed he has no deformities but has experienced delayed development.  Peregrine chicks develop so fast that biologists can age them by examining their behavior and measuring their legs and emerging feathers.  Because we have a webcam we know the chick hatched on May 10 making him 19 days old on Banding Day.  If we didn’t know when he hatched, his behavior and measurements say he’s 14 days old.

Here he waited and watched while the vet observed him quietly.

Pitt Peregrine chick (photo by Kate St. John)

Pitt Peregrine chick waits quietly (photo by Kate St. John)

The vet examined his skin and feathers and found parasites (insects) under his wings and in his feathers. Insects arrive at the nest on the bodies of newly killed bird(s) that parents feed to the chicks.  This transfer of insect pests happens so often to young peregrines that the banders always carry medicated powder to dust and debug the nestlings.  This chick was powdered yesterday and soon, or now, is bug-free.  The powder is long-lasting.  He will stay bug-free even if more bugs arrive at the nest.

The chick’s mouth was examined for trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection of the mouth, throat and jaw.  Fortunately he showed no sign of “trich.”

Disease and parasites consume a nestling’s energy and can delay development.  Delay can also result from a less nutritious yolk, a common occurrence in the eggs of older birds (Dorothy is 16).  If the yolk (food) is not nutritious, the embryo is malnourished.  We don’t know if that happened here.

Delayed development made it challenging to determine his sex.  At banding age, male peregrines weigh considerably less than females (2/3) so weight plus days-since-hatch indicate the sex.  How old is this nestling?  19 days on camera but 14 days in-hand.  Since his sex could not be determined he was given the larger size female band in case he/she grows into it.

The vet drew blood for a blood test that will take 10-14 days to complete.  (I’m not a vet and have no idea what they are testing.)  The preliminary result shows the chick is anemic — no surprise since parasites were sucking his blood.  Now that he’s bug-free he can absorb nutrition at a much higher rate.

By the end of the exam he was sitting up and squawking — a really good sign!

Sitting up (photo by Kate St. John)

Sitting up like a Buddha. Peregrines have very large feet (photo by Kate St. John)

With new “bling” on his legs he went back to his parents and spent lots of time sleeping off the excitement.

He’s had some challenges but he’s got great parents and stands a good chance of catching up.

Coming soon:

  • Peregrine nest area diagrams to show that this bird cannot jump/fall off the Cathedral of Learning — even if he wanted to.
  • News of other peregrine nests in Pittsburgh — Neville, Downtown, Westinghouse.


(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Someone asked if the fluffy leg feathers (“pants”) on Dorothy are a sign of parasites.  No, it’s just one of the many expressive ways birds hold their feathers.  In ravens it’s a way of showing power and superiority.  I don’t know what it means among peregrines.

44 responses so far

May 29 2015

He’s Staying With Mom

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine chick at Cathedral of Learning, 29 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

This Cathedral of Learning peregrine chick is banded and he’s going back to Mom & Dad.

His sex is undetermined because he’s been slow in development – feathers and strength are at age 14 days, though actual age is 19 days – but he had no deformities and has a good chance of catching up.

He did have feather parasites so he was treated with medication to remove them & that problem is virtually gone.

If you’ve been watching on camera, you can see he’s back at the nest with new “bling” on his legs.

Happy Banding Day!


(photo by Kate St. John)

52 responses so far

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