Jun 24 2015

On His Way To Rehab

Published by under Peregrines

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect, 21 June 2015, 8:41am — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This afternoon the Pitt peregrine chick flew for the second time and landed, unscathed, on the patio at Hillman Library.  Though Fledge Watchers were on the scene from noon to 2:30pm we missed him again, though we did see his parents.

Silver’s second flight was another straight down drop from the nest location, a vertical distance of 400 feet.  In the 14 years I’ve monitored this nest, we have never had a fledgling land on the ground on his first flight, let alone his second.

This unusual performance was puzzling to the PA Game Commission so they took a very close look at the bird.  Silver wasn’t injured by his two trips but his right wing has a feather-growth defect that explains why he can’t fly well.  Officer Puhala called me to say he had recovered the bird at Hillman Library and the defect is sending the fledgling to rehab.

I looked for motion detection snapshots of the feather defect and was surprised it was so obvious.  It was there before he took his first flight.  We just never noticed. (All of the photos are from early morning June 21 before Silver left the nest.)

As you can see, his right wing is missing most of its secondaries, one of his primaries is flipped, and his upper wing coverts are short or missing.  Simply put, Silver’s wings are lopsided.  Of course he goes straight to the ground.

In this condition he cannot learn to hunt and would not survive his first year in the wild.  If it’s not a permanent defect — if he actually has the proper feather follicles — then he must go through a complete molt (a year from now) before he can begin to fly.  After the molt he will have to be taught to hunt before he can be released.  If his feather defect is permanent, he will become an education bird.  In any case, he’ll be in rehab for quite a while.

Below are more photos from before he ever attempted to fly.

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feathering defect, 21 June, 8:41am — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feathering defect — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

In late May we knew he was a special needs bird.  Now he’ll get the special attention he needs.

 

p.s. At this time we do not know what caused the defect.

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

75 responses so far

Jun 24 2015

Wet Weather Brings …

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At the end of May I lamented that my backyard was dry and cracked while 27 counties in Pennsylvania were under a Drought Watch.

Conditions have changed significantly.

From a May rain deficit of 1.23 inches, Pittsburgh now has a surplus of 2.00″ in the first 23 days of June. (Normal in Pittsburgh is 3.95″ for May and 3.30″ to the 23rd of June.)  Yes it’s wet!

Around western Pennsylvania it’s wet elsewhere, too.  New Castle got 2.32″ in yesterday’s storms alone!  Johnstown is 6.5″ above normal for the month (300% of normal) and Dubois stands at 1.85″ above normal for June 23.

The wet weather has caused flash floods, flooded basements and another more subtle problem:  fungus.

On Monday I noticed that the tulip trees in Schenley Park and at Phipps’s outdoor garden have brown curled leaves at the top.  Worried that we had another forest pest on our hands I emailed this photo to Phil Gruszka, my favorite tree expert at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  He says its anthracnose.

Anthacnose is a group of fungi that infect shade trees, usually browning their leaves but sometimes infecting their twigs, bark and fruit.  Each tree species has its own specific fungus pest.  The one that infects tulip trees attacks the leaves.

In large stands of trees there’s no practical treatment for anthracnose.  Though it may weaken the trees it doesn’t kill them outright and they get a respite if the weather changes.  The fungi go away when it’s dry.

When will it be dry?  … Do we dare ask that question?

 

p.s. Libby in New Castle, Marianne in Dubois area, and Marcy in Indiana County, how’s the weather out there?

(photo by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

Jun 23 2015

Another Piece of the Puzzle

Peregrine chick on the lawn with a red-tailed hawk (photo by Mike Meucci)

Red-tailed hawk looking at the Peregrine chick on the lawn, 21 June 2015, 11:26am. The lawn is big!  (photo by Mike Meucci)

What did the Pitt peregrine chick do when he flew on Sunday June 21 and when did he do it?

Yesterday I received some photos that filled in a piece of the puzzle.

On Sunday morning Mike Meucci was on campus near Heinz Chapel when he saw two birds of prey on the lawn. The two looked like an adult and youngster but they were actually a red-tailed hawk with Silver(*), the Pitt peregrine chick.  Unaware of their identity, Mike took several pictures.

The photos indicate that some time before 11:26am Silver had flown from the nest and landed with amazing accuracy in the roped off area where humans aren’t allowed to walk.  In the first photo you can see Fifth Avenue, Tennyson, and Alumni Hall in the background.

A red-tailed hawk came down to see the peregrine.  Notice the size difference.  Peregrine falcons are indeed smaller than red-tailed hawks.  And notice that their faces differ.  The peregrine has a malar stripe.

Red-tailed hawk with Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015, 11:27am (photo by Mike Meucci)

Red-tailed hawk with Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015, 11:27am (photo by Mike Meucci)

Fledgling peregrines are curious, not threatening, but Dorothy and E2 beat up the campus red-tailed hawks if they dare to fly above the treetops.  This hawk knows Silver’s parents well and keeps a low profile.

The red-tailed hawk scanned the sky a lot.  “I hope your parents don’t see me!”

Red-tailed hawk with Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015, 11:27am (photo by Mike Meucci)

Red-tailed hawk with Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015, 11:27am (photo by Mike Meucci)

“Just thinking about peregrines makes me raise my head feathers!”

Red-tailed hawk with Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015, 11:27am (photo by Mike Meucci)

Red-tailed hawk with Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015, 11:27am (photo by Mike Meucci)

Unfazed by this encounter, Silver later walked to Heinz Chapel and climbed the steps where he was reported to and guarded by the Pitt Police.

When Fledge Watchers heard the peregrine chick was on the ground at 2:30pm we were temporarily confused because we never saw him fly.  (Of course! He was on the lawn more than half an hour before we began our watch at noon.)  And we wondered if the report was about a red-tailed hawk since they often stand on the ground.

Well, yes, there was a red-tailed hawk on the ground near Heinz Chapel … but that was three hours earlier.

 

(photos by Mike Meucci)

(*) A NOTE ABOUT THE BIRD’S NAME:  If you have questions/comments about the temporary name “Silver”  first read the information at these links: How peregrine chicks get temporary names and adults get permanent names, and How the name does not affect the bird’s destiny.  Please be sure to read the all comments at these links — all the way back to June 1 — as well as the name comments here before posting your own comment about names.  My apologies in advance, but if your comment was already asked/answered it will not be posted here.

60 responses so far

Jun 23 2015

Reminder: Let’s walk in Schenley Park, June 28

Published by under Books & Events

Single Bottlebrush Buckeye flower spire - 3/4 bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird and nature walk on Sunday June 28, 8:30am in Schenley Park. Meet at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

Dress for the weather. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Click here for more information and updates if the walk is canceled for bad weather.

I know we’ll find bottlebrush buckeye blooming.

See you soon.

 

(photo of bottlebrush buckeye by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Jun 22 2015

He Flew Under the Radar

Published by under Peregrines

Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015 before his adventure (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, 21 June 2015 before his adventure (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Some time yesterday morning while no one was watching — not even his parents — the Pitt peregrine chick made his first flight and had a big adventure.

He landed near Heinz Chapel and climbed the steps, was guarded by Pitt Police and returned to his nest at 2:40pm by a PA Game Commission Officer.

Two blocks away at Schenley Plaza, 10 to 12 of us had been at Fledge Watch since noon with a clear view of the airspace between the nest and Heinz Chapel.  We never saw him fly and his parents, Dorothy and E2, were acting normally, flying together, spending time near the nest and looking into the gully as if the chick was there. As Fledge Watchers we cue on the parents to find the “kids.”  Dorothy and E2 didn’t even glance toward Heinz Chapel.  None of us knew.  He flew under the radar.

Yesterday was Music Day at the Schenley tent so we couldn’t hear our cellphones ring but at 2:30pm we suddenly saw calls and text messages that Jody Rosenberg reported the chick on the ground with Pitt Police at Heinz Chapel.  Talk about confusion!  We’d been watching for 2.5 hours and saw nothing!  How could this be true?

And in fact, at that moment the bird was in the elevator on his way back to the nest.   I ran to the Cathedral of Learning and met the Pitt Police and PGC Officers when they came down to the lobby.  Apparently the bird was reported before noon and yes, PGC confirmed that he was banded “43/BR.”   We could see him on the webcam on our cellphones.

Back at nest, he yelled at his rescuer and his parents, had a big dinner and a good long afternoon nap.

Today he’s ready to try again.

 

(photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

24 responses so far

Jun 21 2015

Midsummer Day and Night

Traditional Midsummer Night Festival bonfire in Lappeenranta, Finland (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Traditional Midsummer Night Festival bonfire in Lappeenranta, Finland (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Today the sun will reach its northernmost point, the northern solstice, at 12:38pm.

In northern Europe this is Midsummer Day, celebrated the night before with enormous bonfire festivals, especially in Scandinavia, Latvia and Estonia.

Midsummer folklore includes old stories that spirits and witches roam the night so bonfires were set to keep them away.  Shakespeare embellished on the folklore in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  His fairies cast spells on each other; Titania fell in love with Bottom.

Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania and Bottom, by Edwin Lanseer (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom, by Edwin Lanseer (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

If you celebrate the evening outdoors, be careful not to fall in love with an ass. 😉

 

(Midsummer festival fire in Lapeenranta, Finland and Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania and Bottom by Edwin Lanseer, both from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the images to see the originals)

7 responses so far

Jun 20 2015

When Will The Pitt Nestling Fly?

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine nestling at Pitt, 17 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine nestling at Pitt, 17 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Ever since the Pitt peregrine nestling jumped to the green perch, online watchers are a-buzz with this question:

When will the Cathedral of Learning nestling fly?

Answer: We don’t know.

It’s always difficult to predict Fledge Dates. Though the rule of thumb says they fledge 38-45 days after hatch, the timing depends on age, sex and physical condition.  Some break the rules, as did the early males this month at Neville Island Bridge and Downtown.

This year’s Pitt nestling is even more challenging to predict because:

  • The chick has (or had) delayed development.  At 19-days-old it had 14-day-old feather growth.  Will it fledge 5 days late?  We don’t know.
  • Fledge dates are earlier for male nestlings than for females because the males are lighter weight.  Is this bird a male or a female?  We don’t know.

Thoughts on the bird’s sex keep fluctuating.  The size of his legs/feet say he’s male (males have smaller feet), but when we see she’s nearly the size of Dorothy now we think she’s female.

Dorothy feeding Pitt nestling, 17 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy feeding Pitt nestling, 17 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

And none of this matters anyway.  The bird will fly on its own schedule.

At the Cathedral of Learning here’s what peregrine chicks do as they approach Fledge Date:

  1. First adventure: Nestling “Ledge Walks” off camera and/or explores below the nestYou can’t see him but he has not flown yet.  (Online video watchers, for you the bird will simply disappear.  Click the links to see pictures and videos showing what actually happens.)
  2. For several days: More adventures back & forth to the nest.  He has not flown yet.
  3. At some point: Leaves the nest for a nearby ledge and doesn’t return.  On the day this happens he has not flown yet.
  4. A couple of days after Step 3 the nestling flies for the first time and lands up high on the Cathedral of Learning.

WARNING:  During this period curious people can scare the chick into premature flight that will end his life in a crash.  No close view or photo is “innocent.”  If you’re in Pittsburgh, stay away from the nesting area.  You don’t want to be the one who scared the chick and killed him!

Online watchers, you will know the bird will fly in a few days when you don’t see him on camera anymore.  Your watching will end long before the bird flies.

In Pittsburgh our watching will be extended as we view the peregrines from Schenley Plaza and later watch the juvenile on campus into the month of July.

Pittsburgh Peregrine Fans, come on down to the Schenley Plaza tent and I’ll show you where to look.  Watch Dorothy and E2 do flight demonstrations and prey exchanges!  See Dorothy beat up turkey vultures, even bald eagles!   Click here for the calendar. p.s. I won’t be there in rain or thunder.

 

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

21 responses so far

Jun 20 2015

Blood Test Results, 29 May 2015

Published by under Peregrines

The active nestling at Pitt, 20 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam)

The active nestling at Pitt, 20 June 2015 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam)

Late yesterday I received this summary of the Pitt nestling’s blood test results from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Some of you have expressed an interest in this information so I am posting it here.

“When examined on banding day, the nestling was found to be significantly infested with blood-sucking ectoparasites and was given appropriate treatment.

Blood tests conducted by Dr. Wagner revealed that the nestling was anemic, probably due to the ectoparasites, but the complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry results were within normal limits. The only abnormality was a low packed cell volume indicating anemia.

Tests for West Nile Virus, Avian Influenza Virus and internal parasites were negative.”

The blood sample was taken on Banding Day, 29 May 2015, at the Cathedral of Learning when the peregrine chick was 19 days old.

 

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

24 responses so far

Jun 19 2015

Recognize Individual Song Sparrows

Song sparrow at Schenley Plaza, 2013 (photo by Peter Bell)

Song sparrow at Schenley Plaza (photo by Peter Bell)

Believe it or not with practice you can recognize individual song sparrows by voice.

I learned this when I read about the pioneering work of Margaret Morse Nice in Columbus, Ohio.  In 1928 she began an eight year study of song sparrows at her home along the Olentangy River.  Her Studies in the life history of the Song Sparrow changed the course of American ornithology.

Margaret Morse Nice banded the song sparrows and made meticulous observations of their behavior.  She listened carefully to their songs and wrote down the variations including the phrases they borrowed from neighbors.

Her research spawned many studies of song development. We now know that: Songbirds learn their songs by listening when they are adolescents, practicing phrases, and eventually mastering their species song.  Each bird then improvises to make the song his own.  The males work hard to be skilled and unique singers because the females are attracted by the best courtship songs.

I wondered if I could recognize an individual’s song so I started at home.

My backyard is the territory of a male song sparrow whose tune I hear every morning.  Eventually I learned his morning song(*). If I could write musical notation I’d put it here.

From my front porch I can hear “my” song sparrow and my neighbor’s front yard sparrow counter-singing to maintain their territories.  I know those two don’t sound the same.

I can’t identify more than one tune yet but I can recognize “my” song sparrow in the morning now.

Try it and see.

 

(photo by Peter Bell)

(*) Dr. Tony Bledsoe says that each song sparrow may have up to five distinct songs.  So though I’ve learned the “Good morning” tune I’ve got a lot more learning to do!

9 responses so far

Jun 19 2015

Out In The Wide World

Published by under Peregrines

The last nestling (#3) at the Downtown nest on Wed. June 17, 2015 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Last nestling, #3, at the Downtown nest, Wed. June 17, 2015 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Today the Downtown Pittsburgh nest is empty.  All three young peregrines are out in the wide world.

On Wednesday Lori Maggio captured a portrait of #3 waiting at the nest ledge for just the right moment to leave.

By midday Thursday the bird had already flown and been rescued when Lori saw her on the Frick Building near the rescue porch.

Fledgling #3 above the rescue porch, Thurs. 18 June 2015 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Fledgling #3 near the rescue porch, Thurs. 18 June 2015 (photo by Lori Maggio)

#3 didn’t linger.  She soon flew to join her brothers on another high building.  Read about her adventures here.

As I mentioned last evening, if the young peregrines stay up high the official Downtown Fledge Watch is over today.  (Official Fledge Watch ends when the birds have graduated to the upper air and are out of ground-based danger.). UPDATE AT 9:00AM: Rain and there are no peregrines near the ground. We’re done!

You can always watch the peregrines on your own schedule.  If you do please post a comment to tell us what you see.  We’d love to know!

Today I’ll be at two peregrine sites:  Downtown Fledge Watch (8:15am to 10:00am) and Pitt Peregrine Viewing (12:00pm to 2:00pm).

Join me at the Schenley Plaza tent in the days ahead to watch the peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning.  Click here for the complete Pitt peregrine calendar.  NOTE: I will not be out there in rain or thunderstorms.

 

(photos of Downtown peregrine fledgling #3 by Lori Maggio)

p.s. Don’t forget the Westinghouse Bridge peregrine banding on Monday, June 22 — full details here.

3 responses so far

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