Tag Archives: peregrine falcons

Spring Fever!

crocusYesterday The New York Times published a lovely editorial praising the robin as the harbinger of spring. The editors wrote:

Somehow the robin stands for all the birds migrating now, the great V’s of geese heading north, the catbirds that will show up surreptitiously in a month. It also stands for the surprise of spring itself, which we had begun to fear would not arrive. We have all been keeping watch, as though one morning it might come sailing over the horizon. And now it’s here — the air a bit softer, snowdrops and winter aconites blooming, the bees doing their cleaning and the robins building their nests again.

As Denise mentioned yesterday, Sunday’s equinox marked the official beginning of spring, and in celebration I’m engaging in all sorts of seasonal activities. From watching the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning guard their newly laid eggs to checking up on what the fashion world‘s elite have in mind for post-sweater weather, all things spring have caught my attention. My reading taste has spring fever, too, and I’m checking out lots of books related to nature and the outdoors.

John Fowles The TreeThe other day I stumbled across John Fowles’  The Tree, a naturalist classic whose website describes it as a “moving meditation on the connection between the natural world and human creativity, and a powerful argument against taming the wild.” The newest edition boasts an introduction by Barry Lopez, whose own nature-oriented meditations I’ve recently enjoyed in magazines like Tricycle.

The Tree is light enough to bring it with me on walks, another favorite warm weather Wanderlust : a history of walking / Rebecca Solnit.activity of mine. In the fall, I moved into a new house, so I’m looking forward  to discovering the changes warmer seasons bring to my new neighborhood.  As I read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking,  my mind can wonder about walking as I wander around.

The spell of the sensuous : perception and language in a more-than-human world / David Abram.One book that’s inspired many a musing since I read it is deep ecologist David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, a philosophical reflection on the ways nature may have shaped humans’ linguistic and perceptual evolution. In lyrical, moving prose, Abrams imagines our place in nature as participatory and reciprocal–both seeing and seen, feeling and felt–by the network of animals and landscapes we’re part of.

Springtime inspires my political activity as well. The more time I spend in our beautiful habitat, the more I appreciate and want to protect it. Locally, concerns about the environmental effects of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale and uncertainly about how our state’s elected legislature will handle it motivate me to stay informed about the subject and tell my state representatives how I feel.

In terms of my personal habitat, I’m preoccupied with all of the possibilities for a raised bed garden I’m planning. To prepare, I’m consulting every gardening resource I see (including my wise coworkers), and tomorrow I’m attending Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s free lunchtime lecture about rain barrels and rain gardens.

Reading, walking, gardening, and generally growing give me plenty to do as the days lengthen. I hope spring fever also brings you lots of ways to spend your ever-increasing hours of sunlight!


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The Peregrines are back!

Two of Pittsburgh’s Peregrine Falcons, Dorothy and E2, have returned to their nest near the top of the Cathedral of Learning. For many Pittsburghers, watching the falcons is a pre-spring ritual. Last year was my first year as a falcon-watcher, and I’m hooked.

You can keep tabs by going to the live Pittsburgh falconcams at the Gulf Tower, the Cathedral of Learning, or at the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg. All of these sites offer ample information on the birds’ behavior and history.  To see a preview of the coming month’s events, you can watch a slideshow of the 2008 nesting season at the Cathedral of Learning site.  WQED’s “bird blog,” Outside My Window includes spirited commentary on the birds’ behavior, as well as an FAQ about the Peregrines, as well as many other informative nature-watching musings and images.

If you’ve never watched the Peregrines from courting to nesting to fledging before, this is a perfect year to start. While the cameras offer an intimate, close-up view of the creatures, remember when you’re in Oakland or downtown: don’t forget to look up!


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bird’s eye view

feeding time at the Harrisburg nest

feeding time at the Harrisburg nest, 5/7/9

Last week, I met my new favorite Pittsburghers, who live on the 40th floor of the Cathedral of Learning.  They are Dorothy, E2, and a brood of newly-hatched peregrine falcon chicks.  A video feed that the National Aviary in Pittsburgh installed in 2007 updates every few seconds, so anyone can witness the birds’ daily activity live.

That we are able to observe such wild animals with such intimacy is impressive, but the fact that the peregrines are there at all is a tremendous feat in itself.  Peregrine falcons (whose name means “wandering,” in reference to their migration habits) used to be among the most widespread birds in the world.  They live on every continent except Antarctica and adapt to nearly every climate.  Use of the pesticide DDT in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, however, caused peregrine eggshells to thin and break easily, killing the incubating chicks.  In the US, their population reduced by an estimated 12%.  Peregrines were among the first species listed as endangered in 1974, and although they were removed from the federal list in 1999, they remain on some states’, such as Pennsylvania’s.

feeding time at the Cathedral of Learning nest

feeding time at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 5/7/9

But the peregrines are coming back, thanks to a professor at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the Peregrine Fund at the World Center for Birds of Prey, goverment agencies, and passionate people dedicated to saving the falcons.  These organizations raise injured or vulnerable birds in captivity and release them, band and track birds, and place special nests in sites where wild birds show interest.

Peregrines are fascinating animals.  Among the fastest creatures on Earth, they can dive up to 200 mph to snatch prey from the air, mid-flight.  The chicks begin cheeping through their shells before they even hatch.  According to the animal totem book Animal Speak, falcons represent mental agility and “teach us to know when to act” and “to fully commit to our actions for the greatest success.”

Watching the tender moments when the parent birds quietly guard or nestle with the brood or tear up prey and carefully feed each hungry beak reveals a tender, patient side to these creatures renowned for their skilled hunting abilities.  Right now, the nestlings mostly huddle in a white fluffy pile, but I am so excited to witness them become fledgelings over the next few weeks and then move on to seek their own partners and nesting sites. 

Peregrine adults and chicks in the Harrisburg nest, 5/7/9 ~7:00 pm

Peregrine adults and chicks in the Harrisburg nest, 5/7/9

The falcons nesting at the Cathedral of Learning are among many other peregrines who live in cities.  Their closest neighbors reside on the 37th floor of the Gulf Tower downtown.  Another pair uses the 15th floor of the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg–monitored by a real-time, streaming video feed (with sound!).  Still others live all over the world, partnering with wild falcons or others raised in captivity or the human-created nests.

For more about the Pittsburgh peregrines and other wildlife, be sure to check out the empassioned, funny, and extremely informative blog Outside My Window, maintained by Kate St. John, a WQED employee and the enthusiastic authority on our feathered yinzers.

If these falcons inspire you to celebrate some of the other wild birds in your habitat, refer to Eleventh Stacker Julie’s post from about a year ago for some suggestions on guides and an account of her own up-close raptor encounter.


sleepy time at the Harrisburg nest, 5/7/9 ~7:00 pm

sleepy time at the Harrisburg nest, 5/7/9




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