My good fortune includes my friends and acquaintances that know what they are talking about, even when I don’t. My cousin Ernie fits right in. His ongoing commentary about the Peregrines at 1201 3rd Ave. Seattle, I find invaluable as well as entertaining. The following is among the latest notes that I have received from him. Enjoy!
05/22/22. Still four very active and healthy looking chicks up there. One was out of the nest box again this AM. So … Feather growth. Over the next three weeks we’re going to see these white floof balls transform before our very eyes into sleek falcons. You can see the wing flight feathers (primaries and secondaries) already emerging on the chick closest to the camera. They grow out of feather follicles in the skin and each one is supplied with blood as it grows. At this stage they are referred to as blood feathers. They are pretty delicate until hardened. A broken blood feather, especially one of the larger ones, can lead to blood loss and potentially even death. They grow from the tip out. After they’ve fully emerged, the blood supply is cut off and the feathers “harden up”.
I just wanted to note that I very much appreciate your email comments to me. Please keep it up! However, if you post your comments on this blog, others can read and appreciate them too. Double the fun.
Cousin Ernie likened waiting for eggs to hatch to watching paint dry or grass grow. I certainly get it. Some days are special and some ordinary. Whether special or ordinary we have little control over what happens when. Bad weather makes birding difficult. The birds don’t like it, and neither do I. It takes somewhere around a month for Peregrine eggs to develop and a day or two for them to hatch. We watch paint dry for a long time, then, in the blink of an eye it is done. Good weather, on the other hand, isn’t always what it’s cut out to be either. I had a friend once claim to me “Ho hum, it’s just another Eagle.” Eagles are absolutely majestic, but around here, they are also quite common. Sunny (good) weather can become boringly common too. Hatching, migration arrivals, mating, sunshine after a dreary week, rain showers after an oppressive drought, are all occasions for celebration and excitement in the bird world. Molting, cold, food shortages, competition are hunkering down situations. Every so often I have to remind myself that Bird of the Day experiences the same kind of give and take that is expected of all phases of all of our lives. Believe me it was exciting when I discovered a Red-necked Phalarope in the view finder of my camera. There have been hundreds, even thousands of Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos for each and every Phalarope. It feels grand to have your face warmed by the morning sun, but often what’s needed is a snuggle with a good book. Song Sparrows and Juncos are comfortably familiar.
Evelyn and Harold
A couple of days ago, at one of my local sea bird hot spots, I was pleasured with a flock of Caspian Terns. These Terns are one of my favorites. Their appearance is striking, with a bold black cap, and a huge orange saber for a bill. They are vocal and animated. They are often paired up as well. Both sexes are presented the same so that it is difficult to tell the boys from the girls, but their behaviors often give them away. Last year I watched a male tell his sweety to hang tight and he would be right back. He flew off and returned a few minutes later with a big fish that he gave to her as a gift. They squawk and strut and flap. Very amusing. This latest encounter was no less entertaining. Starting Wednesday, May 11, I would like to introduce you to Evelyn and Harold, another delightful couple that will sing and dance for you during the following week. Let me know what you think.
Cousin Ernie: Retired Zoo Keeper/ Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Most birds and Oviparous (egg laying) reptiles develop what is called an egg tooth prior to hatching. It is a sharp bony projection near the tip of the upper beak. It looks like a tiny rhinoceros horn. It is used to help the young break out of the shell and is usually dropped within a week after hatching. It is often flattened from side to side so can act as a knife as well as a poker. The chicks use their neck and back muscles to push the egg tooth up and out, initially cutting their way through the inner egg membrane and then through the outer shell. First they cut into the air cell in the broad end of the egg. This is when they first begin breathing air and when they can begin vocalizing. These calls from within the egg signal to the adults that hatching is eminent. They may also be communicating with their nest mates which may help them to synchronize their hatching. The next step is called pipping. They push their egg tooth through the outer egg shell to create a small hole. It’s a lot of hard work and they may rest for 24 to 48 hours before proceeding on. The parents seldom help the chicks out of the egg, so it’s all up to them to get out. After pipping they cut their way around the end of the egg using the sharp edge of their egg tooth as a knife until they’ve created an opening large enough to squirm out through.
The Peregrins in downtown Seattle are currently incubating four eggs
Nothing new. Both Lena and Spike continue to take turns incubating. Hatching “window”. The 4th egg was laid on April 3, 2022. Peregrines sometimes begin incubating between the 3rd & 4th eggs but occasionally will wait until the 4th egg before seriously getting down to it. Incubation can be as short as 30 days or as long as 34 days, even 35 or 36 days have been recorded, but 32 days is normal. So … given all the variables, we can calculate a hatch window. Hatching could be as early as May 2nd or even as late as May 9th, but will most likely occur around May 4th or May 5th. Also, each egg/embryo is developing on its own timeline, so they probably won’t all hatch simultaneously. They may hatch within a few hours of each other or as much as 48 hours apart. I’ve been wrong on most of my predictions about these guys before, but I guess we’ll see.
Via Cousin Ernie, Lena has laid four eggs. She and her husband Spike are sharing duties keeping them warm. Now we have to wait 32 days until something else happens. Following are interesting tidbits that Ernie has shared.
Peregrine Nest Boxes Someone asked last week why they are so rudimentary. Falcons in the genus Falco don’t build nests as such. In N America, Kestrels (F. sparverius) are cavity nesters using Woodpecker holes, natural openings in snags, or covered nest boxes provided by humans. Merlins (F. columbarius) usually take over Crow or Magpie nests. The three larger falcons, Prairie’s (F. mexicanus), Peregrine’s (F. peregrinus), and Gyr’s (F. rusticolus) usually nest on relatively high cliff face ledges. They lay their eggs in a shallow bowl scraped out of the substrate soil or gravel. The Peregrine nest boxes merely hold the substrate (pea-gravel) that gives them a place to create a “scrape”. Highrise buildings look like cliffs to these birds and with an abundance of prey (pigeons, etc) they are very attractive nest sites. The nest boxes were never meant to “lure” the Peregrines in. The birds were already here and already making attempts to breed. In ’92 we found a nest in a planter box on the balcony of a downtown Seattle Condo. It was unsuccessful. Placing the nest boxes was just an attempt to provide the birds with relatively safe locations to raise their chicks.
Maybe birds are in my genes. I want to introduce you to my cousin Ernie. Ernie lives in Shoreline, one of Seattle’s northern suburbs. Ernie is retired after an accomplished career as an ornithologist with the Washington Park Zoo with a specialty in raptors. Ernie and I stay in touch on bird and family matters. He agreed that I could share some of his bird smarts with you.
Every spring he follows the family life of a pair of Peregrine Falcons living in downtown Seattle. Peregrines are magnificent birds in the wild, but you may not know that they also take to urban environments. They nest on the ledges of tall buildings in our cities and hunt Rock Doves (Park Pigeons). The current residents of 1201 Third Ave., Seattle are Lena and Spike. Lena has recently laid her third egg. We may get a fourth, or not. Ernie will keep us posted as this family develops. This is not their first brood. They are experienced parents. Hope you have as much fun as I do watching these eggs turn into mature Falcons that leave the nest for their own lives and families.
My Dear Friends are you (as well as the birds). Sometimes we talk in person. Sometimes we share emails. Sometimes you comment on this blog. Sometimes I just know that you are looking at these posts. Always, you let me know that these birds and this sharing is meaningful to you. Thank you! I truly love it. I care about my neighbors and where I live. I care about my country. Our politics and controversies concern me, and often I’m asked “What can I do?” Sharing these birds is a powerful tool for building a better society. I’ve tried door belling and writing my congress-person but I’ve not found a better meeting place than these birds. Yesterday, after repairing a broken seed dispenser, Carole and I just sat in the yard for an hour or so with the birds literally surrounding us: the Jays cautiously snatching up their peanuts, the Chickadees going boldly where no bird has gone before, and the Downys and Juncos, Bush-tits, Towhees, and Sparrows all joining in the throng. It was truly mesmerizing. So many of you send me notes to tell me “The Rufous, or the Swallows have arrived,” or “O’M’ Gosh there is a swan in our lake.” If the “Lib-tards”, or the “Right-wing nut cases” are getting under your skin, remember the House Finch sitting on your deck railing, in all his beauty, just being Mr. House Finch. His head is red and his sky is blue – and to him, it doesn’t matter.
Gulls and [Seaside] Crows feast on the abundance of clams living in our sandy beaches. When the find a morsel, they fly hi above and drop the hapless clam onto a hard surface, like rocks or pavement, cracking it’s shell so they can get at the meat inside. I always wonder how they can find their lunch after dropping it into a morass of similar sized and colored beach rocks, but they usually do. Better eyesight than mine.
This is the second BirdBlog post for today. Don’t overlook the first. See the link below. There is a Season
Just wanted to acknowledge Spring. For quite some time the Bird of the Day has been focused on what’s new and exciting out there. At other times I’ve made comments on “ordinariness,” but anything can be ordinary if its presence is common. There are lots of birds on Whidbey that I have not encountered, but there also lots that I have encountered. They are becoming old friends that I am getting to know better each day. They can be considered common, even ordinary, but old friends become very precious, even extraordinary when you share time with them.
With the advent of Spring, the Winter birds are moving on and the Summer ones are arriving. I have had reports of Rufous Hummingbirds (actually had a fleeting glimpse of one). There are Swallows, Pine Siskins, and House Finches now when there wasn’t a few weeks ago. When I see them, you will see them. If you haven’t met, I will introduce you. If you have met I’m happy to share. In spite of all of the awful things happening in the world today, the universe is full of creation and life – beautiful life.