Welcome to the 2021 season of the National Aviary’s Peregrine Falcon Nest Cam!
The 2021 nesting season has ended. Read on to learn more about this most recent season!
Each spring and summer, the National Aviary hosts a live stream of the Peregrine Falcons residing high up on the south side of the Cathedral of Learning on the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh. From there the falcons can access Schenley Park and Monongahela River to the south.
This year was a success, with Morela and Ecco raising four chicks that all fledged in early June. Throughout the summer, the young Peregrines will stay close to their parents as they develop the skills they need to survive on their own. Read the timeline of the 2021 season below, and stay tuned for winter 2022 when the Nest Cam returns!
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2021 Nesting Season
June 5: This morning, all four chicks fledged, making the leap from a ledge near the nest box at the Cathedral of Learning. This is the first fledging of chicks at this site for pair Morela and Ecco. The falcons will stay close to home for the next few weeks as they learn essential skills from their parents.
June 3: There’s been a great deal of action at the Cathedral of Learning this week! The young falcons have been spending a considerable amount of time walking out onto the ledges near the nest box and flapping their wings—signs of imminent fledging—but are continuing to return to the nest box at night. Peregrine Falcon parents taper off the amount of food they provision for their young as fledging nears in order to motivate them to make the big leap. We should see the young start to take to the air anytime over the next two to three days, with each bird venturing out at its own pace.
May 26, 2021: The appearance of the chicks changes almost daily as more juvenile feathers grow in. Their wing feathers still have some growing to do before they will be ready to fledge, and the youngest of the chicks may have a little less than two weeks to go before fledging. The chicks are continuing to explore beyond the nest box, walking out onto the ledge of the Cathedral of Learning and flapping their wings to build strength as they prepare to fledge.
May 20, 2021: The chicks are now looking less fluffy and more like juveniles by the day, and they continue to grow at a rapid pace. Their juvenile feathers are emerging prominently, and fledging is right around the corner! Peregrine Falcon young fledge between 5 to 6 weeks of age, and it’s a very gradual process, with males typically fledging before females. The chicks will soon begin exploring beyond the nestbox along the ledges of the building — a good indicator that they will be fledging soon.
May 11, 2021: Now just over two weeks old, the Peregrine Falcon chicks are much more active, are up and moving about, and they’re covered in their second down. Underneath that downy fuzz, their pin feathers are coming in, and are visible when the chicks spread their wings. You may notice them preening their feathers more often. The process of growing new feathers can be a little uncomfortable, and preening is the chicks’ way of scratching an itch!
May 5, 2021: Now that the chicks are a little more than a week old, it’s easy to see how quickly they are growing. They have doubled in size since they hatched, can now sit upright (but they are still a bit wobbly!), and their eyes are beginning to look more rounded. They are also growing their second down, which will be fully grown in by about 10 days of age. Morela and Ecco are not at the nest constantly. While they are out hunting, the chicks thermoregulate by huddling together, which helps them to stay warm and conserve their own energy. Speaking of hunting, up until this point, Ecco has been doing all of the hunting. Now that the chicks are old enough to be left alone at the nest, Morela has been hunting and bringing food back, which makes for a messy nest.
April 27, 2021: This morning at around 6:15, Morela’s fourth and final chick hatched. Now, Morela and Ecco will continue the work of feeding and caring for these young hatchlings. They will grow remarkably fast. By about 5 days old, their weight will have doubled!
April 26, 2021:
The arrival of Morela’s first chick in the early hours of Sunday was followed in short order by the hatching of two more chicks! At around 10:45 on Sunday, Morela moved off the nest and gave a clear view of two downy, fluffy chicks and another very recently hatched chick. The fourth egg has not hatched as of Monday afternoon. Yesterday we were able to observe that the egg has pipped, but given that hatching can take up to 72 hours it may be another day before the chick hatches.
Ecco and Morela have continued to be attentive at the nest and are doing an excellent job of co-parenting these young hatchlings. The three chicks enjoyed their first feeding Sunday around 3:30 pm. Because these chicks all hatched around the same time in rapid succession, and the fourth will not be far behind, there is not as much opportunity for sibling rivalry in this nest.
April 25, 2021: Morela and Ecco’s first egg hatched today at around 3 am. The parents have been diligently incubating the clutch since the penultimate egg was laid on March 22. A lot needs to happen for a chick to hatch: the chick must rotate in the egg and get into position for hatching, break the membrane on the air sac within the egg to take its first breath, and use its egg tooth to crack the egg and slowly make its way out. Hatching can take 72 hours from start to finish. The chick emerges damp and tired from the exertion of making its way into the world. The chicks’ down will dry off, and they begin food-begging within a day of hatching. As of 10:45 am, two additional chicks have hatched.
April 19, 2021: Morela and Ecco have spent the last few weeks closely watching their nest and coordinating their incubation duties. Today, Morela has been both on and off of the nest, frequently moving and appearing restless. While it’s unlikely that we will pick up on it, Morela is likely tuned in to sounds coming from within the eggs as chicks begin to peep and even move around as they prepare to hatch! Keep a close eye on the Nest Cam over the next few days and watch for signs of pipping, which happens when the chick begins to use its beak to begin the process of breaking through the eggshell. Don’t be alarmed if initially only one egg hatches—Peregrine Falcon eggs don’t hatch all at the same time. It can take several days for the entire clutch to hatch.
March 24, 2021: Today at 3:38 pm, Morela laid her fourth and likely her final egg. Peregrines begin incubating their eggs when the second-to-last egg is laid, and she started incubating in earnest yesterday. Male Peregrines incubate the eggs and eventually tend to chicks about 30% of the time, and the female is at the nest the rest of the time. Ecco has been attentive and present at the nest, which is a sign that the pair will synchronize their actions to ensure the nest is always attended. This bodes well for a successful first nesting by this new pair!
March 22, 2021: Morela laid her third egg this morning at 6:36 am. The second egg arrived at 8:27 pm on Friday, March 19. Peregrines typically lay one egg every other day, and clutch sizes range from 3-5 eggs. Morela and Ecco will begin incubating once Morela has laid the second-to-last egg.
March 18, 2021: Yesterday, at 11:54 am, Morela laid her first egg of the season. This is the first of potentially five eggs; most Peregrine Falcon clutches average 3-5 eggs. Morela will lay one egg every other day, and she and Ecco will only begin incubating the eggs once she has laid the second-to-last egg. Ecco has already been making visits to the nest box and taking his turn to shelter the egg. Once incubation begins, we can expect about 30 days of both parents taking turns on the nest.
March 3, 2021: As nesting season draws nearer, we are seeing signs that Ecco and Morela are pairing up. Morela is accepting the food Ecco has been bringing to her. Female Peregrine Falcons don’t hunt when they are incubating eggs, and they rely on their mate to provide food at the nest site. This courtship behavior demonstrates for Morela that Ecco is a capable hunter.
Terzo has not been seen on camera since early February, and Morela and Ecco’s behavior give no indication that anything is happening out of the view of the camera. If Terzo was still trying to claim the territory, he would be coming back often, and both Ecco and Morela would show signs of agitation.
February 25, 2021: Terzo has not been spotted at the nest since February 5, while Ecco has been seen on camera frequently, appearing every day since February 4 at the nest. It is possible that Terzo has been driven away by Ecco. Without having witnessed a decisive fight where Ecco was the clear winner, we can’t say for certain that Terzo won’t show up at the nest again. Peregrine Falcon males can’t necessarily find a new territory and a new mate quickly or easily, and this makes them very tenacious in trying to keep the territory they have.
Birdwatchers around Oakland will want to keep an eye out for signs of territorial aggression on Ecco’s part, which could indicate that Terzo is still in the vicinity. Peregrine Falcons will use intimidation in flight to chase off intruders, and they will attack one another in mid-air and on the ground, with fights often lasting hours.
February 10, 2021: Just one Valentine tiercel (or male falcon) is all that a female falcon needs, and Morela currently has two males, Terzo and Ecco, competing for the territory at the Cathedral of Learning.
Very good eyries (falcon nesting sites) are few and far between in cities, so the nest box at the Cathedral of Learning is prime real estate. Terzo has thus far been unsuccessful in driving Ecco away, and Ecco may be at an advantage if he is younger and more fit. By repeatedly coming back to the nest box, Ecco is showing that he is determined to try to take over the territory, and Terzo might have his work cut out for him. The males could continue to fight for this territory, with one eventually driving the other away for good; such fighting will likely take place off camera and away from the nest. Alternatively, Morela may finally make her choice, clearly siding with one or the other of the males, and then help her mate drive the other male away.
The clock is ticking. Peregrines should be mating in the coming weeks. Female Peregrine Falcons need the attention of their male partners while they are nesting, and it’s in Morela’s best interest to put an end to the competition soon.
January 2021: The Peregrine Falcon pair at the Cathedral of Learning is an unbanded female named Morela and her banded mate Terzo, who remain on site all year though not on camera until the courtship season begins. In January, they visit the nest approximately every other day.
2020 Recap: Throughout last year (2020) there was also a second young, unbanded male Peregrine named Ecco, who courted Morela and was never completely chased away by Terzo. Peregrine Falcon females rely on males to share in the incubation and raising of their young, and the attention of both males was divided. Morela’s eggs did not hatch. Last seen on camera on December 26, 2020, Ecco was chased away later that day by Terzo. As of January 2021 it is unclear whether Ecco is still around.
For more news and views about all of Pittsburgh’s Peregrine Falcons, visit “Outside My Window,” Kate St. John’s Bird Blog.
The History of Peregrines at Pitt
2002 – Spring 2015: The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh has hosted a pair of Peregrine Falcons since 2002, when “Dorothy” began nesting here with a tiercel (male falcon) named “Erie.” In the fall of 2007, after Erie disappeared, another male (“Erie II”, or “E2”) took over. Dorothy fledged a total of 43 chicks, 22 with Erie and another 21 with E2. She disappeared in the fall of 2015 at age 16, which is very old for a Peregrine Falcon.
Fall 2015 –2019: In November 2015 a new female, “Hope,” arrived at the Cathedral of Learning from her former nest site at the Tarentum Bridge (about 12 miles away) where she had fledged at least four young. Hope’s initial mate was E2, succeeded by “Terzo” when E2 died in March 2016. Hope nested at the Cathedral of Learning for four seasons, 2016 through 2019, during which time she exhibited very abnormal behavior. She displayed aggression toward her chicks, and out of 16 hatched eggs, only 8 lived to fledge. We, and the experts we have consulted, have no explanation for Hope’s highly unusual behavior.
Fall 2019 – present: In September 2019 a new unbanded female Peregrine arrived at the Cathedral of Learning, named Morela (Polish for apricot) for the distinctive apricot-colored wash on her chest and face that makes her recognizable on camera. Because she is unbanded, we don’t know where she came from.
Many thanks to our partners: University of Pittsburgh, M&P Security Solutions, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
More About Peregrine Falcons:
Peregrine Falcons are the world’s fastest animal, diving at speeds of over 200 miles per hour! These fierce birds of prey grow quickly, too. Peregrine Falcons nest on cliffs or ledges of tall buildings (like University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning) where they lay a group of 2 to 5 eggs (called a “clutch”), in a bowl-shaped depression in gravel.
The female Peregrine incubates the eggs for about a month, sitting on them to keep them warm, and when the chicks hatch, they are small, nearly featherless, and very dependent on their parents. But, they mature very quickly, and within a week of hatching they nearly double their size! Within a month, they go from having soft, downy white feathers to dark brown feathers, or plumage. By around 5 weeks old, they are ready to fledge the nest! Peregrine Falcons stay with their parents through the beginning of summer, learning to hunt and navigate their world.
The next time you are out on a walk, look for Peregrine Falcons on the ledges of tall buildings or under the bridges along Pittsburgh’s three rivers!