The 2023 Season of the National Aviary’s Peregrine Falcon Nest Cam Has Ended
Each spring and summer, the National Aviary hosts a live stream of the Peregrine Falconsresiding high up on the southeast side of the Cathedral of Learning on the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
2023 marked the third year of Peregrine pair Morela and Ecco occupying the Cathedral’s nestbox. For several days in mid-March, it appeared as if Morela was close to laying eggs, however, she never did. Morela made her last appearance on camera in early May 2023. New female, Carla, appeared on camera for the first time not too long after. We can all look forward to the 2024 Peregrine Falcon season: we will see if Carla and Ecco join us for it.
It’s important to remember that these nest cams give us a view into the wild world of birds, and while it’s not our role to intervene, we can learn a lot from studying these behaviors.
Thank you to The Birdwatchers Store for sponsoring the Peregrine Falcon Cam!
2023 Nesting Season Updates
May 19, 2023: On Sunday, May 14, we moved our Falcon Cam around to see if Morela might have taken refuge underneath, as it appeared in recent sightings that her speculated egg-binding episode left her in a weakened state. After several minutes of searching, she was nowhere to be found. Since then, Morela has not been seen on camera.
That same afternoon, Kate St. John alerted everyone through her Outside My Window blog that resident male Ecco was sunbathing on the nest platform. Shortly after, a new female appeared. She just happened to display her banded right leg very clearly. Kate did some research and learned that she was female Black/Blue S/07, banded on three years ago on May 18, 2020, as a nestling on a building at One Summit Square in Fort Wayne, Indiana! She even has a name: Carla.
While don’t know if Carla has become Ecco’s official new mate, we suspect that she has. We are sad about the difficulties that led to Morela’s leaving, though we look forward to more nesting activity at Pitt in the seasons ahead. It is highly unlikely that Ecco and Carla will attempt to nest this season, but we’ll be keeping an eye on the Falcon Cam anyway…just in case!
May 3, 2023: As was noted recently in Kate St. John’s “Outside My Window” blog, it, unfortunately, looks very likely that there is not going to be a nesting attempt at the Cathedral of Learning nest on the Pitt campus this year.
Although the female, Morela, and her mate, Ecco, seemed to be going through the motions appropriately, they did appear very distracted from time to time. This usually indicates that there is a third Peregrine of either sex probing into their territory. This, in turn, likely required them to spend a lot of extra time being vigilant and defensive of their nest site.
Back in March, it appeared Morela was close to laying. However, we recently posited that it appeared Morela has had physical difficulty laying her eggs this season. She often sat in position for long periods of time but with no result. This particular condition is known as egg-binding. Egg-binding, or dystocia, is the failure of an egg to navigate through the oviduct in an appropriate time frame for a particular species. Causes of egg binding and retention include environmental stress (e.g., large temperature fluctuations, excessive noise, and lack of appropriate seclusion). One theory, then, is that the stress of a third bird in their territory may have induced the egg-binding episode that we believe we are seeing.
In Morela’s case, we think that there are signs she was able to expel the inviable egg. Although a falcon could possibly recover and lay following an egg-binding experience, the lateness of the season makes that possibility less likely.
Again, egg binding can stem from environmental stress; in fact, that stress could have been the presence of a competing bird, male or female, during a critical stage of egg laying. We will keep monitoring for several more weeks.
It’s important to remember that these nest cams give us a view into the wild world of birds, and while it is not our role to intervene, we can learn a lot from watching and documenting these behaviors.
April 20, 2023: This is the third year for the Peregrine pair, Morela and Ecco, nesting at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning. Last year they laid their first egg on March 18 and on March 17 in 2021. Clearly, something is going on that is interfering with their normal nesting progression. It could be a third Peregrine of either sex that is creating a disturbance to Morela and Ecco’s nesting progress, as we think happened in 2020, when Morela was being courted by both Ecco and the former male from the site, Terzo. That year she did not lay an egg until May, and she abandoned it when neither of those males helped her at the nest.
What we are seeing now seems similar to the 2020 season. Of course, we can only observe what is happening right there at the nest, and there must be a lot that is happening away from the nest. Fingers crossed that whatever drama is delaying nesting this year will resolve in time for Morela to have a successful, albeit later than usual, nest this year.
March 29, 2023: We can never predict what will happen in the worlds of wild birds. For several days, Morela appeared to be close to laying eggs: she was less active at the nest and her feathers were fluffed out. But, after a few days of relative inactivity, she seemed to be very alert, intently watching the sky, and was gone from the nest for long lengths of time. We have now passed the date by when we usually have seen one or more eggs laid, which raises the question of what is different this season?
One possibility is that an unmated Peregrine without a nest is intruding on the territory, and its presence has Morela on high alert and is keeping her away from the nest. Of course, something else entirely may have captured her attention for a few days. Whatever is the case, now Morela and Ecco seem to be resuming their courtship activities. Both have made visits to the nest site and have been observed bowing toward each other – one of the many characteristic courtship behaviors of Peregrine Falcons. These are the sorts of natural occurrences that nest camera technology helps us document and better understand. We will have to stay tuned to see where things go from here.
March 15, 2023: If you’ve noticed Morela looking a little lethargic lately, it might be because egg-laying is right around the corner. Around five days before they begin laying, females are not as active: they aren’t preening themselves as often or moving around stones in the nest scrape, and they spend a good deal of time sitting on or near the scrape. Basically, they look like they’re just waiting for something to happen!
You might notice a change in Morela’s posture, too. These days, she is looking noticeably bottom-heavy, and the feathers under her tail are fluffed out. She will lay one egg every 48 hours up to the penultimate, or next-to-last egg (a Peregrine Falcon clutch usually has four eggs). The period between the next-to-last and last egg often is a bit longer, up to 72 hours, and only Morela will know when it’s time to start incubating.
She won’t begin until the second-to-last egg is laid. Ecco will assist with incubation, freeing up Morela to hunt, but expect to see her on the nest more often than Ecco: females spend about twice as long incubating the eggs compared to males. They’ll take turns incubating for 33-35 days before hatching—and the real fun of raising chicks!—begins.
February 27, 2023: The first few weeks of the Peregrine Falcon nest cam season can be pretty quiet, but don’t expect that to last long! As we get closer to nesting time, Morela and Ecco are visiting the nest box more often and staying longer. You may catch them together on camera perching on the nest’s ledge or in the nest itself (also called a “scrape”) as they bow towards each other. These behaviors are part of their courtship and help strengthen their pair bond. It’s easy to tell Morela and Ecco apart when they’re side by side: Morela is noticeably larger than her mate, a common characteristic of many raptor species.
This is the third year Morela and Ecco will be nesting at the Cathedral of Learning. Together they have fledged seven young (4 in 2021, and 3 in 2022). If this nesting season is anything like previous years, we can expect Morela to lay her first egg sometime around St. Patrick’s Day. Until then, watch for Morela and Ecco’s visits to the nest for a chance to observe their courtship behaviors!
For more news 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 displayed aggression toward her chicks. Hope’s behavior was very unusual. She raised 8 offspring to fledging age, out of 16 total hatchings. 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. Morela and Ecco raised their first clutch, fledging four chicks in 2021, and another four in 2022.
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!
Questions about Peregrine Falcons and other wild birds? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.