On the Wing

Autumn Knights

When these nobles gather, they’re known as a parliament. They hold proceedings under cover of darkness and their debates typically end with sudden death for the commoners around them. Whoo are they? Owls, of course. The Great Horned Owl is the tiger of the night skies. The last one I saw was perched on a …

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On Nesting

While attention rightly goes to our region’s green buildings, the greenest construction puts them all to shame. It uses only native materials, costs nothing and is totally biodegradable. And the winner is: Bird nests, so many and so varied that we hardly notice them. Look around, and you’ll see evidence of nesting birds everywhere. While …

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Songbirds of Spring

An avian chorus is warming up, a spring concert that begins with a quiet movement and builds to a wild paean to the dawn that almost bounces us out of our beds. Take some time to listen to the growing swell of sound, and since there is usually a relationship, note the habitat in which …

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Duck, Duck, Gull

Winter weather on our three rivers brings a variety of duck and gull species to western Pennsylvania. So when frozen floes churn by or great sheets of ice cover upstream sections of the Allegheny or the Mon, the time is right within the city limits or towns nearby to look for some of the winged …

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Golden Eagles

Invisible superhighways. That’s one way to describe the rising air currents that will whisk raptors through central Pennsylvania during this season’s migration. Golden Eagles, attuned to the subtle relationships between topography and wind, will scan our state’s prominent ridges and deep valleys as they soar southward as they have for millennia. Golden Eagles are vaguely …

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The Hummingbird is a Powerhouse

Endurance athlete, feather-weight fighter, acrobat: all describe the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, smallest member of eastern North America’s avifauna and the only hummer to breed in western Pennsylvania. If you could hold one of these tiny birds to your ear, you’d hear a heart beating 250 times a minute—at rest. That rate rockets to some 1,200 beats …

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On Warblers

Spring begins with song, the dawn chorus warming up with a few notes in March and growing into full avian voice by May. Some of our best singers are the wood warblers, migratory songbirds, typically weighing under half an ounce, that winter from South America to the Caribbean and return northward to mate, nest, and raise …

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A Different Kind of Hunt

The Christmas hunt was long a holiday tradition. Armed with rifles and shotguns, Christmas guests would choose teams for a “side hunt” and fan out over field, woodland and riverbank. Winners bagged the largest number of birds. In 1900, a new tradition began in response to America’s nascent conservation movement. Birds would remain the quarry, …

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