Birds

A Model Specimen

There is a reason i am a birder and not a surgeon. As I was driving one spring, I passed something bright orange on the side of the street. I couldn’t quite make it out, but I had my suspicions. Like many birders, I’m willing to watch a bird wherever…

Return of the Falcon

A pigeon flaps lazily above the University of Pittsburgh campus. Suddenly, a streaking peregrine falcon dives toward its unaware prey at 100 to 150 miles an hour.

Bold & Beautiful

I have always had a thing for road kill; not for death as spectacle, but for the opportunity to see something wild up close. Though there are limits to what I’ll inspect, I’m usually drawn to at least making an identification of the species, particularly if it happens to be…

The Common Nighthawk

It’s the seventh inning stretch on a warm night at PNC Park. The sun has gone down, and the bright lights of baseball illuminate the summer sky. Downtown buildings glow across the river: Federated, Highmark, UPMC, the arched alcove of the Renaissance Hotel.

Chimney Swifts

Chimney swifts twitter, but they do not tweet. These are creatures not of the virtual world, but of our vernal skies. When warm weather returns to Pittsburgh and the new green of spring washes over the hills, Chimney Swifts will soon appear.

The Bald Eagle

Whenever I see something white in a riverbank tree, I’m hopeful it’s a Bald Eagle. More than once, I’ve called out the sighting in eastern Pennsylvania, crossing the Susquehanna at 70 miles an hour. Most of the time, I’ve been wrong. And why would there be a Bald Eagle in…

The Cooper’s Hawk

Near the iron gates of a hidden garden in Shadyside, a vigilant Cooper’s Hawk scans for prey. A Japanese Snowbell separates the bird from a row of roses fading into fall. There is a window, and the face of a man peering out with excitement and wonder. He can see…

The Indigo Bunting

Let me lead you to the bird. It is neither bluebird nor blackbird but may look like both. It is the Indigo Bunting. Follow these directions to one of two destinations. Head toward Squirrel Hill and the curve where Beechwood Boulevard bends into the car lot for Frick Park.

Behold the Crow

On winter afternoons, thin inky streaks flow across Pittsburgh skies. They follow invisible channels leading over leafless hillsides, empty schoolyards and ice-​strewn rivers. They drift, break apart and reconstitute, often in the city’s East End in great airborne swirls. They are the crows of Pittsburgh.

Rose-​Breasted Grosbeak

There is a veteran haberdasher at a certain long-​established men’s clothier in downtown Pittsburgh who watches birds. Let’s call him Kenny. Seeing this column one day, he asked me about an unusual avian visitor he saw in the trees of his yard. “It was black and white with a big…

The Ruffed Grouse

Imagine a bird like a chicken, but a little sleeker, a little more wild. Rufous, gray, with a tail that is barred with black and white stripes at the tips. When the tail pops open in a half circle, it resembles an earth-​tone parasol. What’s most visually arresting about the…

The Great Blue Heron

Years ago, I found a long, light bone with honeycomb latticework inside that probably belonged to a juvenile Great Blue Heron. After a winter storm, the bone lay in a pile of sticks that had blown down from the crown of an oak tree just off the 18th hole of…

The American Robin

The early bird catches the worm,” so the proverb tells us. As the light and warmth of spring slowly thaw western Pennsylvania, it’s likely that the American Robin will be that early morning bird with an unsuspecting wiggler in its beak.

At Your Birdfeeder

Next time you turn the heat up a notch or pull on a sweater, consider the birds. Birds that winter in western Pennsylvania wear their own down garments, feathers fluffed on cold days to trap warmed air close to their bodies.

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.
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