Sad But Not Surprised | Outside My Window

Hope has killed Chick #3, 24 April 2019, 5:53pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday evening Hope, the mother peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, killed and ate one of her chicks as it was hatching (see details at Bad News Again, Hope Kills Chick 3). Those of us who watch her year after year are sad but not surprised.

This is the fourth year Hope has nested on camera. It’s the fourth year we have seen her kill and eat some of her young. It’s the fourth year I have written about her abnormal behavior.

I cannot stress enough that Hope’s behavior is not normal for peregrines or any bird of prey. Here’s what I’ve written about it in prior years. It still applies.

Why does Hope kill and eat her young?

We don’t know.  This is such a rare occurrence that there’s no guidance from other peregrine nests — they just don’t do this.  Meanwhile every idea we come up with is a guess.  I prefer not to wade into the guessing.

Unusual behaviors:

Yes, Hope kills and eats her chicks but there are two unusual habits that accompany it:

  • Hope opens the egg.  The hatching rule for all birds is this: Chicks must open the eggs themselves. At other peregrine falconcams, notice that the mother watches but does not touch the shell until the chick has forced open the two halves.  Later the mother eats the shell (which is normal). Raptors beaks are sharp and could damage the chick. Normal mother raptors do not use their beaks on the eggs.
  • Hope picks up and carries the chick.  Normal peregrines don’t pick up their hatchlings. When a chick is accidentally outside the scrape (nest bowl) the mother uses the underside of her closed beak to pull the chick back to her.  Hope uses her closed beak to arrange the eggs but she breaks that rule when they hatch.

Why doesn’t Terzo stay at the nest and prevent this from happening?

The rule at peregrine nests is that the mother bird is totally in charge, especially at hatching time.  She calls the shots, including the timing of the first feeding. The father bird defers to her.

The father bird may communicate that he wants something to be different but it’s her decision.  When Hope tells Terzo, “It’s my turn to be on the nest!” he has to leave.

What next?

We don’t know what Hope will do with the last two eggs but we do know that when hatching is over she’s a good mother. At that point it will be safe to watch again. Meanwhile, these cautions apply.

A Caution to Viewers: Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

A Caution to Commenters: If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.  So … If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

I’ll keep you posted and let you know when the coast is clear.