Saturday, April 6, 2013

Finding birds by not looking for them

One of my projects has been keeping watch over a Bald Eagle nest in neighboring Pembroke Pines. Over five breeding seasons, since 2008, I have collected information about their breeding activities. Dozens of other nest watchers who have an interest in protecting their habitat and learning about the eagles' behavior contribute their ground observations to my Pembroke Pines Eagle Nest Watch FORUM, and I compile the data to obtain a broader picture of their breeding biology. Here is a spreadsheet and a table comparing milestone events in each breeding cycle. 

Watching an eagle at its nest can be like watching grass grow. Yet, sometimes subtle behavioral changes can signal important events, such as the laying of the first egg and its hatching. Although our attention may be focused on the eagle, we are not oblivious to other happenings.

Once a hummingbird appeared at the nest and perched right in front of an eagle as it was incubating. It was so interesting to ponder the difference in size between these two extremes that I totally forgot that I had a camera! Another time, an Osprey angrily followed an eagle that was carrying a fish to the nest site. Undoubtedly, the eagle had stolen its meal. Rather than flying directly to the nest, the eagle circled and flew off out of sight, emerging a few minutes later with the fish but without the Osprey.

However, I was lucky enough to capture some unexpected scenes. Most recently was an encounter between several Fish Crows and a Merlin, just one day after the single eaglet had fledged and disappeared. The crows were harassing one of the adult eagles as it was roosting near the nest. I interpreted this a a possible attempt to distract the eagle so that others of the flock could steal remains of prey that the adult had left in the nest to attract the missing youngster. 

The crows repeatedly dived down just over the eagle's head whenever the eagle was occupied with preening.

Fish Crow harasses eagle 3-20130328

Fish Crow harasses eagle 2-20130328

The eagle seemed only mildly disturbed.
Bald Eagle roosting 7-20130328
Just after I photographed one of the crows there was a rush of wings from behind me.
Fish Crows 20130328
A Merlin was in full pursuit of the crow. I must apologize for the poor quality of my photos as the light was harsh and I did not have time to switch my shutter settings.
Merlin chases crow 20130328
The crow headed for the Merlin's favorite roosting place, but had to yield its perch under attack.
Merlin chases crow 2-20130328

Merlin chases crow 3-20130328

The crow actually started out after the Merlin!
Crow vs Merlin 20130328
The battle went on for several minutes, the crow intent on returning to the falcon's favored roost.
Merlin chases crow 4-20130328

Crow vs Merlin 2-20130328

Finally the crows relented and the Merlin settled down.Merlin in flight 3-20130322

Merlin 2-20130328

A couple of days before, a Cattle Egret stole my attention as it chased after Halloween Pennant dragonflies. The egret stealthily crept up on an insect (Click on the image to see the location of its prey).
Cattle Egret hunting Halloween Pennants 2-20130322
Success! (Note that the egret has pinkish-orange breeding plumes).
Cattle Egret hunting Halloween Pennants 20130322

Cattle Egret hunting Halloween Pennants 4-20130322

Other incidental sightings of note include this Swallow-tailed Kite that passed directly over the eagle nest.Swallow-tailed Kite 20100302
A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks courted on a tall light fixture nearby.Red-shouldered Hawks 20130401
A dark morph Short-tailed Hawk, ready to pounce upon any unsuspecting smaller bird  disguised itself by soaring in a flock of vultures.
Short-tailed Hawk dark morph 20121202
A Sharp-shinned Hawk raced overhead.
Sharp-shinned Hawk 20091206
A flock of Cedar Waxwings once appeared against a rainy sky.Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) BW 20100222
A Palm Warbler visited as I watched the nest, up close and personal.
Palm Warbler 20120312
Flocks of long-legged waders, such as these Wood Storks, flew overhead.
Storks over eagle nest 20100214
A colony of Monk Parakeets occupied a nest on a light pole across the street from the nest.
Monk Parakeet 20090109
An oddity was this Northern Mockingbird with a badly deformed bill. It was singing vigorously as I took its picture.
Mockingbird With Deformed Bill 20090405
A Gray Squirrel tight-roped across in front of the eagle nest.
Squirrel in front of eagle nest 20120312
Some of the sightings must be classified as "un-natural."



  1. the eagle alone would thrill me. you kept adding more and more to make me jealous. :)

    the crow is tough!

  2. What a terrific post! Even when we're not actively "birding", we're birding!
    Very interesting series with the Crows, Eagle and Merlin.
    Good luck as your Eagle watch project continues!

  3. Awesome serie of photos, well done!

  4. So many great shots! I love that one with the cattle egret swallowing.

  5. Awesome sightings, very exciting! Love these captures. Wish I was there in person to watch them too.

  6. Great sequence!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  7. Oh boy, you've outdone yourself this week. What an incredible array of images...each one is fantastic. The action/flight/attack images of the merlin and crow are outstanding. And the eagle...well, must I say this makes me quite green with envy?!!

    Wow...I must say they're all breathtaking.

  8. Love all that information about the bald eagle. I enjoyed your photos very much.

  9. Very interesting post. Go Merlin, Go!

  10. Great photos of the eagle and all the other bird action around it. Congratulations on the long-term records of the eagles' nest. Records like this add immensely to our knowledge of birds.

  11. amazing bird shots. The Sharp-shinned Hawk was new to me. From your shot it has a gorgeous coloring. Love it. Thanks for sharing yoru great birds.

  12. It's a soap opera out there and I loved watching it!

  13. Wow, Wow, Wow! What a lot of wonderful variety of birds and photos. I so seldom see raptors here and am stunned at the number of your sightings.

  14. What a great collection of bird (and non-bird) species! And wonderful photos. Really enjoyed your post.

  15. Your photos are all just wonderful, however the tail of the Crows day is just awesome, made me laugh !!
    Great post!!

  16. Rumble in the neighborhood. And your observations about approaches to birding are so helpful, especially for a beginner. You have a great talent for capturing birds in flight--so dramatic.

  17. As you say, all that action around a seemingly unvarying nest site. Good bird watching Ken with great shots and observations. It is interesting that the Merlin won a battle with crows. Over here I don't think that would happen - maybe your Merlins are more aggresive than ours.

  18. Wow...what to say other than these are magnificent and just incredible!!!

  19. Great set of pictures - that more species of birds of prey than I see in a month!

    The mocking bird does have a rather battered beak.

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW - Stewart M - Melbourne


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