Bimonthly Membership Meeting
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
7:30 PM -- 9:00 PM
Virtual Zoom Platform from Pittsburgh, PA

At least 45 computers were logged on to 3RBC's August 2021 meeting, with several of those shared by more than one person. In total, at least 55 individuals viewed the club's seventh virtual Zoom meeting, which featured a presentation by Luke DeGroote entitled "The Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance: Making Pittsburgh a More Livable City for Birds."

3RBC President Sheree Daugherty called the meeting to order at 7:40 PM. She and other club officers made the following announcements and reports.

    •   Sheree began by noting that the club is still in pandemic mode, and that future club meetings will be held on Zoom until at least early 2022. When the club does resume face-to-face meetings, they will be held at Phipps Conservatory's Botany Hall in Oakland. Details will be posted on the club's website and social media when appropriate.

    •   She also asked everyone to remember to adhere to Zoom-meeting etiquette: please do not unmute yourself unless you wish to address the whole group! Once the meeting has begun, the meeting hosts (Tom, Suzanne and Steve) mute everyone's microphones except the speaker's. Also, she asked that members please not interrupt the speakers' presentations; questions should be typed into Zoom's 'chat' feature, and will be addressed at the meeting's end.

    •   President Daugherty also announced that she is looking forward to next year's roster of speakers. She already has some exciting speakers firmly booked for 2022, and she is waiting for confirmation on others. For more information on upcoming speakers, members should check out the club's website.

    •   Finally, Sheree was pleased to announce that, after a long hiatus, and with appropriate safety measures, 3RBC outings will restart in September, and that Steve Thomas, the club's outings coordinator, will outline the details in his upcoming report.

    •   Peregrine Editor Paul Hess next highlighted the content of the September-October issue of The Peregrine.

    Sheree's President's Message about hawk watching is perfectly timed for the fall hawk migration, especially since Hawk Mountain is easily accessible to Pittsburgh-area birders.

    The newsletter will also feature a preview of our next speaker's talk. Jean Iron, one of Ontario's leading ornithologists and birders, will tell us about Arctic birds. Jean spoke to the club a number of years ago, and we are fortunate to have her address us again. The article is illustrated by a fine photo of one of the Arctic's great birds, the Ivory Gull.

    Tom's Observations column will be Part Two of his exploration of the interactions between humans and birds, notably his experiences with a particular robin that has frequented his yard. Birders are well aware of the fact that birds can get to know humans, and Tom's article is a marvelous discourse on how "his" robin has gotten to know him.

    Paul also announced that the next issue will contain a tremendous amount of both material and photos, and may well reach twelve pages for the first time in many months. This is due not only to a wealth of submitted material, but also the resumption of Outings and Outings Revisited announcements. Among the interesting material submitted, we will find will a brief story recalled by one of our members who had a Yellow-throated Warbler land on the mirror of his truck while he was in it! And he got photos!

    •   Next, Tom Moeller gave his treasurer's report. He announced that the club's membership numbers have dropped slightly, with memberships now total 310, resulting in near 400 individual members who enjoy birding. He reminded us that, with the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the club kept several members on the books, notwithstanding the fact that their dues were unpaid. Despite several notices, some had not responded nor made payments to bring their accounts up to date, so they have been dropped from the club's rolls, resulting in a slight membership decrease. While some have left, others have joined, including seven new youth and high-school and elementary-school student memberships. The interest in birding among the young is very gratifying!

    Lastly, Tom announced that the Post Office is raising postage rates on August 29. He plans on buying a number of Forever Stamps, thus forestalling - at least for a while - the increased cost of mailing out paper copies of The Peregrine.

    •   Webmaster Tom Moeller remarked that some may have noticed a change in the club's main website page. For some unknown reason, on July 7, the coding for the main page disappeared, causing it to go blank, and requiring the re-entry of all the material previously on that page. Tom treated this loss as an opportunity to make the page more efficient, eliminating the older, stale material and streamlining the page's content.

    Finally, Tom noted that both the club's main website and its Facebook page have been following the strange illness that has been killing quite a few birds. Scientists at the Cornell Lab have posited that the deaths may be related to the recent emergence of the 17-year cicadas. It turns out that the cicadas may have been carrying toxic fungi, which, when ingested, killed birds, affecting immature birds more than adults. The problem seems to be deceasing, but officials are still not recommending the use of backyard feeders. Tom reminded everyone to thoroughly clean feeders before reusing them when this crisis has passed.

    •   Outings Coordinator Steve Thomas reported that, after consulting CDC guidelines and considering other factors, conditions look favorable for the resumption of outings. Participants must follow CDC guidelines, including these: practice social distancing; do not share equipment; vaccines are recommended; wear a mask when appropriate. Each outing leader has set additional restrictions and requirements: most require pre-registration, and numbers of participants are limited. Finally, each leader may discontinue the outing at any time if conditions warrant such an action. Please see the full outings listings on the website for all restrictions and requirements that may apply! As always, check the club's Facebook page for possible last minute changes or cancellations.

    -  Friday, August 27, 2021 — Sewickley Heights Borough Park
    -  Saturday, September 4, 2021 — Harrison Hills Park
    -  Friday, September 10, 2021 — Sewickley Heights Borough Park
    -  Sunday, September 12, 2021 — Frick Park
    -  Sunday, September 12, 2021 — Deer Lakes Park
    -  Sunday, October 10, 2021 — Pymatuning Area
    -  Saturday, October 30, 2021 — Moraine State Park
    -  Saturday, November 6, 2021 — Yellow Creek State Park

    •   3RBC Vice President Mike Fialkovich next relayed recent bird sightings. He reported the following sightings since last June: Common Merganser at Duck Hollow; 61 Killdeer found at Hampton Community Park; Least Sandpiper in Monroeville; Yellow-throated Vireo at Frick Park; Purple Finch at Pine Township and Tarentum; Black and White Warbler in Harrison Hills Park and Barking Slopes; Cerulean Warbler at Sewickley Heights Borough Park and Walker Park; Black-throated Blue Warbler at Frick Park; Prairie Warbler at Prospect Park in McDonald and at Imperial; Northern Bobwhite at Imperial (the second reporting in the county this year); Common Tern at Oakmont and Dashields Dam; a juvenile Bald Eagle found dead near Dashields Dam (the first nest in the county is nearby), and another juvenile reported dead by the Crescent Township Police after crashing into a car windshield; Great Egret at Wingfield Pines, Dashields Dam and Imperial; Barred Owl at Frick Park and in Gibsonia; Olive-sided Flycatcher at Frick Park; at least 70 Fish Crows in Oakland; Purple Martin (6 birds and 2 active nests) at Janoski's Farm in Clinton (at a recently erected Purple Martin house); Yellow-breasted Chats at Imperial and Barking Slopes; and finally and pair of (hopefully breeding) Blue Grosbeaks at Imperial.

    •   Program Coordinator Dave Brooke noted that the club's next meeting will take place on October 6, 2021, at 7:00 pm and will feature Ontario ornithologist and birder Jean Iron, who will present "The Nature of Arctic Birds." She will discuss the many adaptations that Arctic birds must undergo in order to survive the harsh environment. In accordance with our recent practice, this will be a Zoom meeting online, starting at 7:00 PM, giving access time to log on. The business meeting will begin at 7:30 PM, and Jean's presentation will start around 8:00 PM. Be aware that the start times are approximate - Jean's presentation may start before 8:00 PM. Details on joining the meeting (Zoom passcodes and other instructions) will be supplied.

    Dave next introduced the evening's speaker, Luke DeGroote, who presented "The Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance: Making Pittsburgh a More Livable City for Birds." DeGroote oversees bird studies at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Powdermill Avian Research Center in the Ligonier Valley. He received his Master of Science degree in Natural Resources from The Ohio State University and his Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He studies songbird migration, avian disease, breeding phenology, and avian perception of glass. Luke's aim is to promote avian conservation through research, partnerships, and outreach.

The Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance: Making Pittsburgh a More Livable City for Birds
Luke DeGroote
Luke DeGroote

Luke began his talk by calling attention to an article in the magazine Science which stated that we have lost about 30% of our bird population over the past 40 to 50 years, totaling nearly three billion birds (Three billion North American birds have vanished since 1970). In his own birding experience over the past 25 to 30 years, Luke has personally witnessed fewer birds every spring, a phenomenon especially noticeable during migration.

With this fact in mind, about five years ago Powdermill began to expand its scope beyond banding to include an aggressive outreach and education program. The goal was twofold: to try to make the Pittsburgh region a better place for birds, and to take steps to restore the bird population to something closer to previous levels. This effort resulted in the creation of the Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance (ABCA), a strategic partnership between local and national conservation organizations with a strong focus on the conservation of birds. The member partners are the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the National Aviary, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, Humane Animal Rescue, Allegheny Land Trust, the American Bird Conservancy, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. The group exists in order to help focus each partner organization's individual conservation efforts, and to create and identify collaboration opportunities.

In response to the precipitous decline in bird population, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed several actions that individuals, groups and companies can take to help remediate the situation. They include these: Make Windows Safer, Day and Night; Keep Cats Indoors; Reduce Lawns and Pavement and Plant Native Plants; Avoid Pesticides; Drink Coffee That's Good for Birds; Protect Our Planet from Plastic; and, Watch Birds and Share What You See. (For more information on Cornell's list, visit, Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds). Luke's presentation focused on a few of these steps and how they can be implemented locally. Specifically, Luke discussed the importance of mitigating bird window collisions, restoring native plants, and reducing pesticide use.

Bird Window Collisions — Luke explained that ABCA now enfolds the BirdSafe Pittsburgh program, which was begun in 2014 with a goal of trying to understand why there were so many bird fatalities due to window strikes and how to alleviate this problem. Research has shown that, in the U. S. alone, nearly 600 million birds die annually due to window collisions. Birds strike windows because they don't see the glass and think they can fly through, from one side to another. Also because they see reflections of trees and sky in the glass, they fly toward those reflections. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that modern construction uses much more glass than the 'brick and mortar' construction of years past. There is also considerable evidence that birds are attracted to cities because of the profusion of artificial light. But, while we may think that collisions are taking place mostly in cities with tall skyscrapers, this is not true. Most bird strikes, in fact, take place at low levels, within the first two or three floors. Birds come to the ground, land in trees, and, looking for food to refuel, see reflected trees and sky and fly toward them, striking the glass. The vast majority of bird deaths are the result of birds striking residential homes, simply because there are so many, many more homes than commercial buildings. BirdSafe's findings have been used to make recommendations to property owners, including these: turn out the lights at night; refrain from planting vegetation nearer than thirty feet from buildings; use less reflective glass; and include the addition to windows of markings, decals, and window films which birds can see better. In fact, many cities are now requiring that all new construction projects use bird-friendly glass.

Research done at Powdermill with a flight tunnel (and supported by work done by others) has helped develop protocols for markings for glass windows that are most effective at deterring bird strikes. It turns out that birds will avoid windows that are marked with horizontal lines two inches apart and/or vertical lines four inches apart. An example of an effective window film (installed by ABCA) can be seen at the Frick Environmental Center.

Restoring Native Plants — Another way of helping restore the area's bird population is by creating more habitat using native plants. Research has shown that oak trees are particularly good at supporting a very wide variety of species that nourish birds. Native fruit trees are also especially valuable to birds, because they provide many more nutrients - especially anti-oxidants - than non-native fruit trees like the honeysuckle. This is important, because anti-oxidants help clear harmful toxins from avian metabolic systems -especially vital before beginning a long migratory flight. ABCA has been involved with several native plant restoration projects, including a recent collaboration with Allegheny Land Trust at their Dead Man's Hollow property. Volunteers removed invasive plants and replanted native species over a 45-acre tract. Similar work is proceeding on properties owned by Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. And, as noted in The Peregrine, ABCA has been working with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Allegheny GoatScape to remove invasive plants and replant natives on Clayton Hill in Pittsburgh's Frick Park. The area has been designated an E-Bird hotspot, and 3RBC birders and others are encouraged to bird there and report findings in order to monitor the results of the project.

Avoidance of Pesticides — The use of pesticides continues to be a serious problem. Even though DDT has been banned for decades, agricultural and urban usage of other harmful chemicals continues to be a major source of bird decline. As a case in point, Luke noted that, although there seem to be many Chimney Swifts around, especially in urban areas, the numbers of aerial insectivores are dropping precipitously and are down by more than 70%. Researchers are trying to find out if the swift decline is due to widespread pesticide use. DNA analysis of swift fecal samples taken from a nesting site that had been continuously occupied for more than 70 years, revealed a snapshot of changes to the birds' diet over the decades. This, along with samples taken from live birds caught in mist nets, showed that most Swifts are now eating beetles and flies. Research is continuing to determine if insecticides are reducing the numbers of these insects, and thereby negatively impacting this aerial insectivore's population.

Luke closed his talk by pointing out that ABCA is trying to increase public awareness about these issues and others through outreach, education efforts, panel discussions, banding demonstrations, and working with volunteers. He encouraged club members to participate in any of these activities.

After the talk, Luke took several questions.

Sheree thanked Luke for his presentation. She wished everyone well, cautioned us to stay safe, and adjourned the meeting.

— prepared by Frank Moone on 8-13-2021

Image Gallery

Mission of 3RBC

To gather in friendship, to enjoy the wonders of nature and to share our passion for birds!

© Photo Credits:
Sherron Lynch, Tom Moeller, Brian Shema, and Chuck Tague