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One indicator of an environment’s health is a vibrant avian population. With the abundance of wooded areas in and around Pittsburgh, it’s no wonder that according to Birding.com there were 397 species seen in Pennsylvania, making Western Pennsylvania a great place to spot our feathered friends.
Most of the time, we go about our lives paying little attention to the birds around us. We tend to take note of them more in the spring since most of them have been absent during the winter. But for most of us, the birds in our environment fade into the background, unless they leave a gift on our car’s windshield, or are singing near an open window.
You don’t have to be an avid bird watcher to spot some of the birds on our list. Here are 10 that you may see if you look a little bit harder.
These little marvels of nature delight observers with their ability to hover and dart about. Like many local senior citizens, hummingbirds summer in Pittsburgh, and then take off for warmer climates when the weather turns cold. Hummingbirds drink nectar from the inside of flowers, but you can attract this colorful bird to your yard by hanging out a hummingbird feeder filled with a sugar solution.
Great Blue Heron
This stately bird is found in marshy areas or near lakes. These long-legged and long-necked birds feed on fish and have a substantial wingspan. Their gracefulness and stateliness make them a majestic lakeside sight. The Great Blue Heron has been spotted in places like North Park.
During the winter of 1989-1990, two unusual visitors dropped by the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh. No, they were not oil executives, but a pair of Peregrine Falcons that were affectionately named Boris and Natasha. Once an endangered species, the pair were treated like Russian royalty. A nesting box was constructed for them at the Gulf Tower where this species has been setting up housekeeping there ever since. Peregrine Falcons have also been found at the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, and have been spotted nesting in various bridges in the area.
You either love them or you hate them. Like rats, pigeons are urban dwellers, and they can be found in downtown Pittsburgh. As carriers of various diseases, many people despise them, but what child hasn’t had fun feeding a piece of popcorn to this bold bird, or running through a flock of them to watch as they scatter and fly away.
The Canadian Goose has also inspired controversy. These large birds love Pittsburgh so much that in certain areas their population has grown enormously to where it has posed a problem. To combat their burgeoning numbers, local municipalities have allowed hunting to thin their numbers. Animal rights activists have staged protests, while those who have had to negotiate minefields of their droppings approved of the measure.
Owls are the mystery birds of nature. A bird of prey, they hunt smaller creatures, but unlike the falcon that hunts by day, these unusual birds are nocturnal and hunt at night. Therefore, they are rarely seen during they day. Although you might not see owls, sometimes you can hear their faint, melancholy hoots.
Robins are the “every man” of the Pittsburgh birding scene. They are ubiquitous and easily spotted. As a herald of spring, they are a welcome sight after a long, cold Pittsburgh winter. Watching their beautiful blue eggs hatch is a pleasure and a wonder of nature.
These colorful birds are sometimes referred to as “wild canaries” by the locals. They love to eat sunflower seeds, and with their gold and black coloring, these cheerful birds are at home in a city that bleeds black and gold.
In the colorless days of winter, a cardinal perched in a snow-covered tree limb makes a striking contrast. It is the male of the species that sports the vibrant red, while the female is more brownish. They don’t migrate, so like most Pittsburghers, they must endure the snow and cold.
OK, this really isn’t a species of bird, but in Pittsburgh, many locals call sparrows or any small, non-descript bird a “sputzie.” There is no consensus as to where the term sputzie originated, but many think it comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch. The German word for sparrow is “spatz” and it is thought that the “ie” was added to make the word “cuter,” thus, sputzie.