Peregrine falcon watching in Berkeley — the perfect shelter-in-place activity?

A still taken from one of the three webcams now following the peregrine falcons at the Campanile with their three eggs. Photo: Cal Falcons on Facebook

Wild animals are blissfully unaware of the public health crisis engulfing the globe. Which is one reason watching birds of prey go about their ordinary lives via webcam can be both therapeutic and mesmerizing. The peregrine falcons that have made their nest atop UC Berkeley’s Campanile for the past three years are back. Since the story below was posted, a third egg has been laid and Sean Peterson — a Berkeley Ph.D. student who, with his wife, biologist Lynn Schofield, oversees the Cal Falcon social project — told Berkeleyside a fourth one may appear Wednesday afternoon (we’ll keep you posted!). Either way, hard incubation has begun, Peterson said, and hatch day is forecast to be April 18. Many people are following the birds on the three webcams installed on the tower. “People are telling us it reminds them there’s an outside world during the lockdown, “said Peterson, referring to the Bay Area’s current shelter-in-place order. “It gives people some sanity at this crazy time.” — Tracey Taylor / Berkeleyside

Coronavirus may be hampering business as usual, but high up in UC Berkeley’s Campanile, peregrine falcon couple Annie and Grinnell — who’ve raised chicks on the bell tower since 2017 — are carrying out their spring routine without a hitch: mating, nesting and reproducing. Three rusty-brown speckled eggs of the season have already appeared, and the events were captured by one of three webcams on the tower and viewed by the birds’ fan base, which now stretches across 45 countries.

“Congratulations! Our office, along with the rest of Berkeley, is looking forward to meeting our newest residents,” tweeted one admirer, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, a campus alumnus.

“Life goes on. Wonderful,” a Cal Falcons Facebook follower wrote.


Mary Malec, a local volunteer raptor nest monitor who accurately predicted March 10 for the arrival of egg No. 1, said that late on Tuesday last week, “I was getting a little worried, because I had only about half an hour left until midnight. But it arrived at 11:21.”

It takes six to seven days for a full clutch to be laid; the last of Annie’s eggs — if she lays four, she said — could appear Wednesday. She’ll start incubating them after the third one, so that her young hatch about the same time. People shouldn’t worry, Malec added, if they see Annie occasionally apart from the first two eggs.

“It’s called synchronous hatching, when the chicks are born within a few hours of each other, even though the eggs were laid days apart,” she explained.

Annie and Grinnell “now have quite a bit of experience, so they’re probably at peak of their game, and they’re in the prime of their lives,” said Lynn Schofield, a biologist with The Institute for Bird Populations. She and her husband, Sean Peterson, a Berkeley Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, launched the Cal Falcons social media project in 2019. “We hope they’ll get four chicks, that’s the maximum,” she added. “We’re crossing our fingers.”

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Last year, Annie produced four eggs, but broke the first one accidentally. Chicks later named Cade and Carson emerged from eggs two and three; the fourth chick didn’t hatch.

Peterson says it’s the perfect time for viewers to check the webcams, as “the laying process is good action. Once Annie starts incubating, she’ll mostly be hanging out for about 32 to 33 days,” until the chicks hatch.

Before the egg-laying began, Annie voted in the California primary election and looked at paint chips for the chicks’ nursery, thanks to social media posts by Schofield and Peterson, who use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to educate and delight the falcons’ followers — who number in the thousands — with facts, short videos, close-up shots from long-focus lenses and occasional humorous photo-edited images of the birds.

This spring, Cal Falcons is offering new ways to engage with the birds and the scientists and wildlife experts who know them best. As of mid-February, Annie and Grinnell have one-stop shop website with access to their livestreams, InstagramFacebook and Twitter accounts. There’s also a page to meet the scientists and learn their favorite falcon facts, a list of the partners in this scientific and educational falcon project, a falcon FAQ, a falcon glossary that defines terms like floaters, tiercels and eyrie and an “Ask a Scientist” form.

On Feb. 29, Grinnell (left) and Annie feasted on a mourning dove for breakfast. Annie is the larger of the two. Male peregrine falcons can be 50% smaller than females. Photo: Cal Falcons on Facebook

“It’s so nice to have falcon activity happening on a college campus, where we can aim for education, not just entertainment,” said Malec, who is affiliated with the East Bay Regional Parks District. “Most of our posts are fact-based and pretty interesting and professional.”

Another new addition this year is a permanent ethernet cable in the Campanile that will provide a stable connection for the webcams. Campus administrators responded favorably to a request last fall for funding, about $13,000, for the cable, said Carla Cicero, staff curator of birds at the campus’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and a liaison to the administration for the coalition of on- and off-campus experts who manage the falcon project.

A Cal Falcons crowdfunding effort in late 2018 raised over $14,500 for the first two webcams and a temporary cable for internet hook-up, which arrived in time for the 2019 nesting season. A third video camera was added last fall, with leftover funds, followed by the long-lasting cable.

That’s good news for those glued to the 24/7 falcon cams. The newest one, for example, allows views of Annie and Grinnell’s day-to-day lives from the tower’s southwest corner, where Grinnell recently brought Annie a red-winged blackbird, shorebirds and acorn woodpeckers to eat.

“We’ve seen a lot more prey exchanges between Annie and Grinnell, more courtship behavior and mating and more of where Grinnell is spending time roosting,” said Schofield.

Courting and mating behavior was captured this year by a new and third webcam installed on the Campanile’s southwest corner. Grinnell is on the right, Annie on the left. Photo: Cal Falcons on Facebook

As in previous years, the baby birds will be named at the beginning of May through a campus community naming competition.

Cal Falcons have launched an online T-shirt fundraiser to support Berkeley’s falcons and their care and keeping. The $20 blue and gold fan gear for kids and adults will sport two falcons swooping around the Campanile.

And, there’s one more update: Annie and Grinnell aren’t just expecting, they’re also expectant grandparents. Lawrencium, or “Larry,” a female born on the tower in 2018, has been living on Alcatraz Island, where researchers performing seabird studies saw her last April with a male falcon sitting nearby. Recently, rangers there spotted her setting up a territory.

Said Malec, “She seems to be doing all the right stuff.”

The original version of this story appeared on Berkeley News on March 13, 2020. It has been adapted and updated for publication, with permission.