Ornithologist Mary Malec is at the ready. She peers through the binoculars around her neck and then through the high-definition telescope next to her, both aimed at two black dots circling far above the Campanile.
A pair of nesting peregrine falcons have called the top of the tower home since January, according to Malec, one of the East Bay Regional Park District and Golden Gate Raptor Observatory representatives monitoring the falcons. In May, the pair birthed two female eyasses, nicknamed Fiat and Lux by the campus community.
Late Monday afternoon, Fiat “fledged,” or took flight, Malec said. After almost a week of waiting, she and other volunteer ornithologists gathered Thursday to see the second baby take the plunge.
“Lux flew off the east side … over LeConte. A big … nice, short simple loop,” Malec said. She and the other falconers will continue to do fledge-watch for up to the next 48 hours just in case something goes wrong with the two juveniles, she said.
It’s critical that passionate falconers like Malec – who has done hawk-watching, nest-watching and fledge-fall-recording for more than a decade – participate in protection and observation efforts, said Golden Gate Raptor Observatory director Allen Fish.
“(The falcons) need us to keep track of the fledglings if they run into trouble, like hitting a glass window on campus or falling into the road,” Fish said. This is the first time in history that peregrine falcons have been recorded nesting on the Campanile, he added, emphasizing the importance of this particular fledging.
The Campanile’s architecture has proved to be difficult for fledging, however, according to both Malec and Fish. The fence line around the bell tower is too high for the young falcons to jump up on. As a result, they must squeeze through the decorative holes in the fence, making it hard for them to catch wind beneath their wings for easy flight, Fish said.
According to Fish, there were only two peregrine nests in the state of California in 1970. The rampant use of the pesticide DDT poisoned the majority of the population and put them “right at death’s door.” Today, however, Fish estimates there are about 400 peregrines in the state, including the falcon family on campus.
Community members may be able to spot the juveniles around campus in the meantime.
“It really is a lovely ritual,” Fish said.