A family of once-endangered peregrine falcons are now nested comfortably atop the Campanile, bringing the campus community a rare glimpse into the life cycle of these predatory birds.
Peregrine falcons were once extremely endangered because of the pesticide DDT, according to Maureen Lahiff, a lecturer in the campus’s school of public health. Lahiff explained that DDT and its byproducts in the United States caused these birds of prey to produce thinner egg shells, resulting in less hatching of newborns. Since DDT’s ban in 1972, Lahiff said, there has been a lot of effort put into peregrine recovery which resulted in the removal of the species from the endangered species list.
“They are fully protected and monitored still, but they have recovered,” Lahiff said.
While walking through the UC Berkeley campus in April, amateur bird watcher and director of campus’s Molecular Graphics and Computation Facility Kathleen Durkin was the first person to notice the peregrine falcons.
Since their discovery, peregrine eggs were laid and have hatched on the second balcony of the Campanile.
Glenn Stewart, director of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, and Doug Bell, the wildlife program manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, were authorized by a federal and state permit to put identifying bands on the talons of the two peregrine falcon chicks.
According to Bell, two types of bands were placed on the peregrines — an aluminum band with a unique nine-digit number, and a visual identification band. The latter is black with a white alphanumeric code which allows for the birds to be identified with a spotting scope.
Stewart said bands give researchers an opportunity to learn more about “longevity, nest site tenacity and juvenile dispersal” within the Bay Area population of birds. He added that the bands will help researchers document migration pathways, lethal toxins and important habitat information.
For the peregrine falcons on campus, the banding process was a time sensitive matter, according to United States Geographical Survey Bird Banding Laboratory wildlife biologist Danny Bystrak. He said the banding must happen when hatchlings are developed enough to withstand the band, but not so old that they are tempted to jump from the nest during banding.
Though the hatchlings are not completely visible without binoculars, it is possible that they will be more visible within upcoming weeks as they prepare to leave the nest, Lahiff said.
Stewart said the healthy young birds on the Campanile should be in flight within the next three weeks.
Having these hatchlings grow safely on the Campanile is “a real treat,” Stewart said, given that in 1970 this species was near extinction in California.
Contact Janesse Henke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JanesseHenke.