In collaboration with several outside organizations, UC Berkeley has implemented two cameras to hopefully catch the raptors’ hatching season this year. Leaders from the East Bay Regional Park District, the Institute for Wildlife Studies, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, or MVZ, and the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, or GGRO, crowdfunded more than $14,500 from 172 donors for the cameras and their installation.
The donors named the adult falcons this year, according to GGRO Director Allen Fish. Fish said the donors chose the name “Annie” for the female falcon, in honor of the “incredibly forward thinking woman” Annie Alexander, who founded the MVZ and “Grinnell” after Joseph Grinnell, the museum’s founding director.
“(The cameras) provide the chance to engage students and the Cal campus,” Fish said. “You can watch them, but you don’t disturb them because they’re 300 feet in the air. Up there, they don’t care about you and me.”
The birds first nested atop the Campanile in April 2017 and hatched two falcon chicks that the community named “Fiat” and “Lux.” The next August, the campus installed bird streamers on an Evans Hall balcony after Lux became trapped in the balcony and died. In February 2018, the birds came back to the Campanile to find a permanent nest box constructed by a group of local volunteers. This past spring, three chicks were hatched and named by community members as Californium, Berkelium and Lawrencium after the three periodic elements discovered at UC Berkeley. The nest box, which is still in place today, helps to keep the falcons’ eggs from rolling off the Campanile, as they have in the past, and to keep them protected from rain water.
In addition to satisfying community intrigue, Fish said the cameras will serve as an interesting research tool. Biologists will be able to observe how the falcons behave during incubation, take care of their chicks and respond to urban noises such as the Campanile’s “clanking bells,” according to Fish.
“Although a lot is known about peregrine falcons … we still don’t know a lot about any raptors nesting in urban areas,” Fish said.
MVZ staff curator Carla Cicero said in addition to research, she would like money raised in the future to contribute to hiring a research intern to sift through the video archives to develop education materials. She also acknowledged that the cameras’ implementation is not a “one-time expense sort of thing.”
According to Fish, it is hard to predict when Annie and Grinnell will hatch new chicks this year; the hatching dates from years past may provide some context. Falcon chicks hatched May 22, 2017 and April 25, 2018. Fish said, however, that once Annie lays eggs, the traditional number of days until they hatch is about 33 or 34 days.
Campus freshman and bird enthusiast Nachiket Girish, who frequents Clark Kerr and Foothill residence halls with his camera to photograph hummingbirds, said he is excited about the project. He said all raptors, falcons included, are usually unseen by the general public because they fly “really high up in the sky.” But with these cameras, people will get to see the creatures up close.
“Watching a falcon being born is not something you see every day, or ever,” Girish said. “I think it’s a genius idea.”