Cal Falcons chicks’ names honor COVID-19 pandemic hero, Indigenous tradition

Photo of falcon chicks
Sean Peterson/Courtesy
Cal Falcons used a voting process to name UC Berkeley's resident falcon chicks. The chicks have been named Fauci, Wek’-Wek’ and Kaknu.

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UC Berkeley’s resident falcon chicks have been named Fauci, Wek’-Wek’ and Kaknu following a voting process run by Cal Falcons with public submissions, polling and creative suggestions from Berkeley children.

The final round of voting for names included 15 options from four different groups, including submissions from Berkeley children, local park names, COVID-19 pandemic heroes and Indigenous names. Fauci, Wek’-Wek’ and Kaknu were the three choices with the most votes, with one bird’s name honoring Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, and two birds named after Miwok and Ohlone tribal lores.

“We reached out to the Miwok and Ohlone tribal leaders about the names Kaknu and Wek’-Wek’, but didn’t hear back,” said Sean Peterson, a campus doctoral student who managed the falcon naming process, in an email. “We want to make sure we’re as respectful as possible to their culture and traditions, especially considering UC Berkeley sits on unceded Ohlone land.”

The selection process took place across various social media platforms where Peterson and biologist Lynn Schofield, both of whom are Cal Falcons social media managers, collected 650 suggestions from the community and asked people to pick their favorites. The two also partnered with the Berkeley Public Library to give local kids the opportunity to pitch ideas, according to Peterson.

Cal Falcons wanted to make sure the names were appropriate and “non-divisive,” Peterson added in the email. He said there was a lot of support for naming the birds Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson-Johnson, after the three pharmaceutical companies that produced major COVID-19 vaccines.

Cal Falcons removed those names, however, citing the companies’ historically unethical practices. Peterson added that a similar situation occurred last year when they changed the name of one falcon, Bancroft, when it came to light that Hubert Howe Bancroft, a prominent ethnologist, produced “horribly racist” writings.

“Considering the past actions of some of those companies (e.g., Johnson and Johnson has been implicated in the opioid crisis and Pfizer has performed illegal medical trials on African children), we didn’t feel it was right to honor these birds with corporate names,” Peterson said in the email.

The chicks are differentiated using colored bands with specific codes: red is for Fauci, blue is for Wek’-Wek’ and yellow is for Kaknu, according to the Cal Falcons website. Schofield said usually they are able to tell chicks apart by size or sex, but since the chicks are all male, the tags are the only way to identify them until they grow their outer feathers.

Schofield added that naming the birds is mostly for the community — specifically people who have developed an interest in keeping tabs on the birds. She said the bands are for science, but the names are for people.

“The chicks are likely to fledge this week (probably Thursday/Friday/Saturday), so keep an eye on the cameras as they fly for the first time,” Peterson said in the email.

Contact Matt Brown at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @maattttbrown .