Equipped and readied with folding chairs, binoculars and sunglasses, Cal Falcons volunteers anticipated the Campanile peregrine chicks’ first flight Saturday.
The “Fledge Watch” team, led by Cal Falcons scientist Mary Malec, spent the day posting signs around campus in case of a “Peregrine Emergency” while also observing the chicks’ first flight, according to a campus press release. A month and a half after hatching, Lindsay and Grinnell Jr. experienced their first glimpse of independence from their parents when they flew for the first time.
While Lindsay made her first jump at 5:50 a.m. to land on the roof of the Bancroft Library, her brother Grinnell Jr. lagged behind by 12 hours, circling back to Sather Tower before resuming his travels to land on a nearby tree.
“Over the (next) six to eight weeks of flight school, they (will) learn how to fly, how to hunt food, how to pursue other birds and how to take care of themselves on their own,” said Cal Falcons scientist Sean Peterson. “For the most part, the parents are going to be there and also provide anything if needed.”
After flight school comes what Peterson called the “independence period,” when the chicks will either leave on their own or be chased out by their parents Annie and Alden. According to Peterson, young peregrines typically spend most of their time and energy over the next year learning how to hunt and care for themselves as they begin searching for their own home.
Peterson noted that this period is extremely testing for newly independent peregrine falcons, as more than 50% of young peregrines die in their first year, mainly from starvation.
Part of the difficulty stems from the unique hunting strategy peregrines use to catch their prey, which are almost entirely other birds. They dive down at high speeds in open areas, aiming to instantly kill their quarry with a strike to the back of the head, which Peterson noted is a tactic that must be perfected to reliably catch food.
After quite literally becoming empty nesters, Annie and Alden will not welcome their independent chicks back to the nest, Peterson noted. He added that if the chicks did try to return, they would be treated as rivals.
“With Alden coming in to take Grinnell’s space, it’s an indication that this nest is likely to be around for a long time,” Peterson said. “It’s going to be really fun to have that be a Cal fixture.”