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UC Berkeley’s Famous Falcon Pair Undergoes Dramatic Saga of Death, Scandal, and Hope

Peregrine Falcon

The Campanile at UC Berkeley is an enormous bell tower which overlooks the campus and has become one Berkeley’s most enduring symbols. In 2016, this iconic tower became the home of a pair of Peregrine Falcons who reared two chicks, named Fiat and Lux after UC Berkeley’s motto. Lux was unfortunately killed by a window strike, however Fiat survived to adulthood. In the ensuing years the pair, named Grinnell and Annie, successfully reared over a dozen young falcons, one of whom was seen nesting in nearby San Francisco on Alcatraz Island.

In their five years of nesting atop Sather Tower, the Campanile’s given name, Grinnell and Annie have become quite the sensation. People worldwide tune into live streamed nest cams which record the progress of each nesting season. For many students and Berkeley alumni, including yours truly, the Campanile falcons have become unofficial campus mascots.

You can imagine, then, the uproar it caused when the group monitoring the falcons announced that Annie was missing and presumed deceased.

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Disappearing Act

In March of 2022 during the height of the breeding season, Annie disappeared. For an entire week, she did not return to her nest, which she had fiercely defended from competition in the past. Eventually, it was concluded that she had either been driven from her territory or had died.

Then, a week later in a move which the group monitoring the falcons described as “unprecedented,” Annie returned to her nest as though nothing had happened. Thus began, the 2022 Campanile falcon nesting season. Annie and Grinnell got right to work, and produced a clutch of two eggs.

Joy Becomes Sorrow

The happiness amongst the falcons’ audience which was brought on by Annie’s return would be short lived. Just a few weeks after Annie and Grinnell were reunited, Grinnell was found dead in downtown Berkeley. Grinnell had an identifying band which was placed on his leg as a nestling in Martinez, California in 2013. This band was used to confirm that the deceased bird was indeed Grinnell. His death is suspected to have been caused by a collision with a car based on his body’s location.

Fans and followers of the Campanile falcon’s five year long saga were understandably devastated. More heart-wrenching still was the fact that Annie and Grinnell’s two eggs were unlikely to survive without both parents’ attention. It seemed like a tragic end for the Campanile falcons.

Meet the New Guy

After Annie’s unlikely return, it seemed that the falcons were out of miracles. That is, until the new guy showed up. The new guy, whose temporary name seems to be “New Guy” until an ongoing naming contest chooses a more fitting name, appeared within hours of Grinnell’s death. He is an unbanded male who has been spotted amongst the many falcons which have been involved in territorial disputes around Sather Tower over the years. New Guy has a distinctive injury on one leg which has made him easy to identify.

Despite previously handling most interlopers with immediate hostility, Annie seemed to tolerate the appearance of New Guy. With bated breath, followers of the Campanile falcons watched as something truly miraculous occurred. When a member of a mated pair of falcons dies in the middle of the breeding season, it is almost always the case that the nest will fail and the young will die. Rarely, however, a new male may step in and foster the existing nest. The group monitoring Annie and the late Grinnell’s nest were hesitant to announce that New Guy had done just that, but before long he was sitting atop Annie and Grinnell’s eggs in shifts and delivering meals to the widowed Annie.

A short while after accepting New Guy’s assistance, Annie laid a third egg which is presumed to belong to him.

Hope for Peregrines

Just fifty years ago, a story like that of Grinnell, Annie, and New Guy would have been completely impossible. In 1975, only 324 nesting pairs of Peregrine Falcons were recorded. Around this time, only two pairs were recorded in the entire state of California. The pesticide DDT, which has been widely recognized for its environmental devastation, weakens the eggs of birds. Birds of prey were hit the hardest by widespread DDT usage, and this substance has been named as a major contributor in the decline of Peregrines.

Since the seventies, though, something incredible has happened. To understand just how big of a change has occurred, one need only look at the many many territory disputes that Grinnell, Annie, and New Guy have engaged in over the years. Falcon after falcon has interfered with their nest. Such an abundance of Peregrines once seemed like a daydream or a distant memory.

The saga of the Campanile falcons is one of family, scandal, and parenthood. Mostly, though, it is a story of hope; hope for a species which once threatened to disappear from this planet altogether. The Campanile falcons demonstrate the incredible triumphs which conservation efforts can bring about for creatures whose populations are struggling to hang on. They remind us that hope, after all, is the thing with feathers.

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