Three peregrine falcons hatch atop UC Berkeley Campanile

While the world tries to adjust to all the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, mother nature knows no difference. Over the weekend, three peregrine falcon chicks made their arrival into the world in their nest atop UC Berkeley’s famed Campanile clock tower.

On April 18 and 19, 2020, the peregrine falcon chicks hatched atop UC Berkeley's Campanile. (Cal Falcons)

Two hatched on Saturday and a third came out on Sunday, as their mother, named Annie by UC Berkeley researchers, held her position over her babies.  Video captured the births, and at one point, momma bird was even seen helping one of her chicks out of its egg. 

There were initially four eggs, but last week, researchers noted that the shell from one of the eggs had caved in, a sign that the egg had failed. 

Despite the loss, the hatching of three was considered a success, according to researchers with the Cal Falcons social media project, which has set up live web cams to monitor their resident peregrine falcons, Annie and Grinnell and the pair’s growing family.

In 2016, peregrine falcons first set up their territory on the UC Berkley campus, centered around the Campanile. Then the following year, the raptors began raising chicks on the tower. 

A crowd-funding campaign in 2019 allowed for the installation of two webcams in the nesting area on top of the tower. “Thanks to the new webcams, we were able to monitor the breeding season in unprecedented detail!” researchers wrote on the Cal Falcons website. 

Annie and Grinnell live there year-round, and it isn’t the pair’s first go-around as parents. In 2019, the birds successfully raised two chicks that were later named Carson and Cade. 

Researcher Sean Peterson, a Berkeley Ph.D. student and his wife, biologist Lynn Schofield run the Cal Falcons project. Over the weekend, the couple marked the births of the triplets by backing cookies and hosting a one-hour Hatch Day Q&A on YouTube, in front of an audience of some 500 people, according to the university's Berkeley News.

During the Q&A, they answered a wide range of questions and informed viewers on what's expected for the chicks in the coming days and weeks. 

They explained that the chicks would double in size in five days and then a new set of feathers would replace the newborn downy fluff after about 10 days. “By about day 40, they’ll pretty much be fully-feathered and ready to go, to start learning to fly,” Peterson said. 

The researchers also explained some of the biggest threat to survival facing the chicks. “Trying to stay warm is one of their main instincts at this age,” said Peterson, adding that's why the chicks sleep in a pile. “Getting too cold can be very dangerous,” he explained.

Another danger will be when the birds start learning to fly. “Their first flights are very awkward,” Schofield shared during the Q&A, “and there’s the potential for them to hit a building. Also, if they hit the ground, the fear is that they’ll have a hard time getting up.”

Peterson added, “They also have to learn how to hunt, successfully hunt, and to migrate successfully,” and noted that only about 40% of the falcons that develop enough to make flight, survive their first year.

The genders of the new chicks are still unknown and researchers don’t expect to find out until next month, when they plan to band the birds with for tracking purposes.

For now, researchers and the hundreds who have been following the birth of UC Berkeley’s newest residents have the live web cams to keep them updated on how the birds are doing.

During the shelter-in-place, getting to know the new residents through some web-cam bird watching may be a welcome activity for those looking for something to do.

As for what the triplet chicks will be named, Cal Falcons said it’s planning to open up a naming contest to the public, likely in the second week of May.