Grinnell, the Berkeley peregrine falcon who had been mated for life to a female named Annie until he had to go to the hospital for a couple of weeks and a new young buck moved in on his lady, has now returned home, and there will be drama.
Perhaps the pandemic and the uptick in bird watching brought the local falcon cams a wider audience. But this latest "soap opera" involving a falcon love triangle at the Berkeley Campanile has all the makings of major local-news fodder — it just may not end well for Grinnell, because no one is scripting this thing, and they're birds.
The raptor drama began the last week of October, when Grinnell — patriarch of the highly productive Campanile falcon nest for the last five years — was injured in a fight with a reported two other falcons, a male and an unknown female. Grinnell came away with a damaged beak, and wounds to a wing and one foot.
A passerby reportedly found Grinnell, unable to fly, on October 29, sitting on a garbage can at the Berkeley Tennis Club. He was quickly rescued and taken to Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital in Walnut Creek, where in just about three weeks time he was declared 95% healed by veterinarian Dr. Krystal Woo.
With just a couple of abrasions on his wing, Grinnell was cleared to return to the wild, and Woo released him from a carrier at the UC Berkeley campus on Wednesday, as Berkeleyside reports. Immediately he flew off in the direction of the bell tower, and Woo said it was a good sign.
"That’s the goal, that they just go. And he did," she said, per Berkeleyside.
The Cal Band was performing below the Campanile as Grinnell returned, offering coincidental fanfare for the patriarch's arrival — and observers spotted him on the tower itself, which has lately been occupied by both Annie and Grinnell's new, likely younger male rival.
Reportedly, in Grinnell's unexplained absence, Annie has taken to the new suitor.
"They fly together, they soar together. He lands, she lands. He flies, she flies,” said Cal Falcons volunteer and observer Mary Malec. “They’re bowing and chupping to each other.”
Now, falcon watchers are waiting to see if the rival wins out, and takes over Grinnell's territory along with his mate, or if Grinnell succeeds in running the unnamed rival out of town before mating can occur.
Peregrines typically mate in January or February and chicks hatch in the spring and fledge by summer. But mating has been known to happen earlier.
Annie and Grinnell have lived atop the bell tower since 2016, and they have successfully raised 12 chicks to maturity in that time, including a brood of three earlier this year. (San Francisco also watched four chicks hatch at the PG&E building nest downtown this past spring, and sadly, with the sale of the building, that falcon cam just went dark last month.)
Watchers say they saw three falcons flying off to the north yesterday, and it was unclear if perhaps two were escorting one away, and which one was being shooed off.
Experts say that Annie should recognize her mate for life, but how she decides to behave after his absence is anyone's guess — and if the other male wants to fight more, one or the other falcon could end up with serious injuries.
According to the CalFalconCam Twitter account, none of the three falcons had been spotted on camera this morning.
Don't touch that dial!
Photo: Bridget Ahern/UC Berkeley