'Tis the season when we start paying attention to birds' nests on SFist again — specifically the peregrine falcon nest atop UC Berkeley's Campanile, and maybe, someday again, the nest up on PG&E's old headquarters in downtown SF that no longer has a falcon cam.
It's nearly breeding season at the Campanile once more, and longtime nest resident Annie, whose mate of five years was tragically killed by a car in 2022, is up to courting — but she has a new beau.
This is not the new mate with whom she raised two chicks last spring, named Alden by the Cal Falcons group and by popular vote — and it was believed that Alden was playing stepdad to chicks that were actually fathered by the deceased Grinnell.
As Berkeleyside reports, the falcon watchers have seen enough evidence that Annie is taken with this new, orange-footed male who is new to the area. And on Valentine's Day, they launched a new online poll to name him.
"Falcon courtship involves several different behaviors, including head-bow displays in the nest box, prey deliveries and aerial acrobatics, culminating with copulation,” says Sean Peterson, an environmental biologist with Cal Falcons, speaking to Berkeleyside. “We’ve seen all of those behaviors, which kind of cements that Annie and the ‘New Male’ are very likely to pair this year."
The naming contest/poll closes tomorrow, Feb. 16, and the name will be selected promptly by Friday. As with the previous names, they're looking for something UC Berkeley-related — Grinnell was named for the founding director of the campus's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Joseph Grinnell, and the now gone Alden was named for one of the former directors of that museum, Alden Miller. Annie was named over six years ago for museum benefactor and founder Annie Montague Alexander.
The new male has been seen bringing prey to Annie — although he's been dumping it in the wrong place apparently, in the breeding nest. And she's apparently smitten, and eating his kills.
"There’s been no sign of Alden. It’s still a mystery,” Peterson tells Berkeleyside. “I think the most likely scenario is that he died. It’s still possible he’ll show up again, but that’s not very likely."
Annie had also been thought dead early last spring, after a very lengthy and uncharacteristic — for peregrines — absence from the nest. But then she shockingly reappeared, mated with Grinnell, only to have him turn up dead in downtown Berkeley weeks later.
Still, the two managed to produce a sixth consecutive successful brood, the two chicks fledged and left the nest last summer, and the circle of life spins on.
Assuming Annie and the new guy mate and the stars align, this will be her seventh brood, and Cal Falcons says that peregrines can live around 15 years in the wild.
Evidence points to Annie's mate being a significantly younger male, the falcon watchers say. He's apparently "very good" at catching prey, but they've observed him being hesitant in how he offers prey to Annie, which makes them think he hasn't been a dad before, and "he’s relatively young and still learning the ropes," Peterson said.
Bay Area bird watchers, seasoned and amateur alike, became especially enthralled with the falcon nest cams in the early days of the pandemic, which were seeing significant egg-hatching action in that first couple months. Bay Area peregrine falcons typically lay their eggs around March 1 or in the week or two after, and the hatching starts by late April or early May.
The PG&E building nest in San Francisco saw a tragic but nonetheless natural drama unfold in 2020 when mom Val laid a few eggs fathered by a new, younger male named Canyon. The younger male proceeded to kill the first hatchling, perhaps thinking it was prey, and that brood ended up a bust.
After a more successful breeding season with four chicks in 2021, the PG&E building falcon cam went dark later that year after the company sold off its former 77 Beale Street headquarters. But for all we know, Val and Canyon had another successful brood up there last year, and the building has not yet been demolished. Falcon watchers can always go down to Beale Street with binoculars and see if they catch a glimpse of them.
Top image: Photo by Bridget Ahern via UC Berkeley News