This Sunday, first-ever Berkeley Bird Festival includes campus fun

A professional artist draws an osprey on a sidewalk using chalk.

Chalk art of Bay Area birds done by professional artists and amateurs alike will decorate campus and city pavement at Sunday’s Berkeley Bird Festival. (Photo courtesy of Golden Gate Audubon Society)

From the sidewalks to the skies, with chalk art, poetry, songs, Origami, guided field trips and binoculars, birds will be celebrated this coming Sunday in Berkeley at the first-ever Berkeley Bird Festival. And UC Berkeley will be a prime spot for the public to take part.

The all-day, free community event, organized by the Golden Gate Audubon Society and the California Institute for Community, Art and Nature (California ICAN), in partnership with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and awarded $10,000 from the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, originally was set for last April. But the pandemic caused a postponement until safety restrictions eased.

Luckily, October is fall migration, prime time to see dozens of bird species not regularly in Berkeley, but passing through, said Glenn Phillips, the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s executive director. It’s also when wintering birds start to arrive.

“We had our staff meeting in Tilden Park recently and then went bird watching and saw a hermit warbler that’s only in this area now. In April, you wouldn’t have seen it,” said Phillips. “I’ve also seen a rare bird — a black-and-white warbler — in Berkeley. In New York, that would be nothing, but in Berkeley, it’s pretty cool.”

Berkeley's resident peregrine falcons, Grinnell and Annie, sit on a ledge atop the Campanile.

Facts about UC Berkeley’s resident peregrine falcons Grinnell and Annie — two of their offspring are pictured here — and other Bay Area raptors will be offered at the Cal Falcons table, along with raptor games, this Sunday on campus. (Cal Falcons photo)

The festival is one of 23 grantees awarded funding in spring 2020 by the eight-member advisory board of the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund. COVID-19 halted most of these local partners’ projects, said Jen Loy, but some finally are able to resume and will be an antidote to the pandemic.

“The Berkeley Bird Festival and many of the partnership projects are providing a sense of optimism, resilience and hope after more than 18 months of COVID,” said Loy, adding that the results of the partnership with the Golden Gate Audubon Society, California ICAN and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology is proving to be “joyful and fun.”

Some of the advisory board members said their love of the campus’s resident peregrine falcons, Annie and Grinnell, helped inspire their support for this city-wide festival.

“The timing of this application could not have been better: It was during Annie and Grinnell’s hatch watch. I was glued to the live feed from pre-hatch to fledge, and I panic like a grandmother when the babies take their first flight,” said Jacquelyn McCormick, chief of staff to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and the mayor’s office representative on the advisory board.

“I also love community engagement and opportunities for young people with hands-on creative activities,” she added, of the list of Sunday’s events. “They will never forget it.”

An Allen's hummingbird arrives at a flowering plant in search of food in the UC Botanical Garden.

A field trip in search of birds, like this Allen’s hummingbird, will be held at the UC Botanical Garden on Sunday at 8 a.m. The trip is full, but a waiting list is available. (Photo by Melanie Hofmann)

On the Berkeley campus, activities will include:

  • A guided field trip in search of birds on the main campus, in the Eucalyptus Grove/Grinnell Natural Area around Strawberry Creek. It will run from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and is limited to 20 participants; advance registration is required.
  • Professional artists creating sidewalk chalk art drawings of Bay Area birds from noon to 4 p.m. on the plaza in front of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, which is in the Valley Life Sciences Building. People of all ages and levels of artistic ability can participate. Chalk will be provided, along with photos of local birds for reference.
  • A Cal Falcons activity area on the plaza, with experts available to answer questions about the peregrine falcons living on the Campanile. One of them will be Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory and an original Cal Falcons member who has more than 35 years’ experience counting and banding migrating raptors.

There will be games about raptors, including one about “how to recognize a peregrine and differentiate it from Cooper’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks, the raptors most often confused with peregrines,” said Mary Malec, a Cal Falcons member who monitors local raptor nests for the East Bay Regional Park District. “We’ll also have a memory match game to match up species of raptors.”

  • Ornithological treasures on display, also on the plaza, from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, which has one of the nation’s largest collections, dating back to 1836, of bird specimens and skeletons.

“We would normally be doing tours in the museum, but because of COVID, we’ll have a table set out next to Cal Falcons,” said Carla Cicero, the museum’s staff curator of birds. “We will highlight some of the collections, and research being done on birds, and bring out historic specimens and eggs of falcons to talk about how the collection was used to study (the now-banned pesticide) DDT and its effect on the eggs.”

A professional artist draws an osprey on a sidewalk using chalk.

A limited supply of binoculars will be available on the bird field trips taking place on and off campus this Sunday. (Photo by Sharon Beals)

Other activities — please check for advance registration and COVID safety rules — will take place off-campus at the nearby David Brower Center, including “Winged Wonderment,” a four-hour, noon to 4 p.m. indoor live celebration of birds featuring bird poetry, stories, art, photography and sounds provided by local writers, artists, naturalists and bird enthusiasts. Berkeley English professor Bob Hass, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, is among the presenters.

In-person Origami instruction will be held outdoors at the center by San Quentin origami teacher Jun Hamamoto and one of her former students, Somdeng Danny Thongsy. There will be four time slots, each for up to 18 people at three tables.

Visitors also can create feeders from gourds; draw and paint birds; do chalk art of birds on sidewalks between the corner of Allston Way and Oxford Street; attend a book signing by Malcolm Margolin, author of Deep Hanging Out: Wanderings and Wonderment in Native California; stop by information and action tables staffed by local environmental groups; buy books published by Berkeley Bird Festival partner Heyday Books; see a display of bird imagery, history and art; and listen to the sounds of birds filling the center’s atrium and lobby.

Sitting on a plant, a hooded oriole, with black wings and tail and a gold head, has an insect in its beak at the UC Botanical Garden.

A hooded oriole at the UC Botanical Garden has captured a snack. (Photo by Ken Wahl)

Free bird-watching field trips will take place throughout the city, including at Aquatic Park, the UC Botanical Garden, Live Oak Park, Cesar Chavez Park, Vollmer Peak, San Pablo Park and the Berkeley Meadow and Shoreline. Advance registration is required.

The Berkeley Bird Festival was conceived by Malcolm Margolin, the retired publisher of Heyday Books and founder of California ICAN. Margolin recently published Oliver James’ Birds of Berkeley field guide. Oliver has master’s degrees from Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy.

The East Bay’s love of birds is unmatched, said Phillips. In the Christmas Bird Count, a volunteer-based bird survey effort held annually from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5 every year by the National Audubon Society, the Oakland count circle has the most participants in the field of any count in North America, and it’s been that way for years, he said. Typically, the circle — which includes not just Oakland but Alameda, Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany, Orinda, Moraga and Lafayette — records more than 170 bird species.

The more people learn about birds, the more they’ll care about issues like climate change, which affects birds and their habitats, said Lisa Bullwinkle, a member of Berkeley’s arts community who serves on the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund advisory board.

“This is a celebration of these wondrous creatures rapidly disappearing from our environment,” she said of the festival. “Learning about Berkeley’s birds might just help save them.”