He was at Annie the falcon’s side just seven hours after the death of her longtime mate Grinnell last week. He’s been helping to incubate the three eggs in the nest on UC Berkeley’s Campanile, sometimes for an hour and a half at a time. And he’s faithfully hunting, even bringing Annie meals in the middle of the night.
Best of all, Annie likes this new falcon, distinguished by his injured left leg, which hangs low when he flies, and a cap of very dark plumage on his head. They mated within 24 hours of his arrival at the bell tower last Thursday and have engaged in head bow displays; this bonding may save the three eggs in the nest — the egg-laying is now over — from failure.
“What surprised us was how quickly he took on parental duties,” said Sean Peterson, an ornithologist with Cal Falcons, of the new male, aka New Guy. “It is very rare to see this happen; the most likely result of a dead member of a breeding pair is clutch abandonment.”
The display of four vital behaviors — head bowing, copulation, incubation and hunting — has earned New Guy a new name. Today, Cal Falcons is announcing a naming contest, asking the public to submit suggestions via its social media channels — Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
The names must relate to UC Berkeley. Annie is named after Annie Alexander (1867-1950), an explorer, naturalist, paleontological collector and philanthropist who founded the UC Museum of Paleontology and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ). Grinnell’s name came from field biologist and zoologist Joseph Grinnell (1877-1939), MVZ’s first director. Grinnell was Alexander’s choice for the post.
While most of Annie and Grinnell’s 13 chicks did not receive Berkeley-related names, it’s important that Annie’s new mate “be anchored to the university,” said Peterson. “Unlike the chicks, who spend the majority of their lives away from campus, Cal is New Guy’s home.”
Cal Falcons’ scientists will choose the top names and reveal them Wednesday, April 13. The public then will vote for the winning name, to be announced Monday, April 18.
Welcoming a new mate for Annie this soon after Grinnell’s death is tough; people continue to leave tributes to him — flowers, cards, even a Cal Falcons T-shirt — beneath the bell tower.
Still, “it’s normal and natural for Annie to take on a new mate quickly. She only has two imperatives: survival and reproduction. This isn’t a bad thing,” said Mary Malec, a Cal Falcons raptor expert who retrieved Grinnell’s body from the intersection of Kittredge Street and Shattuck Avenue on March 31.
Grinnell’s body was too damaged for a full forensic examination by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Health Laboratory in Sacramento. Carla Cicero, staff curator of ornithology at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology on campus, said that the remains instead will be made into a research specimen.
What caused Grinnell’s death is unknown — such as being grounded by a rival falcon and then run over by a car, or getting hit by a car while hunting and swooping low— and likely will remain that way, the scientists said.
But it’s possible that Annie, if she were in the air at the time of his death, saw what happened to Grinnell, said Malec. “It’s very possible she knew right away,” she said. “The tower is only a quarter of a mile away, and she wasn’t in hard incubation at the time. She was off the nest as much as on.”
The eggs in the nest are expected to hatch on or around May 6, “if incubation goes off without a hitch,” said Peterson, “and it seems like everything’s going well right now. But there’s a bit of a buffer around that date, as it’s been a weird year.”
He said the two eggs laid before Grinnell’s death are “almost certainly Grinnell’s. The third egg was laid two days after Grinnell’s death and has an unknown parentage. Birds can store sperm for up to two weeks, and we have observed (Annie’s) copulation with New Guy, so the third egg could really be either males’.”
Dr. Zeka Glucs at the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group has been collecting feathers from Annie and Grinnell’s chicks for the past two years as part of a study on relatedness among Bay Area peregrine falcons, so “we will likely collect feathers from any chicks that hatch this year and will try to determine paternity,” said Peterson.
The falcon drama at the Campanile during the past six months is likely to continue, in one way or another, in the months and years to come, since the number of floaters — non-breeding adult birds of prey attracted to occupied territories — is rising, said Malec. For example, in California there were two known nesting pairs in 1970, when the peregrine was listed as endangered, she said, but there’s a healthy population of 350 such pairs today.
Malec and other volunteers counted at least eight different falcons around the Campanile while Grinnell was hospitalized last fall after being attacked by rival falcons.
A juvenile falcon even entered the nest box this week and then stayed for half an hour on the north ledge, as Annie watched. New Guy was a floater, too, and was seen around the Campanile for about two weeks at the end of March, but he didn’t pick a fight.
“They’re all looking for territories,” said Malec. “A juvenile will look, even if it can’t breed this year.” Annie and Grinnell defended their nest twice the morning of Grinnell’s death.
“If we’re not there now, we’ll soon be at the saturation point, or even over-saturation,” she added. “The falcons will have to start tolerating and stop fighting each other, get a little less sensitive, or the population is going to drop, since an increase can cause stress … and no babies.”
The sight of Annie and New Guy peacefully tending their nest is a positive one, Peterson said, “and people have really grown to love and root for New Guy really quickly.”
Yet, “it’s hard because we almost haven’t had time to mourn Grinnell — the activity with New Guy happened so fast that we haven’t had time to catch our breath,” he said. “He kind of gives you something positive to fixate on, which is nice, but it’s still hard to say goodbye to Grinnell.”
Zeynep Enson, a third-year student in environmental sciences and a campus ambassador, admitted that the campus’s falcons “lately have been playing with my heart. … Annie and Grinnell will always be a pair in my and many others’ minds.”
“But a new guy literally swooped in to save the day, … and now we’re all excited about what the future will bring,” she added.
Malec greatly misses Grinnell, too, but offered this:
“Peregrines are individuals. Grinnell was Grinnell. Annie is Annie. And New Guy is a different bird. It doesn’t make him less of a bird, but he has a different identity, and we will all become attached to him, and we will all still maintain our attachment to Grinnell.”