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UC Berkeley livestreams campus falcons

Two birds in the bush suddenly much more valuable

If the Presidio’s owl cam doesn’t gratify your internet birdwatching compulsions, UC Berkeley has its own family of enormous, predatory avians to compete for viewers via two newly installed cameras running 24-hour livestreams of the university’s resident peregrine falcons.

Berkeley News reports that the falcon pair have nested in the campus clocktower since 2017, but this is the first year that the stream will provide around-the-clock exposure for birdbrained watchers.

In 2018 the school launched a crowdfunding campaign toward the cost of installing the cameras, netting more than $14,000 over a $10,000-plus goal. The round of fundraising attracted 172 donors.

According to the crowdfund page:

Peregrine falcons, the world’s fastest animal, were once on the brink of extinction. Due to the ubiquitous use of persistent pesticides such as DDT, California’s population of peregrine falcons declined from hundreds to just two known breeding pairs by 1970.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of scientists, falconers, citizen scientists and academics, we now enjoy these truly magnificent birds as they reclaim not only their natural habitats but also new urban nest sites such as the UC Berkeley Campanile [clocktower].

[...] Although we have been monitoring the falcons from the ground using spotting scopes set-up near the Campanile for the past two years, the most common question we get from students is: “Is there a webcam?”

Previously, live streaming was impossible for the simple fact that there wasn’t much visibility of the nest from the ground where researchers did most of their observation.

University researchers installed the new cameras at the beginning of February. Crowdfund contributors were allowed to nominate names for the falcon parents, eventually yielding “Annie” and “Grinnell,” after the founder and first director of the Museum of Paleontology and Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Photo by Soumyajit Nandy/Wikicommons

According to Cornell University’s ornithology lab, “In North America [peregrines] breed in open landscapes with cliffs (or skyscrapers) for nest sites,” so it’s not surprising the clocktower appeals to them, particularly since the Berkeley campus yields a large population of pigeons to eat.

A peregrine nest is nothing more than a groove gouged into the dirt, so university staff provided materials for the birds to dig into. Female peregrines lay anywhere from two five eggs—last year’s nest was two—which usually hatch in around 30 days.

The Peregrine Fund, a conservation group based in Idaho, says the U.S. government removed peregrine falcons from the endangered species list in 1999; they’re now classified as a “least concern” population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says falcons can live up to 15 years. They have no natural predators (other than humans), with the exception of the occasional owl or raccoon bold enough to steal eggs from the nest.