A tall building, a breathtaking (if not death-defying) descent, a pair of very excited peregrine falcon parents, some fluffy peregrine babies, pigeon bits and lots of bird poop.

There’s your summary of a wonderful video put together and posted over the weekend by John Lewis, one of a large community of peregrine enthusiasts tracking the process of Fernando and Clara, peregrine falcons raising four little birds on a sheltered rooftop at San Jose City Hall. (Bonus shots: the live City Hall nest cam.)

Lewis’s video features helmet-cam sequences showing Glenn Stewart, a UC Santa Cruz biologist whose research specialty is predatory birds, as he rappelled down the side of City Hall to the falcons’ nest box last Friday. There, he examined the peregrine nestlings to determine their sex — there are two males and two females — and to band them for future tracking. (Bonus trivia fact: The young are called eyasses, an eyas being a nestling hawk or falcon. “Eyas” is pronounced “EYE-iss.”)

The video also reveals that peregrine falcons’ wild behavior does not comport with human notions of tidiness and is unlikely to earn the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The nest box is strewn with bits of leftover prey, late and expired pigeons and whatnot, that the parents have brought to the kids. And there’s no getting around it, the nest box is just smeared with bird poop. Gross? Or nature? You decide.

The reason the peregrine falcons at San Jose City Hall (and everywhere else) are a big deal? Here’s how UC Santa Cruz describes the importance of the birds and the San Jose project:

… Biologists at UC Santa Cruz and Cornell University collaborated in the mid-1970s to restore a nearly extinct Peregrine Falcon population. At the time, two pairs were known in California—none could be found nesting east of the Mississippi River.

Widespread use of the persistent pesticide, DDT, contaminated the environment worldwide resulting in eggshell thinning that decimated the Peregrine population. DDT was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972. For the next three decades, the U. C. Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group bred falcons in large aviaries, hatched thin-shelled eggs, climbed to the Cliffside nests of these birds, and restored the California population to an estimated 250 pairs—up from just 2 pairs.

We have already pronounced the video wonderful, and we stand by that opinion with one small reservation. The soundtrack consists of assorted fanfares and musical curlicues lifted from the soundtrack of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” Too cute by half for these wild birds, we think, though as always, de gustibus non est disputandum.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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