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Watching Cal Falcons Sit on Eggs at BAMPFA’s Very Wholesome ‘Hatch Day’

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A large adult falcon leans over a fluffy white chick whose beak is open in anticipation of food. Next to the chick are three intact red eggs.
Annie the legendary UC Berkeley falcon feeds the first of her new brood. April 10, 2023. (Cal Falcons/ YouTube)

It’s 10:30 on a Tuesday morning and a crowd is forming at the back of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s shiny building, a stone’s throw from the UC Berkeley campus. There, on the museum’s giant video screen, is live footage of the most beloved falcons in Northern California.

Annie and Lou are on top of the campus campanile, taking turns to incubate three unhatched eggs and sporadically feed their first chick, who emerged pink and chirping from beneath an impressively nonchalant Annie yesterday. (This is the famous falcon mom’s seventh clutch of chicks — she’s a pro at this point.)

A large screen projects an image of a nesting falcon staring at the camera. People gather in front of the screen, one is holding a bicycle.
Crowds begin to arrive at BAMPFA on Cal Falcons’ ‘Hatch Day,’ April 11, 2023. (Rae Alexandra)

This is the second time that the Cal Falcons crew — a team of scientists and volunteers who monitor, document and study the falcons, as well as maintain the YouTube livestream — have held a “Hatch Day” event at BAMPFA. The first occurred back in 2019 when Annie and her longtime partner Grinnell were first finding fame in the Bay Area. Hatch Day events were put on hold when the COVID pandemic hit.

“We’re delighted to be back,” A.J. Fox, BAMPFA’s media relations manager, tells KQED Arts. “These falcons are local celebrities. Everyone in Berkeley loves them and we love to share the joy of their new arrivals with people.

“Everyone is watching with great attention both outside the building and inside the building,” Fox continues, of BAMPFA’s staff. “We all had some squeals of delight when the first chick hatched yesterday.”

A crowd of people stand and sit in lawn chairs on a sunny street corner.
Bird fans gathered on Tuesday afternoon to watch a livestream of the UC Berkeley falcons, currently nesting on the campanile. (Rae Alexandra)

The people gathered at BAMPFA today are not casual observers. They are falcon fans who first got invested in Annie and her offspring during her longterm partnership with her original mate, Grinnell. Grinnell was hit by a car and killed in April 2022, shortly after Annie had laid that season’s clutch of eggs. Two chicks were born thanks to falcon step-dad Alden, who showed up at the 11th hour to support Annie through the incubation process. Annie’s latest partner, Lou, moved onto the campanile with her after Alden disappeared in November.

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The Cal Falcons team first discovered Annie and Grinnell nesting on the campanile in 2017. In the years since, thanks to meme competitions, public votes to name Annie’s partners and offspring and, of course, the livecam, the fandom has exploded. At BAMPFA today, many people are proudly sporting UC Berkeley Falcons T-shirts — new designs are released annually to raise money for education, outreach, streaming and research about the falcons.

Homemade cutout artwork of a falcon, placed in long grass.
Falcon fan art brought to Cal Falcon’s ‘Hatch Day’ at BAMPFA, April 11, 2023. (Rae Alexandra)

Kim Houghton, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, admits that she is “obsessed” with all things Annie. “I always have the webcams up at work and on my second monitor at home.”

As Lou arrives on the big screen with a dead bird to feed the new chick, I mention how funny it is that we all care so much about the falcons that we seem to have forgotten about the smaller birds that they feast on. “Oh, I’ve gotten to the point where I call the campus birds ‘falcon food,’” Houghton laughs. “Like, ‘Oh look. A robin that Lou hasn’t found yet.’”

A young woman and a woman in her fifties stand behind a table on a street corner. The table is covered with books about birds and coloring sheets for children.
Berkeley Public Library employees Kelsey Ocker (L) and Armin Arethna (R) hand out information for kids and adults alike at Cal Falcons’ Hatch Day event at BAMPFA. (Rae Alexandra)

Nearby is Bridget Ahern, a program manager at Google, who volunteers with Cal Falcons as “an enthusiastic photographer and observer.”

“I started photographing the falcons in June 2020,” Ahern tells KQED Arts. “I was walking through the campus one day and I heard what I thought were pterodactyls in the trees, so I ran home and grabbed my camera. Within a half-hour, I had my first photos of the falcons. I had been a wildlife photographer for a while, just as a hobby. But the falcons have absolutely spurred me to up my skills, to up my camera equipment, to learn everything I can about how to photograph.”

Ahern says this is her favorite time of year to watch the falcons. “Watching the adults interact with the chicks; watching the chicks fly for the first time. I’m an observer of birds, but I think Annie is pretty special. She’s an avid defender. It is scary and when I see her chasing off interlopers, she never ceases to amaze me.”

A senior woman and a middle-aged man stand near a grassy area on a street corner. They are both wearing t-shirts featuring falcons.
Cal Falcons co-founder Mary Malec (L) hangs out with a Cal Falcons fan, Blake Edgar (R) outside BAMPFA. (Rae Alexandra)

Also present at BAMPFA today is Mary Malec, one of the co-founders of Cal Falcons. Malec spent her career working on human clinical trials at UCSF, but helped set up Cal Falcons in 2017 after she and two associates (Doug Bell and Allen Fish) noticed Annie and Grinnell nesting on the campanile in a way that meant they were losing eggs. After acquiring the appropriate permit, the trio provided Annie and Grinnell with a nesting tray filled with gravel. Annie has been laying her eggs there ever since.

I ask Malec why she thinks the falcons are so popular.

“They’re phenomenally good parents. They’re fun to watch,” she says. “[And] the COVID pandemic, I think made a huge difference. People were isolating themselves and we were there — a lot of people have mentioned that watching the falcons was comforting.”

By the end of Hatch Day, the title of the event is feeling like a bit of a misnomer — the three remaining eggs are still intact. I express concern to Malec about the length of time that the second egg, which showed signs of “pipping” shortly after the first chick hatched, is taking. Her response is measured, though she admits to “always being worried” about the falcons.

Apparently 24 hours is “not outside the range [for an egg to hatch], but it is a little long,” Malec says. “We still have two others! I’m not giving up on any of them yet.”

Expect updates on the Cal Falcons and their chicks as we get them.

Update April 12, 2023: An extremely cute second chick was born overnight. (Phew!) Lou made the big reveal this morning:

 

Update April 13, 2023: Just when we thought it might be time to give up on the other eggs, a third chick has hatched! I repeat: A third chick has hatched!

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