By Megan McFarland
SAN FRANCISCO — After months of uncertainty, the annual peregrine falcon season reached a high point this past week as three baby birds hatched in the nest that sits on the ledge on the 33rd floor of PG&E’s headquarters at 77 Beale St.
Since early May, the nest has been closely guarded by a mother and father falcon who took turns sitting on a total of five eggs or hunting for food. If all goes well, there should be at least four babies by the end of the week.
Falcon fans from around the world are able to enjoy the bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of this spectacle of nature via PG&E’s peregrine falcon web cam. Many were captivated by what they saw Sunday morning on www.pge.com/falconcam. This year, the energy company enhanced the viewing experience by adding HD quality picture and audio.
Glenn R. Stewart, the director of the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, described the hatching that took place over the weekend and what comes next:
“Peregrines typically begin incubation after laying their third egg so it is possible that an additional egg will hatch soon,” Stewart said. “We like to band the young – part of a region-wide study of the population – at about three weeks of age.”
Falcon lovers were captivated by the hatching and shared the happy news with fellow watchers:
“Congratulations SF and to the new parents! What a happy day it is,” wrote razzycat, who follows the falcons on the webcam and is a member of the falcon chat group: SF_PGE_Falcon Yahoo Group.
Since 2004, falcons have been nesting on PG&E’s headquarters nearly every year. Last year, falcon parents Dan and Matilda sat on eggs for many weeks to keep them warm, ultimately hatching three white fluff-balls: Talon, Grace and Flash. Over the next month, the parents fed and cared for the young birds as they developed to full-size falcons with dark feathers.
Like nature, the 2017 falcon season was fraught with drama and unpredictability. In early April, a falcon couple was spotted regularly on the nesting ledge, laying one egg in the nesting box. An interloping female falcon then infiltrated the nest, driving away the original female. In early May, the second female and original male then went on to produce four new eggs, which they have incubated over the past month. The fifth egg remains in the nest, but is not expected to hatch.
In about three weeks, Glenn from UC Santa Cruz, will band the young birds. By that time, their bodies are nearly fully grown and their legs will hold the bands. The young birds will disperse for the first time about a month after fledging (i.e., flying for the first time) as they begin to look for a territory of their own.
PG&E has supported the recovery of California’s peregrine falcon population, which was once near extinction, for two decades. This includes more than $260,000 in grants — including a commitment of $10,000 in 2017 — to the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group’s community outreach and education programs.
Between World War II and the 1970s, the peregrine falcon population nearly disappeared due to toxic chemicals. But, thanks to the Endangered Species Act and the good work of groups like the one at UC-Santa Cruz, there are now about 300 pairs of peregrine falcons in California.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.