A peregrine falcon with chick and eggs on Alcatraz Island in an undated photo. Peregrine falcons make their nests in shallow depressions, often along cliff edges. (NPS via Bay City News)

Peregrine falcon chicks hatched recently on both Alcatraz Island and at a famous University of California at Berkeley landmark, and while they’re in different nests, they’re part of the same family tree.

The falcons have lately been a source of interest locally. On Tuesday, hundreds of people at UC Berkeley attended a party to watch the hatching of falcon chicks in a nest at the Campanile bell tower, the third-largest bell-and-clock tower in the world.

Live-streamed video on an outdoor screen at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) showed the latest eggs to hatch at a nest where a female falcon named Annie has lived since 2017.

The webcams set up at the tower to watch the falcons have been popular enough that the school has held public naming contests when Annie has new chicks, including a female falcon born in 2018 that got the winning name Lawrencium in honor of an element discovered at the UC Berkeley campus.

John Niles watches the Hatch Day Celebration from a distance outside of UC Berkeley’s BAMPFA on the corner of Addison and Russell in Berkeley, Calif. on Apr. 11, 2023.(Isaac Ceja/Bay City News)

Lawrencium eventually flew out on her own and has made her home on Alcatraz Island,
where the National Park Service has monitored her having a nest with a mate since at least 2020. They are the first peregrine falcons to nest there in recorded history.

As Annie has seen her newest chicks hatch, Lawrencium this month also welcomed four new chicks to the world, with the fourth hatching this week, a park service biologist said.

Lidia D’Amico, the Alcatraz biologist for the park service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said the falcons’ nest is along the western cliffs of Alcatraz in a location that is not visible from land but has a camera set up near the nest to monitor the birds’ activity.

The video feed is not yet open to the public like the one at UC Berkeley, but D’Amico said the park service may make it available for anyone to watch starting next year.

“It’s kind of new territory for Alcatraz … to be exploring this remote sensing opportunity for monitoring a nest, so we’re excited to see how it goes,” she said.

Lawrencium, or “Larry” as D’Amico referred to her, was identified thanks to the band put on her leg by the Cal Falcons group of scientists and volunteers who monitor the nest at UC Berkeley, but her male mate has no such band.

Bird enthusiasts gather Tuesday outside UC Berkeley’s BAMPFA to watch the Hatch Party on the big screen for peregrine falcon Annie and her current mate Lou. The first of four eggs hatched Monday, with other chicks following soon after. (Isaac Ceja/Bay City News)

The park service does not band the birds found on the island “so it’s kind of hard to keep track of individuals” in the falcon family, D’Amico said, including the new chicks who currently are “a pile of white fluff.”

Alcatraz, no stranger to dangerous characters residing at the infamous and now-shuttered prison there, now has the peregrine falcons considered as the apex predators on the island, D’Amico said.

An adult peregrine falcon is one of the fastest birds in the world and can dive at speeds of up to 200 mph, and the ones at Alcatraz feed most often on other birds on the island and surrounding areas. Alcatraz, during its peak breeding season, can be home to up to 10,000 or more birds, according to D’Amico.

“They’re definitely the apex predator as falcons, and are considered to be the newest residents on the island,” she said. “They have a good assortment of prey.”

The new chicks will usually try to leave the nest and fly on their own after six to eight weeks but will still rely on their parents for a while longer to get food until they are developed enough to fly out and hunt for food on their own.

The park service is tasked with protecting the natural resources of Alcatraz and the rest of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including making sure birds like the falcons are not harassed by people, particularly during breeding season.

More information about the birds of Alcatraz can be found here. The webcams for the UC Berkeley falcons and more information about them can be found on the Cal Falcons website.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

Dan McMenamin is the managing editor at Bay City News, directing daily news coverage of the 12-county greater Bay Area. He has worked for BCN since 2008 and has been managing editor since 2014 after previously serving as BCN’s San Francisco bureau reporter. A UC Davis graduate, he came to BCN after working for a newspaper and nonprofit in the Davis area. He handles staffing, including coaching of our interns, day-to-day coverage decisions and management of the newswire.