Annie was destined to be a star from the start.
People began noticing a pair of peregrine falcons flying around the UC Berkeley campus in late 2016. According to biologist Sean Peterson, the birds were not being secretive, but it took some time to narrow down where they might be roosting: atop the iconic Campanile bell tower.
A small group of volunteers climbed a hidden spiral staircase hidden in one of the Campanile’s columns with permission from the university. Because the passageway was so narrow, the daring explorers had to push their backpacks ahead of them.
At the top, they discovered a small opening covered by wooden slats, as well as a pair of piercing yellow eyes staring back. Annie sat on the ripped sandbags that served as her nest.
Annie and her pals have since captured the attention of a large audience. Thousands of people from all over the world watch the webcams installed on the Campanile, which capture every dramatic moment in the falcons’ lives, including some complicated love triangles.
“I think people have a really strong desire to connect with nature in general,” says Peterson, one of the first volunteers, “and here you have this iconic bird right there in the middle of one of the world’s largest campuses.” People can see a little bit of wildness.”
Many of Annie’s online followers are passionate about the birds. They celebrate each egg hatching, mourn the loss of chicks, and follow and comment on every avian development on social media — yes, the Cal Falcons have their own. But it’s Annie’s love life that sparks the most debate and, at times, pearl clutching.
Annie and her original companion, Grinnell, appeared to be a perfect match. However, he was injured while fighting off would-be intruders in October 2021 and was taken to Walnut Creek’s Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital to recover. In Grinnell’s absence, another male began making advances on Annie, much to the horror of online viewers, and Annie began responding.
The discussion on the Cal Falcons’ Facebook page was rife with speculation. Will Grinnell be able to reclaim Annie? Would he even attempt it? Who was this new falcon, anyway?
Those questions were answered a few weeks later, when Grinnell returned to the Campanile, drove off Annie’s would-be suitor, and reclaimed his place in Annie’s heart. Annie had laid two eggs and was on her way to lay a third when Grinnell was apparently hit by a car and killed.
While Grinnell’s many fans mourned his passing, a new male — Alden — quickly entered the picture and began courting Annie, bringing her food as she sat on the nest. Annie, perhaps knowing the eggs had no chance if she didn’t have a mate to help her, welcomed the newcomer with open arms. She laid a third egg two days after he entered the picture. Alden did an excellent job filling in as father and provider for Lindsay and Grinnell Jr., the two chicks who hatched.
Falcons fans accepted him as well, but Alden vanished last November. It’s possible he died as a result of a bird flu that swept through shorebirds, Alden’s favorite prey, that year.
Annie had no shortage of new suitors, demonstrating that the peregrine falcon, once so endangered that only two mated pairs existed in the entire state, is making a strong comeback.
Lou won Annie’s heart, and the couple had three chicks in 2023.
Cal Falcon volunteers appreciate all of the attention Annie receives, though some observers become overly involved. When some online viewers became convinced that the chicks were not receiving adequate nutrition, they contacted Animal Control.
“They’re not pets,” Peterson says, despite the fact that many people believe they are. I’m just glad people have such strong associations with wildlife, and I hope that leads them to appreciate it.”
Of course, Annie and Lou aren’t the only peregrine falcon celebrities in the Bay Area. Falcons have been seen flying near Stanford’s Hoover Tower and roosting atop San Jose City Hall, as well as at Mount Diablo, which is home to two known mated pairs.
Between 2004 and 2021, when the building was sold, nearly 50 peregrine chicks were born at PG&E’s former Beale Street building in San Francisco, and their offspring continue to appear. Grace, one of them, was the falcon-in-residence at San Jose City Hall from 2019 to 2022.
Webcam viewers can see San Jose’s newest peregrine family at www.facebook.com/SanJoseCityHallFalcons. Visit www.facebook.com/CalFalconCam and https://calfalcons.berkeley.edu for more information on the Cal Falcons and to watch the Campanile livestream.
If you walk around Alcatraz, you might see one of Annie and Grinnell’s offspring, a female named Lawrencium, nicknamed Larry, who hatched in 2018 and is raising the couple’s grandchicks on the island.