San Jose City Hall falcon chicks banded for study


Three falcon chicks from the nest on top of San Jose City Hall were outfitted with personalized bands Thursday morning by University of California at Santa Cruz researchers so they can be tracked and studied.

UC Santa Cruz expert Glenn Stewart has been taking the elevator to the top floor of City Hall and rappelling to the nest to band 3-week-old peregrine falcon chicks for 10 years, he said.

At three weeks, chicks are almost full-grown and their legs are as long as they will get so Stewart has deemed it the most opportune time to fit each chick with a lock-on band and an identification band with a unique letter and number. By six weeks, the chicks have feathers and learn how to fly.

UC Santa Cruz biologists of the federally permitted Predatory Bird Research Group have helped in the recovery of the breed of falcons in California. Their work has aided the previously endangered population to grow from two known pairs to more than 350 known pairs today, according to Stewart.

The rare birds nest at both San Jose City Hall and PG&E headquarters in San Francisco, and local bird enthusiasts are excited to be able to see the chicks fly at six weeks in person.

Stewart said:

“A lot of people love these birds … In about three weeks, there will be a bunch of people standing outside City Hall just waiting for them to fly for the first time.”

Stewart said a lot of people appreciate having a symbol of the wilderness without having to go deep into the wild to see it and like to contribute as bird watchers by reporting sightings of each bird by their band so researchers can note that location.

UC Santa Cruz researchers were made aware of the nest in 2005 when a 1-year-old peregrine falcon was seen standing on the ledge of City Hall, appearing to want to breed at that location. Sure enough, researchers found chicks in the gravel box they had provided for breeding the next spring.

The female falcon has had about 42 babies and he UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group has banded all of them, Stewart said. He said they know where about half of those birds are.

There’s a challenge in tracking the falcons because they are one of the fastest animals in the wild and they primarily live in the air, Stewart said.

Nest cameras broadcast live video of both San Jose City Hall and the PG&E headquarters for the community to enjoy and for the research group to be able to monitor the young. This stream can be found at www2.ucsc.edu/scpbrg.

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