Winging It

Lindsay, the peregrine falcon born at UC Berkeley in May 2022, was found dead in August. She was killed by a red-shouldered hawk. The news was heartbreaking because I’d been loosely following the dramatic story of the Cal Falcons–they have a loyal, global following, more social media channels than most humans, and three 24-7 webcams at their rooftop home in the Campanile tower—and I was rooting for the young fledgling.

Lindsay’s parents, Grinnell and Annie, were a bonded pair of falcons that arrived at the Campanile in 2016. Since then, they had raised 13 chicks, helping to increase the number of California falcons after near extinction. Peregrine falcons were an endangered species in the 1970s when the pesticide DDT nearly wiped them out by making their eggshells too weak to bear a mother’s weight through incubation. Scientists have been protecting and monitoring them closely since then, and now, thanks in part to Grinnell and Annie, the fastest animal on the planet is no longer endangered.

But in October 2021, a series of unlucky events unfolded for the Cal Falcon family. First, Grinnell was found wounded by rival falcons, possibly hoping to take over their penthouse apartment. Grinnell was taken to the Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital for about three weeks. Fortunately, Grinnell healed, but by the time he returned to the nest, Annie had found another mate.

More drama ensued for the next three weeks, including a period in which Annie flew off for solo time, and we worried she might have been killed. But eventually, she returned, and the couple reunited. Soon after, Annie laid several eggs and began incubating them. Just when it seemed domestic life was finally back to normal, another tragedy befell the birds of prey: Grinnell was hit by a car in Berkeley. This time he did not survive.

Because Annie couldn’t possibly hunt for herself and keep the eggs warm and safe simultaneously, it seemed like this might be the end of our Cal Falcon family. However, fortune turned, and a second adult male falcon arrived to help Annie. We all waited on eggshells, but were relieved as this other falcon, lovingly referred to as “New Guy,” began hunting for food while Annie remained on the eggs. When Annie chose to stalk the prey, New Guy protected the eggs.

After a public naming contest with 1K suggestions whittled down to nine finalists and then decided by nearly 10K voters (a better turnout than for some of our local initiatives), New Guy became Alden, named after the Berkeley ornithologist Alden Miller. Miller was a student and later successor of Joseph Grinnell, the first director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and namesake of the beloved and deceased falcon.

After several more months of incubation, two of the eggs survived. In May, two baby falcons, one male, Grinnell, Jr, and one female, Lindsay (named after the hospital that saved her father), were born. We watched the fledglings learn to fly, hunt, and finally, leave the nest.

But now that baby girl has died, she only survived from May to August. Lindsay was killed by a red-shouldered hawk, who was also a mother, protecting her children in their nest nearby.

This riveting drama of the Cal Falcons was better than most mediocre reality TV shows. Still, the real reason my psyche kept bringing them up during my writing practice was this: as my kids fly off into the world, one to college and one starting high school, it’s hard not to think of all of the perils and pitfalls that could happen at any moment. It’s hard to feel confident about how ready they are to fly solo and whether we have prepared them for this world.

Because we have no idea what’s coming–the last few years have solidified that reality. Life and death, nature and nurture, luck and fate–we bumble through parenthood and help them get this far along, but in the end, we cannot protect our babes once they leave the nest.

This eighteen-year-long adventure is simply shifting to a different phase of parenting, my friends remind me. Friends whose children have gone to college, moved back home after college, chosen a different path, never left home, or have become a member of the dreaded group who “failed to launch.” Considering everything these kids have been through these past few years, and the world they are now inheriting from the grown-ups who preceded them, it’s no surprise that so many are struggling.

My husband warned me to stay off the College Parents’ Facebook Group, but I couldn’t stop myself. Where else would I have learned about the on-campus sexual assault during orientation weekend? Images flashed in my mind of the turquoise keychain alarm I gave my daughter the night before her move, which remained unopened in the box on her bedroom floor the next day. At least she remembered to pack the reusable microwave popcorn bowl.

The first time we Facetimed from her new college, my view was mostly the cement ceiling of her dorm room, with three cute chalk birds she had drawn above. I pretended I was lying next to her on her bed as we used to every night, reading about Corduroy, the little stuffed bear with the green overalls, missing one button. Eventually, she would read along faster than I could read aloud, yet she patiently waited until I reached the end of the page. And now that little one has wings of her own.

For young raptors leaving the nest to start a new life, there is a 50 percent survival rate during the first year. Not great odds, about as good as U.S. marriages, I hear. There are so many dangers for these fledglings—will they be able to hunt for themselves? Defend themselves from other birds of prey, not to mention urban threats like skyscraper windows and city buses?

After Lindsay’s death, one of the local online papers, Berkeleyside, quoted Mary Malec, who monitors raptor nests for the East Bay Regional Park District. Malec said, “We can’t control what happens in nature.” I find this equally valid for our kids as they leave us to make their way into the world. We can only do our best to prepare them, try to make our environment safe and hospitable for everyone, hold faith, but be flexible about the outcomes. Malec added, “That’s all we can do. And to enjoy them when we see them.” I agree.

Lindsay, one of two falcons born in May, is found dead

 

 

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