SAN JOSE -- It's season number seven for peregrine falcon fans watching the webcam aimed at the nest atop San Jose City Hall. Three eggs have hatched since Sunday. The downy white nestlings have kept their parents, Clara and Fernando, busy since they pecked their way out of their shells. A fourth egg remains unhatched in the nest.
This is the second clutch presided over by the peregrine pair. Clara has been the matriarch-in-residence since the nest box was established by the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group in 2007. Fernando El Cohete is the fourth tiercel Clara has taken as a mate -- he drove away the popular Esteban Colbert after Clara laid her eggs last year.
In three weeks -- possibly on Earth Day, April 22 -- wildlife biologist Glenn Stewart, the Research Group director, said he plans to briefly visit the nest and place lightweight aluminum leg bands on the young peregrines. By that time, the young birds will have reached their adult weight; the females will weigh close to two pounds and the males should be about a half pound lighter. It will be several weeks more before the "eyasses" are ready to leave the nest and test their wings.
"I never get tired of these birds -- extraordinary animals, fastest on the planet, eating birds they catch in the air," said Stewart. "It is still a big deal to find a new nest or count new nestlings and band them. At least it is for me, because I was active in this work when we could only find a few pairs in California."
The hatchlings have no idea how lucky they are to be alive. Four decades ago, peregrines and other predatory birds were almost wiped out. Pesticides, such as DDT, poisoned birds when they ate contaminated prey. The egg shells were often too thin to sustain the chicks inside. With dedicated conservation efforts and the Environmental Protection Agency ban of DDT in 1972, falcons have made a successful comeback. Now, there are too many peregrines to count anymore, said Stewart. His best estimate is 250-300 breeding pairs with an unknown additional number of non-breeding individuals.
So far, 18 peregrines have successfully fledged the City Hall nest. Volunteers have found some of the banded birds nesting at the Bay Bridge, Crystal Springs Dam, and between Oakland and Alameda, said Stewart.
A second nesting box sits on the 33rd floor of the PG&E building in San Francisco where Peregrines "Cher" and "Dan" have four unhatched eggs in their nest.
"It's really an interesting phenomenon," said San Jose nest-watcher Neal Pate, a retired Santa Clara County deputy sheriff. He has watched eggs hatch for the past five years and can describe every step of the process, from Clara's egg incubation to her pigeon hunting and feeding of the young birds. You can watch Clara and her nest at www.sanjoseca.gov click on the "Government" tab, then "City Hall, " and then "City Hall Falcons."
"These birds don't know that hundreds and thousands of people are watching them," he said.
Contact Elizabeth Devitt at 408-920-5064 or follow her on Twitter @elizdevitt