San Jose's Beloved Falcons are New Parents

Wednesday, Apr 22, 2009  |  Updated 8:19 AM PDT
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San Jose's Beloved Falcons are New Parents

Three eggs belonging to celebrity peregrine falcon Clara have  hatched this week in their nest on a ledge atop San Jose City Hall, and a  fourth is expected to hatch any day, a city spokeswoman announced.

The first egg hatched at about 8 p.m. Monday, followed by two more  between 8 p.m. and early this morning, city spokeswoman Michelle McGurk said.

"She is doing great," McGurk said of Clara, who laid her first egg  of the season March 12.

The city will hold a contest in the upcoming days for children to  name the three chicks.

Clara and her current mate Esteban Colbert are available for  viewing on the FalconCam, a live streaming video of the falcon's nest on a  City Hall ledge 18 stories above the street.

The "falcon reality show" made Clara famous beginning in the  spring of 2006, when employees at City Hall noticed Clara and her former  mate, named Jose, on a ledge atop the 18-floor building, according to McGurk.

The Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group placed a nest box on  the south end of the City Hall tower later that year. In early spring of  2007, Jose and Clara were again regularly observed together in the area,  McGurk said.

By late March, the birds had laid three eggs in the nest box,  according to McGurk.

The eggs all hatched successfully on April 28, and after a contest  in June 2007, the young birds were named Hiko, Spirit and Esperanza, McGurk  said. They were banded with identification bands and eventually found their  own homes.

Their father Jose was not seen after July 2007. Falcons typically  mate for life, and birdwatchers were concerned for Jose's disappearance,  according to McGurk.

Clara, however, had found a new mate by January 2008, McGurk said.  He was named Carlos because he frequently perched on the Marriott Hotel on  San Carlos Street. On March 13, 2008, Clara laid the first egg of the falcon  season.

Three more followed over the next several days, according to  McGurk.

Three of the eggs hatched April 22 and were named Cielo, Meyye and  Mercury. The fourth never hatched and a biologist monitoring the falcons said  the egg may never have been fertile.

Mercury and Meyye were frequently spotted throughout downtown San  Jose during the summer of 2008, and have since made off for territories of  their own. Their sister Cielo died after flying into a building, McGurk said.

Esteban Colbert, named for Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert,  became Clara's third season mate, according to McGurk.

The FalconCam can be accessed online at  http://sanjose.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish--id
91.

A group is preparing to help monitor the babies as they make their first attempts at flight later this spring.

The fledging process begins approximately six weeks after the  babies hatch as the young falcons test their still-growing wings and make their first attempts at going airborne.

"They fly well, but they're clumsy at landing," Glenn Stewart, coordinator of the predatory bird research program at the University of California at Santa Cruz said.

This will be the third year Clara's fan base has been observing the fledging process, according to Evet Loewen, San Jose's chief deputy city  attorney, who also serves as the informal ringleader of local residents who  support the falcons.

When baby peregrines make their first flights, they can end up in unfamiliar trees, atop roofs, or in one case last year, at a bus stop next to  a gas station, Loewen said. In an urban environment, these tentative  explorations can be risky for the young birds.

That's where Fledge Watch comes in.
 
An effort that started out as a small cluster of people standing on Sixth Street has morphed into a more organized operation, she said, dubbed  Fledge Watch.

This year, volunteers will sign up for shifts from 6 a.m. to sundown, Loewen said. A large tent atop the Fourth Street parking garage will  serve as headquarters, helping watchers stay in contact and make sure people  are stationed at their proper locations.

For the duration of their three to four-hour shifts, volunteers will remain at their posts, communicating by walkie-talkie and constantly  watching the nest box on top of City Hall for signs of flight.

If a baby does take wing, volunteers must follow its trajectory to make sure it lands in a safe place. The most difficult part of the  assignment, Loewen said, is explaining your actions to curious passersby, all  the while keeping your eyes glued to the top if City Hall.

"Everyone and their next-door neighbor comes up and says, 'What are you looking at?" she said.

Students from San Jose State University and UC Santa Cruz will take part in the Fledge Watch. Loewen said it's difficult to anticipate how  many people will turn out, but she is aware of falcon-lovers traveling from  Michigan, Reno and Texas to assist.

"It practically turns into a tailgate party," she said of the scene on top of the Fourth Street garage. Participants bring chairs,  umbrellas and refreshments, but grills are not allowed.

If baby falcons do get stuck somewhere, Loewen said volunteers must keep them safe until Stewart or another falcon specialist can return the  wayward bird to its nesting box on an 18th-story ledge. Last year, two of  Clara's babies ended up spending the night in Loewen's City Hall office, and  another waited away an afternoon in her workspace until help could arrive,  she said.

 Anyone interested in participating in Fledge Watch can call the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group at 831-459-2466 and leave a message with your contact  information.
 

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