With the peregrine falcon Annie -- one half of Cal Berkeley's famous raptor couple -- in a mother's expectant repose 307 feet above the campus in her home in the school's campanile, it would be easy to assume domestic bliss has once again aligned for her and her partner Grinnell.
But the funny thing about mother nature, the author - she isn't compelled to script happy endings -- and after a soap opera-esque start to the year, Annie and Grinnell may still have some surprises ahead for their doting public.
"And that’s the beautiful part," said Allen Fish, Director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. "That’s the mystery and the exquisite part of this experience, is we are all witnessing this together."
These days, viewers would witness Annie sitting quietly in her tower perch, ready to lay a new batch of eggs -- adding to the thirteen offspring she's already sent off into the world. Grinnell makes his forays into the campus, returning with the remains of a pigeon to feed the pair. It’s a domestic scene that harkens back to when the couple first took up residency in the tower in 2016.
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For years they behaved -- well -- as normal as normal peregrine falcons -- eating, breeding. Eating -- breeding some more. But then last November, that routine was disrupted when Grinnell got worked over, presumably by other raptors in a turf war. He was discovered badly injured near a garbage can on campus, and taken to the Lindsay Wildlife Experience for care.
The event revealed the true nature of falcon fidelity, as Annie was soon visited by a juvenile falcon couple -- and took up with the young male for several weeks while Grinnell was in the hospital. Perhaps some of the legions of fans following the couple over a trio of live cameras mounted on the campanile were shocked. How could she? And with Grinnell laid up and all? And that's where nature's truth bomb gets dropped.
"One thing to really think about is the peregrines aren’t so much sold on being soul mates as we humans want them to be," explained Fish. "They’re really sold on having a nice piece of real estate."
So the truth revealed -- Annie's true allegiance lies with her campanile home and breeding, and maybe not necessarily with Grinnell. Which made things complicated when a newly-rehabilitated Grinnell was released from the hospital a few weeks later, and came home to find Annie with a new dude. Annie and the falcon, who Allen and others nicknamed Little Dude, took off -- she then returned alone a day later and she and Grinnell picked up where they left off.
It would seem to the layman bird watcher that the couple had worked things out, forgiven whatever indiscretions had transpired and were now back on track.
But then in late January, Annie disappeared. Vanished from her nest and tower. The days ticked off without a sign of her. Grinnell apparently spent an extremely brief mourning period and soon began cavorting with the young female raptors who were showing up. To veteran raptor watchers, that was the clear sign Annie was truly out of the area.
"If Annie had been around in good health, she wouldn’t have let that happen," said Mary Malec, a volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, and veteran raptor watcher. "So we really don’t know where she was."
As a week passed, it became clear something bad had happened to the expectant mother, who was unlikely to leave her home base at such a delicate time. Things looked so grim, the bird experts took the unusual step of informing the public that Annie probably wasn't coming back.
"This just looked like she had died," said Fish. "We thought with the audience we have for this nest and how many people care about this, we’d just better say 'yeah, she’s probably gone."
The day the bird experts made the announcement, Annie made a dramatic return, stunning camera watchers by appearing at her nest on the live camera. Once again, she and Grinnell made their ceremonial bows to acknowledge their official coupledom and life once again resumed.
"They’re usually very predictable," said Malec, "which is why this all looked odd to us this year."
If anything, the cameras following the couple's every move have indeed captured nature in its most unscripted form, revealing all the dirty laundry that comes off like an episode of the Housewives of New Jersey. It's clear these raptors never signed the contract for a human love story. Nature is messy, unpredictable and prone to follow the whims of -- well -- the call of nature.
While experts agree the behavior of the couple is peculiar in the raptor world, they also point out what is truly remarkable about the story; that in the 1970s there were just two breeding pairs of peregrine falcons left in California, and these days there are 400.
It makes the strange behavior of a couple birds a mere anomaly in the bird world. And as a bonus, their curious tale has inspired thousands to learn about peregrine falcons, spending hours following their antics over a live stream.
"The new people who never would’ve thought to look at birds," said Allen, "are getting to see and be a part of this -- and get a piece of this."