Volunteers Keep Round-the-Clock Watch Over San Jose's Peregrine Falcon Chicks

On most days, for most people, there is rarely a reason to drive all the way up to the 7th floor of the parking garage at the corner of South 4th and East San Fernando Streets in downtown San Jose.

There are often plenty of empty parking spots starting on floors 4 and 5.

For two weeks this spring, though, Jody Vandeveer drove past hundreds of those available spots to park in one all the way on the top level of the garage. And then she stayed there all day.


Because the top of that garage provides the clearest view of San Jose City Hall and the peregrine falcons that call the 17th floor home.

Fledge Watch volunteers keep an eye on the falcons nesting atop San Jose's City Hall

"They are wild animals in an urban environment," Jody says. "We need to make sure they survive."

Jody is a charter member of Fledge Watch, a group of more than a dozen volunteers who spend hour after hour watching the falcons' nest, making sure the youngest ones survive the process of learning how to fly.

Clara, a female falcon has been nesting on a ledge on the 17th floor on the south side of City Hall for the past eight years.Thanks to a series of male falcons (Fernando being the latest), Clara has successfully hatched chicks each of those eight years.

When those chicks start to fly, though, is when Fledge Watch springs into action. Peregrine falcons, you see, are great at flying -- they fly fastest in the world, in fact -- but young ones are not the best at landing.

When a young bird takes flight volunteers track its location with binoculars and scopes, also relying on spotters positioned at street level around City Hall

"When it comes to coordinating their wings and their feet is when they run into trouble," says Glenn Stewart, Director of the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group. "That's where humans can help."

Humans like Jody and John Lewis. John is an "almost retired" maintenance engineer who is also volunteering for Fledge Watch.

During daylight hours for one to two weeks (depending on how quickly the chicks take to flying) the volunteers of Fledge Watch keep a constant watch on the nest through binoculars and telescopes. When the young birds take flight, they track their location, often relying on other volunteers positioned at street level around City Hall.

If a falcon lands in a spot from where it cannot take off, volunteers alert Glenn Steward from UC Santa Cruz's Predatory Bird Research Group. He will rescue the bird and return it to the nest

If one of the birds lands in a spot from which it cannot take off again, the volunteers call Glenn who rescues the bird and returns it to the nest.

"We've picked up two this year," John says. "They would have perished for sure." 

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