Beloved falcon Grinnell found dead

“We are all deeply saddened to report that Grinnell was found dead in downtown Berkeley this afternoon.”

Grinnell, the male falcon on the Campanile and longtime mate of Annie was found dead, Thursday, March 31, 2022. (Cal Falcons image)

Hit by a car in downtown Berkeley, UC Berkeley’s male peregrine falcon, Grinnell, was found dead Thursday afternoon at the intersection at Shattuck Avenue and Kittredge Street in Downtown Berkeley.

It isn’t clear what caused the 7-year-old raptor to be hit by a car, according to members of Cal Falcons. Two passersby saw the downed falcon and contacted Cal Falcons via social media to ask if it was Grinnell; a member of the group of ornithologists and raptor experts retrieved his body.

This story was originally posted on Berkeley News

Thursday morning, a juvenile peregrine falcon had been threatening the nest of Grinnell and Annie, his longtime mate, on UC Berkeley’s Campanile, said Lynn Schofield, an ornithologist with Cal Falcons. The young raptor visited the tower twice, entering the falcon couple’s nest box where Annie so far has laid two eggs; a third was expected Thursday. It is not unusual for Annie to step away from her eggs for a couple of hours at a time at this point in her egg-laying. On Facebook this morning, Cal Falcons posted a video of Grinnell defending the nest.

“We don’t know whether or not (the activity on the tower today) was related to why Grinnell was in the road,” said Schofield. “If (the juvenile) had been fighting (with Grinnell), she might have tried to knock him down to the ground. All morning, Annie and Grinnell were defending the tower. We’re not sure if this juvenile is one we’ve seen before (on the tower) or not.

“All we can say is that Grinnell was in the road downtown and had been hit by a car. … We’re all very upset.”

Later Thursday, Mary Malec, a raptor expert with Cal Falcons who picked up Grinnell’s body from the scene, said she believes that Grinnell “ended up on the ground after his encounter with one of the floaters,” and then, alive or dead, was hit by a car. She said his remains will be examined at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Health Laboratory in Sacramento. Floaters are non-breeding adult birds of prey attracted to occupied territories.

Just a few days ago, Grinnell defended from an intruder the nest he shared with mate Annie, who had begun laying eggs. (Image courtesy of Cal Falcons)

“We get calls from people who say, ‘There’s a falcon on the ground,’ or ‘There’s a baby falcon on the ground,’ but it’s never a falcon,” said Malec. “But we always go check it out. We always answer those calls. … Today, the first thing I saw was that it was a falcon, and the second thing I saw was Grinnell’s (identification) band. My heart sank then and there.”

Schofield said it’s unlikely that the eggs in Annie and Grinnell’s nest will hatch this spring, since Annie can’t both hunt, to feed herself, and incubate the eggs.

“Unless Annie gets a new partner really quickly, and it’s possible that the new partner might just fill in (for Grinnell),” said Schofield, “most likely these eggs won’t make it.” Annie was seen sitting on the nest this afternoon and early evening via one of three webcams on the Campanile.

“She will probably figure it out soon,” that Grinnell is gone, said Malec, adding that she’s doubtful that Annie will accept a new mate any time soon. “It would take time for them to pair bond. She’s not going to trust (another male) right away.”

News of the death of Grinnell is devastating to Annie and Grinnell’s fans, both locally and worldwide, especially since the past half-year of the birds’ lives has been unusually dramatic. After a relatively drama-free life together, starting with them establishing territory on the Campanile in late 2016 and moving on to hatch 13 chicks, Annie and Grinnell have had nothing but major ups and downs since last October.

In late October, Grinnell was found injured atop a trash can at the Berkeley Tennis Club, wounded by rival falcons eyeing his territory on the bell tower. He healed at the Lindsey Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital and was released in mid-November, then flew back to the tower and Annie. But while Grinnell was away, Annie had been courting the male falcon that had attacked her mate; both male falcons hung around the tower until New Year’s Day, when Annie and Grinnell were seen displaying courtship behavior. The rival disappeared, and Annie and Grinnell appeared to be ready for their sixth breeding season.

But in late February, Annie disappeared, uncharacteristically, for at least a week, leading Cal Falcons to announce that she likely was dead, badly injured somewhere or had abandoned her territory. Surprisingly, she returned to campus on March 1, settling into her nest as if she’d never left. She laid her first egg of the season last Saturday.

What will happen next in the tower is unknown, as are further details about Grinnell’s death.

“We can only speculate,” said Schofield. “Maybe if someone takes a closer look at his body, we might get more insight about his injuries, and whether there are signs of injuries other than those from the car.”

Malec added that the state lab will do a toxicology analysis to see if anything shows up in Grinnell’s organs that might have contributed to his death.