Love, Elation, Intrigue, and Death at UC Berkeley Campanile

Here at the National Bell Festival, we spend more than our fair share of time scrambling up rickety ladders and winding up narrow stairs to explore what treasures a bell tower can hold. Often, that discovery comes replete with a few surprises. Turning a corner to get a face full of spider web, hearing the unsettling crunch of a rotten floorboard underfoot, or startling a pigeon into frantic flight – we’ve seen it all. 

Atop Sather Tower, known as the Campanile, on UC Berkeley’s campus, an altogether different drama has been unfolding since 2016, when a male and female peregrine falcon took up residence in the 307-foot-tall bell tower. The pair’s early courtship produced a new generation of eggs and eyases (falcon chicks), as they have yearly ever since. Across five broods, Annie and Grinnell, as the two falcons are known, have raised 13 eyases under the watchful eye of an adoring public and a 24-hour webcam livestream.

Just as well, because in this year of grace 2022, Annie and Grinnell have served-up a steady stream of made-for-TV intrigue. Last October, a second pair of young falcons were first spotted at the Campanile and, a few short days later, Grinnell was discovered off campus, resting on a trash can lid, his beak, leg, and wing displaying grisly fresh wounds. He spent three weeks recovering at a wildlife refuge, during which time Annie had begun behaving receptively to the new male.

Falcons in Flight at UC Berkeley Campanile Bell Tower

Image: Peregrine falcons in flight around Sather Tower, known as the Campanile, at the University of California, Berkeley. Courtesy: Cal Falcons.

Upon Grinnell’s return, life settled back down to normal, but then in late February, Annie went missing – just when she should have been preparing for…baby bird making. Had she been run off or injured by the younger and stronger peregrines in the area? Grinnell, for his part, seemed just fine entertaining the conspicuous advances of a juvenile female in her absence. 

But lo! Annie returned and business-as-usual resumed with the typical flight acrobatics, head-bowing, and look-I-brought-you-something-tasty mating behaviors. On March 26, two perfect reddish-brown eggs appeared. Was all finally at peace in the world? No. On March 31, the team monitoring the falcons made a startling and grim announcement: Grinnell had been found dead.

Without a co-parent to protect the nest and search for food, what would happen to Annie and the new brood? The likelihood of successfully rearing the eggs had dramatically diminished. Mere hours after Grinnell’s body had been discovered, a young male peregrine falcon showed up at Annie’s nest and then spent the night

After a fleeting romance, the new young buck even briefly incubated the eggs – an encouraging development. Time will tell what happens next for Annie and her brood, but we’re thrilled that the beautiful bell tower, the third-tallest in the world, is not only home to an impressive 61-bell carillon, but also to a true conservation success story. Fifty years ago, there were only two pairs of peregrine falcons in California (four birds total). Today, the population has rebounded to around 350 nesting pairs. We like to think it has everything to do with the bells.