Berkeley’s peregrine falcons inspire near and far

This story was produced by UC Berkeley and first published on Berkeley News

Discovering that she could view the falcons’ daily lives while isolating at home gave alumna Sandy Lwi, who is a research psychologist in Berkeley, and her partner “a sense of freedom and adventure that we couldn’t experience otherwise,” she said, “ and that was such a balm for the fear and uncertainty we all were experiencing at the time.” While in lockdown, she used the skills she’d learned in a watercoloring class to create a painting of Grinnell.

Grinnell was the inspiration for this watercolor by Sandy Lwi. Courtesy: Sandy Lwi

Jonathan “Jonny” Hale, a Berkeley undergraduate, chose to put falcon art onto his body.

Jonny Hale’s arm. Credit: Alberto Tirado

While on a trip to Tijuana last month, he had his right arm tattooed with a falcon, the Campanile and a branch of magnolia blossoms at the Last Temptation Tattoo Shop. It took three hours to plan the design with tattoo artist Alberto Tirado and about eight hours to complete. Hale said he’s followed the lives of Berkeley’s falcons since late 2019, when he decided to transfer to the campus.

While the falcon on his arm isn’t Grinnell, specifically, Hale said “it represents Grinnell, but also peregrine falcons, in general, … it represents the uniquely human virtues that the Cal falcons embody, which allow us to love their presence and mourn their passing.”

Cal Falcons has collected much of the falcon artwork — some of it from as far away as Seattle, Texas and China — and placed it on an Instagram reel. The group of raptor experts and volunteers discovered many of these paintings and photos when artists posted their work on social media, then tagged Cal Falcons.

Where art and science connect

Grace Millsap created this piece on April 1, the day after Grinnell died, using an app called Procreate. The strong bond between Grinnell (above) and Annie is emphasized. Millsap added lyrics from “Mars” by Sleeping at Last. The Texas A&M student said they’re “especially fitting, considering (Grinnell’s) story of rehabilitation; he was able to be rereleased after he healed, but nature had other plans.” Courtesy: Grace Millsap

Walnut Creek resident Lora Roame, a wildlife biologist and a volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s banding program, said that for her, “art has been a powerful tool to observe nature more closely.” Drawing and painting wildlife, she said, has helped her improve her skills as a naturalist, exercise her observational abilities and get curious about the world around her.

“I feel very fortunate to have a small window into the lives of these falcons,” said Roame, who has done numerous sketches of Berkeley’s falcons, “and they continue to be a source of joy and inspiration for me and my art.”

Having the fastest member of the animal kingdom in her own backyard — peregrines can clock 240 mph doing high-speed dives for prey— turned wildlife photographer Bridget Ahern, an Oakland resident, into a regular visitor to the university.

She said she’s learned to wait patiently to shoot the falcons’ “interactions in flight, whether it is the fledglings playing talon tag, the adults carrying prey with the fledglings following, prey exchanges between the adults and the fledglings, and even the interaction with the interlopers.

Wildlife photographer Bridget Ahern. Credit: Dorothy Hearst

“For me, it is the art of discovery — being in a natural environment and using my senses to observe what is happening around me. I often say that I am a reverse birder, meaning that I photograph the birds and then go home and consult bird books to see what I have photographed.”

Webcams give a rare, inspiring view

Andersen’s paper-and-cardboard falcon art. Credit: Kayla Otteson

In his hometown of Salinas, 6 1/2-year-old Andersen Hubbard can’t see the falcons in person, the way Ahern can. But this spring, he patiently watched the webcam on the nest box, where Annie had laid three eggs. As he waited, he constructed the nest, the eggs and Annie out of construction paper and recycled cardboard.

The young boy’s artwork, sent to Cal Falcons by his mom, Kayla Otteson, “made my day,” said Lynn Schofield, a staff biologist for The Institute for Bird Populations who also runs education and outreaches for Cal Falcons. “I like that it’s an interactive piece — super-creative.”

Maddy Donahue is much further away, in Qingdao, China. Born and raised in Berkeley, she’s beginning a career overseas in illustration, having recently graduated with a master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design. She loves Beatrix Potter’s characters and said she hopes “to make children’s books that focus on animals, fairy tales and the natural world around them.”

Donahue follows the Berkeley falcons on the nest webcam, as well as Cal Falcons’ Instagram posts, but also learns the latest news — “it’s like a bird soap opera!” she said — from her mom, Christina Tarr, a librarian at Berkeley Law and a Cal Falcons volunteer. When Grinnell died, Donahue painted a picture of him and posted it on social media: “I couldn’t let him go without paying tribute,” she said.

“I started something about Grinnell in the evening of the day he died and posted it on Instagram,” said Ning Wan, a product manager at Microsoft. Courtesy: Ning Wan

“Artists are people who are naturally sensitive and on the emotional side. It’s not hard to imagine there’s a good overlap between artists and people with a soft spot for animals,” she said. Wan plans to find a way to use these traits for the greater good.

“Especially in the age of climate change, we all need to have our place in understanding the situation of our world and how we’re going to help it,” she said. “I want to find a place in my skill set to connect to the natural world and to other people through art.”

“I made this painting of Grinnell a couple years ago, after I became a little more stationary,” said Lynn Schofield, a staff biologist with The Institute for Bird Populations who also manages education and outreach for Cal Falcons. “I’m not in the field in the way I used to be, but I’m still doing research and watching nature.” Her young son, Vireo helped her with the background. Courtesy: Lynn Schofield

See more falcon art and falcon artists at Berkeley News.

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