Last year was a bitch for San Francisco’s famous Peregrine couple. None of their three fledglings survived life in the city. “Hi” died in a collision with a window on one of his early flights. Liwa went MIA after being grounded following a minor injury. She was found dead later by someone who called in her band number. And Kiwel, although rescued after being grounded with a clavicle injury, passed away later in her rehabilitation clinic.
I wrote a bit about these travails in a post last year, as I followed the progress of San Francisco’s young Peregrine Falcons on the PG&E Nest Cam. It’s a project of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group.
Bonding and Mourning
I shed tears in the face of last year’s trauma. I don’t use the word “trauma” lightly. The loss of the young falcons, after watching them hatch and then develop under the watchful orb of the camera, sent jolts through the entire community of nest-cam watchers who’d come to know these young Peregrines and their hard-working parents. We connected — deeply. And then we lost. That loss is palpable when you come to know these living entities — even if that loss occurs well beyond arm’s reach.
It’s a phenomenon Hugh and I personally experience through our wildlife work. Even though there’s not one wild animal that will (or should) bond with us, that will become a pet, that will look at us as anything but a predator at worst — or tolerable caretaker at best — we do still bond. It’s not because of the purrs, cuddles or wagging tails that come our way. Rather, there is a bonding empathy you develop by being a small part of their survival in this crazy world. I wrote a bit about that, too, in the same post on the Peregrines.
That’s precisely why the nest-cam experience was so emotionally trying last year. I (along with many others) tuned in everyday to check the progress of the youngsters. And, in joining the corresponding discussion group at Yahoo, I followed along with the trepidation of new nest-cam viewers: Where are the parents? When were the nestlings last fed? Can they handle the window washers? It was an Animal Planet series that, unfortunately, did not have a happy ending.
The 2010 Nest Cam — Starting All Over Again
This year, I wasn’t sure if I could tune in again. I put it out of my mind, thinking I’d skip a year after the events of the last. I thought my heart had splintered into too many pieces to evoke those Peregrinish feelings again. But this morning, I got the link: a reminder that the nest-cam was, again, hovering over the lives of Peregrine youngsters, our 2010 brood. I hesitated. I winced. And then I clicked.
In the nest, four fuzzy, downy, white babies. According to the nest diary at the same website, the eggs were laid on St. Patrick’s Day, and these these four hatched on April 8.
Can I get hooked again in the matter of minutes? I don’t know. I did find myself waiting for that auspicious landing on the ledge by mom and dad . . . the dark shape trundling in with food for the babies. And as I write, at this moment, the nest-cam window is sitting open in my Mac Safari browser. I might be a-goner again. I have a sense my life will intertwine with theirs. And come June, when these fledglings take their first swoops off the ledge of the PG&E building, I’ll steel myself, with the hope that in 2010, the Peregrine babies navigate those Financial District tunnels with the acuity and grace of their cliff-dwelling ancestors.
May San Francisco’s golden sun shine for these little ones. Take it Tony:
This Nest-Cam link also takes you to a page where you can donate to the efforts of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group and their nest cams.
- San Francisco’s Peregrine Falcons and Fledglings
- R.I.P. Hi – San Francisco’s Young Peregrine Falcon
- Candid Falcon Cam in San Francisco
The Photo: Taken at Wildcare in San Rafael (Marin County). Wildcare is a spectacular Bay Area wildlife rescue. This Peregrine is an unreleasable, injured bird housed in their outdoor aviaries.
Best wishes for this new nestful. I’ve loved peregrines since I was a kid.
I’m not sure how pigeons feel about ’em.
I think we can safely assume how pigeons feel about them. 🙂
As you might imagine, Tovar, even natural predation isn’t something I actively seek out as a photographer. A raptor clawing prey is a ‘money’ shot for many, but I’m afraid I’ll probably go into my last days with philosophical ambivalence over the imperatives of the ecological web. I accept it, but I can’t say I ever feel fully reconciled to the suffering inherent in it. Some documentarian I am!
I was joking with Hugh that maybe we humans are divided into predator/prey as well. I don’t begrudge Peregrines a much-needed meal, but I clearly identify with the prey in most cases, or rather — I identify with the vulnerable, whether predator or prey.
Hmmmmm. Blood and gore don’t attract me at all, but I guess predator-prey relationships never bothered me, even when I was a vegetarian. I think we can get ourselves tied in knots when we try to evaluate non-human ecological systems through the lenses of our value systems.
I suppose it depends on where we focus. If I’m focused on a family of robins, I’ll be dismayed to see a robin chick hauled off by a hawk. If I’m focused on a family of hawks, I’ll be relieved to see a parent arrive with food for the hungry hawk chicks. (Then again, isn’t the robin a predator also, albeit on worms and insects? Isn’t the medium-sized fish–who hunts small fish and is in turn hunted by big fish–both predator and prey?) Focusing in any one place starts to seem crazy!
I also think we’re deeply confused about the degree to which we are “natural” (as opposed to “cultural”) beings. I don’t think we need to make such a sharp distinction between nature and culture. Yet the question is there: Is hunting “natural predation?”
Good points, Tovar. I would just add that it’s not so much me seeing the wild predator-prey relationship through a prescribed value system. Rather, it’s a sense of empathy for the suffering of any entity, human animal or non-human animal. And because it’s generally the vulnerable, young, and weak who succumb, it’s natural (given my inclinations) that I would gravitate toward compassion for the underdog.
When I say I accept but find it difficult to reconcile, it extends beyond the bounds of intellectual rationalization to my existential quandaries about life in general. It’s a bigger issue than this blog post could possible suggest. 🙂
Having been witness to and subject to a considerable amount of physical suffering, it’s simply impossible for me to disconnect from that process in a way that doesn’t affect me viscerally. That’s pretty much my overarching statement on this issue. I understand it, I accept it as reality, but do I ever *not* experience some degree of vicarious suffering over it? Answering honestly, I’d have to say no.
Some would call that a weakness. But I find it requires a degree of fortitude to pass through life feeling empathy and sensitivity without disconnecting from it in order to deal with it.
Good points, Ingrid and Moe. Empathy for another creature’s suffering is, of course, valuable. I agree that we can feel that even as we accept the predator-prey relationship. Then there’s the question of how much suffering occurs in each instance of predation, from none to a lot: an important one for humans, I think, especially when the killing is done by us.
But this wasn’t the point of your post. Let’s hope the falcons do well this year!
But this wasn’t the point of your post. Let’s hope the falcons do well this year!
Well, I did open that discussion by admitting my ambivalence over chasing predator shots. So that topic was fair game. Besides, I’m an expert in meandering digression, aren’t I?
I’m at one extreme in that regard. I met a guy who was giving himself a coronary, trying to get a shot of a Red-tailed Hawk catching an endangered Clapper Rail. Frankly, it didn’t harm anyone but him, his back (hauling 50 pounds of gear), and his ego. The Clapper Rail escaped unscathed, and the photographer (with his Hubble lens) was nowhere near where he could affect the outcome of the interaction. He left muttering and sputtering. When I wrote about the “being” versus the “getting” a few weeks ago, that particular photog came to mind as a counterpart to the “being.” He taught me an important lesson in the realm of “photographer, know thyself.”
Tovar, your point is well taken, by the way. Thank you. I tend to agree about killing done by humans. Of course, we don’t know yet what “consciousness” means in terms of a predator’s thoughts or intent. But we certainly understand our own — or rather, our own capacity to exhibit mercy or cruelty.
Well the season is almost done, as I write this three of the four fledglings survived and are thriving over San Francisco. One suffered fatal injury by colliding with the Milleneum Tower, she was found up on the penthouse deck, over 40 stories up. A second female, Ziva was turned in to Animal Control over a week ago and was released on June 21 uninjured. I was there to cover the release, one of the few times I could photograph with a normal lens.
Last year was very hard for me as well, and it took an entire year of documenting other birds to get up the energy to cover this season.