Tag Archives: Urban Ecology

Falcon babies!

This week San Francisco happily welcomed four new peregrine falcons into the city. This morning the fourth egg hatched and we have a happy family of six. The parents (Dan and Cher) have been sharing the duties of nesting and providing food for the little ones. Thanks to a “FalconCam” installed by The Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, the live events of hatchings, feedings, and hours upon hours of nesting and brooding are accessible to the public on UCSC Research Group’s website: http://www2.ucsc.edu/scpbrg/nestcamSF.htm.

Video clips are also published on YouTube, and this morning’s video features Papa Dan nesting with the newborns when Mama Cher arrives (around minute 5:40) and proceeds with the feeding:

The peregrines nest on the 33rd floor roof on the PG & E building in downtown San Francisco:

PG&E Building
The San Francisco PG&E building, atop which lies the nest of our falcon family. Photo courtesy KQED Quest, by Sarah Skikne.

The nesting box was provided by the UCSC research group to encourage nesting by local peregrines hunting in the region. The UCSC group was pivotal in the recovery of the western Peregrine Falcon population which had neared extinction due to the downstream effects of DDT on eggshells, causing them to thin and weaken preventing successful brooding. In the 1970s there were just 2 pairs of Peregrines known to exist in California, and apparently no nesting pairs east of the Mississippi. Due to recovery attempts, there are an estimated 250 pairs of nesting Peregrines in California and the populations throughout the U.S. have recovered enough that the species was removed from the Federally endangered list in  1999.

According to expert sources (http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7290.html) the newly hatched chicks or eyases (eyas, singular, for a nestling falcon or hawk) don’t feed for the first 24 hours, as it seems they spend so much energy getting out of the egg shell they spend the first day resting and recovering from that process. Until about 10 days in age the newly hatched chicks require constant brooding as they don’t have enough down to keep themselves warm. After they build up their coat of feathers they require less brooding but more food. Parents Dan and Cher will be spending a lot of time hunting to feed their babies.

After about 5 weeks, the eyases have grown into juveniles with mature plumage and start the process of learning to fly. I’m already a bit nervous for the little ones learning to fly from such great heights, but am excited to be able to watch it all from the FalconCam!

These are magnificent birds that provide our cities with a much needed top-level predator to help keep curtail populations of the Rock Pigeon- the introduced, escaped, and now overly common population of bird filling many of our cities. I must remember to keep my eye on the sky when in downtown SF and hopefully someday will catch a glimpse of one of these beauties in flight.

A San Francisco Peregrine Falcon in flight. Photo courtesy KQED Quest, by Glenn Nevill.




Man [what a] root!

Marah fabaceus, commonly referred to as the California Manroot, Old man root, or the Wild cucumber, is an almost shockingly vigorous vine native to the San Francisco Bay area. There are in fact five manroots native to California, with Marah fabaceus being the locally prominent species. Since moving in to our lovely home, each spring incites the battle of the manroot vine, as our neighbor’s lushly growing vine makes every attempt to find its way into our serene little oasis. The rampant growth is triggered by the winter and spring rain, and as soon as we enter our prolonged dry season the foliage backs off, the life of the plant retreating to an oasis under the soil- its oft proclaimed giant root that can be (seriously) the size of a human.

I must admit I haven’t actually seen the root, just the above-ground plant and that combined with the legend of the root is enough to make me nervous. Our neighbor’s yard is succumbing to this vigorous plant:

California Manroot Vine – taking over neighbor’s yard

As it reaches over and through the fence, I must act quickly lest the fruit mature and eject (yes, eject!) seed into our yard. I’m a tad surprised this thing hasn’t consumed San Francisco. Apparently summer watering regimes can keep the plant in an active growing state as mentioned by local expert Jake Sigg in his description of this plant on California’s Native Plant Society’s (CNPS) website:


As a volunteer at the San Francisco Botanic Garden, I recently spent an afternoon scrambling through trees and shrubs trying to remove the vine from the Australian section of the garden. I had hopes of finding the source of the plant’s innumerable stems and perhaps even digging to reveal this legendary root. It was not to be revealed that day though, leaving that discovery for anther day.

Marah fabaceus, the California Manroot Vine at the San Francisco Botanical Garden (in the South African section)
Marah fabaceus fruit


Some of you may recognize the name Marah, as it is taken from the Bible,

“So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea…and when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; and therefore the name of it was called Marah.”-Exodus 15:22

As the name and reference suggest, the plant is extremely bitter. Mr. Sigg in his CNPS entry notes that if you “touch your tongue to a cut root…your jaw will lock.” Though commonly referred to as the Wild cucumber no parts of this plant are edible, but does have some medicinal use mostly as a purgative, though some Native American tribes used it to sooth aches and pains (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marah_(plant)).  They also used a mash of the root to stun fish for ease of fishing. 

An interesting plant indeed (and native to boot) though I’m thankful its not in my backyard.