your connection to The Boston Globe

Falcon eggs plucked from bridge

SAN FRANCISCO -- A peregrine falcon shrieked as scientists snatched three eggs from its precarious perch beneath the Bay Bridge to save the chicks from a deadly fall or collision with a car after they hatch.

Brian Latta, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, removed the eggs Friday from a narrow beam about 200 feet above San Francisco Bay. "It's the most dangerous place in the world for them," he said.

Latta moved in after the female parent left the male parent alone to defend the nest, a 2-inch depression in a wind-blown pile of dirt.

The biologists plan to incubate the eggs and raise the baby falcons until they are ready to return to the wild.

Peregrines are known for their ferocity when their nests are invaded, and the male parent swooped and circled as the eggs were removed.

"When the female comes back, he's going to have a lot of explaining to do," Latta said.

The parent falcons, dubbed George and Gracie, had nested for years on the 33 d-floor ledge of a downtown skyscraper, where they raised several clutches of chicks.

The pair relocated to the bridge this year at the same spot where George hatched in 1999 and was rescued in a similar operation before he was old enough to fly.

If the eggs were allowed to hatch under the bridge, crosswinds could send the fledglings plummeting into the bay or hurtle them under the wheels of passing cars when they left the nest for their first flights.

George and Gracie are celebrities among San Francisco bird watchers, who have followed their progress in past years via a Web camera near the previous nest at Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s city headquarters.

The peregrine falcon, which can reach speeds of more than 200 miles per hour in its hunting dive, has taken up residence in many US cities.

Tall buildings mimic the steep cliffs that are the birds' natural habitat, and pigeons provide a plentiful source of food.