It's that time of year again, when thousands of online viewers are captivated by adorable baby falcons huddled together in their nest boxes and devouring strips of fresh pigeon meat delivered by their parents.

The peregrine falcons nesting atop San Jose City Hall have successfully hatched four eggs this year in a nest box provided for them by the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group (SCPBRG). As it has since 2007, the SCPBRG's falcon nest camera provides year-round live streaming video of the activities at the nest, including the laying of the first eggs in February, the rearing of the chicks, and the first flights of the fledglings in May. Another SCPBRG nest cam monitors a nest box on the PG&E headquarters building in San Francisco, where three nestlings hatched this year.

"Thanks to the nest cameras, people get excited about falcons and nature, including community members and UCSC students," said SCPBRG director Glenn Stewart. "Peregrine falcon-watching is now an important leisure activity for many Bay Area residents who assist with my research by reporting sightings of the falcons I band at half a dozen nests each year."

Stewart will determine the sex of the chicks when he bands them on April 28. In San Jose, this task involves using climbing gear to rappel down from the roof of City Hall to the nest box on an 18th-story ledge of the building. The City of San Jose is inviting youths ages 5 to 18 to suggest names for the birds. Details about the contest are available online.

Fledge watch volunteers in both San Jose and San Francisco will help Stewart monitor the fledglings during their perilous first flights. Stewart's partners in San Jose include the City of San Jose and the San Jose Peregrine Falcon Alliance, a citizen's group committed to support of the SCPBRG educational mission centered on the recovery of the peregrine falcon population. PG&E also helps underwrite SCPBRG's conservation education programs, including presentations to school assemblies throughout Central and Northern California.

Established at UCSC in 1975, the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group was instrumental in the recovery of the peregrine falcon population, which was in danger of extinction in the 1970s due to the effects of the pesticide DDT. During the population recovery effort, SCPBRG scientists released more than 1,000 captive-raised peregrine falcons into the wild. Stewart estimates there are now more than 250 nesting pairs in California. The peregrine falcon was removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999 and from the state endangered species list in 2008.