As I write this, I can hear geese and a Belted Kingfisher in the distance and I'm watching a Great Blue Heron sitting over her day-old egg. I'm thousands of miles away from the birds, who reside near Sapsucker Woods pond, outside the Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity at the Cornell Lab for Ornithology. But I've got a front seat on the action, along with 2,500 other lurkers, thanks to the lab's Livestream video link. And if we grow bored, we can switch to Big Red, a Red-tailed Hawk, who is currently laying on her three eggs, protecting them from the wind on an unseasonably cool day in Ithica.
Streaming video links to nesting birds isn't a new craze, but it's a growing one. Last year, an eagle nest cam established by the Raptor Resource Project captivated thousands who sat, staring into their computer screens as a Bald Eagle in Decorah, Iowa, laid and guarded her hatchlings. It was the most popular feed on the Ustream service, reports Wired.com.
And now the show is back on in Decorah. Two eaglets hatched on Tuesday and one more on Wednesday, which you can watch here. Skip to around minute 7 to see the hatchling being fed. This year, the eagles in Decorah are under more advanced surveillance; the cameras use night vision, high definition and panning capabilities. What's next? GoPro cameras strapped to the birds' chests?
Nest cams' increasingly popularity raises some interesting queries. Why are so many people watching? Is it just the novelty of this voyeuristic peephole into the birthing process? Do we think if we wait long enough, we'll see the first crack in the egg? Yes, and yes.
But the groups that invest the time and energy into establishing the cameras and providing the live streams hope the portal into the life of birds will translate into a better understanding of the bird's lives and what they're up against. The Raptor Resource Project has been around since 1998 and has helped reintroduce Peregrine Falcons to the upper Mississippi River. It started working with the utility company Xcel Energy in 1990, establishing a nest for a Peregrine Falcon named Mae, as part of its ongoing conservation work.
Mae and other birds were on recorded via video for years. In 2009 the Raptor Resource Project decided to set up its own cam at a Bald Eagle nest in Decorah. In 2011, the group started streaming via UStream and the audience mushroomed. "Over 200,000 million people from 184 countries worldwide watched the eagle family as they built a nest, laid eggs, struggled with bad weather and other animals, and cared for their young, who grew from downy babies to juvenile predators on the wing," says the Raptor Resource Project site.
The group also keeps viewers abreast of nest developments via its Facebook page. And from this page you can log into cameras streaming from owl, falcon, osprey, kestrel, eagle and vulture cams all over the Midwest and into Colorado.
--Mary Catherine O'Connor