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The Green Life: Bird Cams Offer Rare Glimpses Into Avian Lives

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March 29, 2011

Bird Cams Offer Rare Glimpses Into Avian Lives

Bald eagles In a 2.0 world, social media allows people to connect to new communities, ask new questions, and create new dialogue. But can social media help people connect to nature? That’s a central question for a host of websites that feature streaming video footage of animals (birds, mostly) at home in nature.

Bird cams let anyone with a computer play the role of Big Brother, taking a peek into the private lives of animals they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Over time, bird-cam devotees become amateur scientists, making discoveries about bird behavior and asking questions typically posed only by professional ornithologists.

“Different pieces of information get picked up by different people and they kind of run with them,” said Patrick Keenan, outreach director for the Biodiversity Research Institute, whose website features live, streaming video of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and loons. BRI’s cameras, installed in nests, have documented behaviors — like a rogue mink that pushed a loon off its nest to eat its eggs — previously unknown to science.

The cameras act as full-time monitors so scientists and the public can observe birds without having to camp out in a blind all day. “You have to watch the birds all the time and they can actually be very secretive,” Keenan said. Though scientists have used hidden cameras for years to spy on animals, streaming video makes it possible for the public to go undercover too.

BRI isn’t the only site on which to watch birds. Click through for a list of other popular cams:

  • Raptor Resource Project: Tune in to this Decorah, Iowa, cam for live footage of a bald eagle whose egg should hatch as soon as tomorrow; a National Geographic cameraman is onsite to provide footage. RRP Director Bob Anderson opes to use a new zoom feature to capture the chick breaking out of its shell.
  • Wildearth TV: This aggregate site offers streaming video of birds of prey, songbirds, even bears.
  • New Hampshire Fish and Game Dept.: Occasional breakdowns in streaming technology make this site a bit of a headache, but when operational, it offers great views of a peregrine falcon.

Though watching a bird sit in its nest can be tedious (hey, raising eggs is no easy task), there's really no better way to get such a close-up view of these creatures. We admit to keeping a bird cam open on our desktop and checking it between emails.

Knowing when to tune in requires some knowledge of birds' lifecycles; most cams are turned off when nests are empty. But to lock eyes over the web with a bald eagle and watch her shiver in Iowa's winter wind, without needing to feel the cold yourself, is an experience well worth a click. 

--Tim McDonnell

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