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: