By Ilana DeBare
Here in the Bay Area this spring, we’ve had the privilege of spying by video camera on two Peregrine Falcon nests in downtown San Francisco and San Jose. Incredible images of cute chicks and protective parents. Countless hours of productive work time lost to avian web watching!
So I got to wondering, How many other nest cams are there around the country?
A lot, it turns out.
At the high-tech and well-organized end of the spectrum, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology operates several nest cams including one that is currently following a family of Great Blue Herons.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are countless private nest cams set up by individual bird lovers in their backyards. (Apparently you can buy nest cam equipment for as little as $90. But at that price, I wouldn’t count on Steven Spielberg quality.)
Nest cams are a wholly new and personal way to relate to birds, made possible by the spread of broadband Internet and video streaming. The first video nest cam was created in 1998 by the midwest Raptor Resource Center to monitor a Peregrine Falcon nest in Iowa; today the center operates about 15 nest cams. Meanwhile, the folks at Cornell say that more than a million people have tuned in to watch their heron and Red-Tailed Hawk nest cams.
But nest cams are a transient medium. I tried to compile a list of good nest cams, and it’s tough. Fledglings grow up and leave the nest. Or disaster strikes and a nest is abandoned. A camera showing a busy nest in March may show an empty one by May.
That’s the flip side of all those cute chicks. We’re close at hand to watch the miracle of hatching and fledging, but we are also close at hand for death. Barely two weeks after an Allen’s Hummingbird nest cam in Orange County was profiled by Wired.com, all the eggs were eaten by a crow. And a midwest Bald Eagle nest cam site poignantly reported:
1st egg laid: 2/16/12
1st hatch: 3/25/12
Nest failed on 4/11/12 Eaglets died of exposure following storm
So what’s the impact of all these nest cams? (Besides the lost work hours, of course.)
Cornell ornithologists say they’ve learned about some previously-undocumented heron courtship and nesting behaviors from their cam.
And that process of learning – as much as all the cuteness or drama – has the potential to deepen people’s ties to nature.
“The amazing thing is that the public was at the crest of that wave of discovery right there next to us,” said Charles Eldermire, BirdCams Project leader for Cornell. “The relevancy of those observations, both to science and in the individual’s own experience, is a very empowering and engaging tool to connect people with birds and the natural world.”
How about you? Have you had experience operating a backyard nest cam?
And how do you think nest cams might affect our relationship with birds and nature?
Guide to Nest Cams
Keep in mind that nests are only occupied for a short time each year. The easiest way to find active nest cams is to visit a web site with links to a number of cams. Some sites force you to sit through a short video ad (ugh) before viewing the nest.
View Birds – list of hundreds of worldwide nest cams, from Belarus to Israel. It lists over 50 White Stork nest cams in Europe and almost a hundred Peregrine Falcon cams in North America, Europe and Australia! Plus a Canada Goose nest cam on the roof of the Contra Costa Times here in Walnut Creek.
Raptor Resource Project – about 15 raptor nests in the Midwest, including an active Bald Eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa, with three chicks born at the end of March.
Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group – operates two Bay Area falcon nest cams, on the PG&E building in San Francisco and City Hall in San Jose. The San Francisco falcon chicks recently fledged and so are probably not in viewing range of the nest cam.
Bald Eagle Nest Cams – links to ten nest cams, from Maine to Alaska.
Owl Pages – links to a variety of owl nest cams.