Birdwatching can be a thrilling pursuit, but it’s usually done at a distance. Until recently, scopes and binoculars were the only way for most people to see birds up close in real time in their natural environment. But advances in digital imaging and wireless technology have led to an explosion of “nest cams” around the country – small, unobtrusive cameras broadcasting video to the web, allowing us to follow the family life of a pair of birds from nest building up through the first flights of chicks.
Successful nest cams usually feature birds of prey, like eagles and osprey. These species’ tendency to return to the same nest site year after year makes them reliable subjects, and their impressive size means they’re easy to capture on video.
What’s more, many raptor species are only just bouncing back from major population declines in the last century. Many people aren’t lucky enough to see them very often, so a window on their world is extra special.
Late winter and early spring marks the start of the breeding season for a lot of these birds, and nest cams from all over the country – and right here on the Jersey Shore – are starting to see lots of online traffic. Here are a few great ones to follow. Bookmark them and check back throughout the season to catch some amazing moments in the lives of these birds.
Decorah Eagle Cam: The nonprofit Raptor Resource Project started the first online nest cam in the late 1990s, and now streams footage from a dozen cameras. Last year, live video from a camera trained on a pair of nesting eagles in Decorah, Iowa went viral, drawing hundreds of thousands of regular visitors. RRP claims the Decorah cam has become the number one most-viewed live video of all time. The same pair has returned this spring, and is currently incubating three eggs. Multiple camera angles give you panning views and up-close looks at these gorgeous birds.
Cornell’s Great Horned Owls: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – a Mecca of bird study – runs a number of nest cams throughout the year. One is currently watching a female great horned owl in Houston, Texas. The rest of Cornell’s nest cam site has a lot more to offer, including a collection of time-lapse videos of nests of different bird species.
Island Beach State Park’s Osprey Cam: The Friends of Island Beach State Park, a nonprofit that supports the Ocean County barrier island park, has just launched its own camera near a reliable osprey nesting platform. The birds haven’t returned yet, but in the meantime, the live stream occasionally offers some great views of the area. You can also follow the Friends on Facebook.
Other cam sites worth checking out as we move into spring include the PA Falcon Cam, which follows a nesting pair at the aptly named Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg and Xcel Energy’s Kestrel Cam, located at a power plant in Brush, Colorado.
These cameras aren't cheap to set up, but they've become a great way for nonprofit bird and naturalist groups to generate interest. Many of the sites above have information on how to offer financial support to the groups that run these cameras. If you like watching, consider donating!