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Eyes to the Skies

article spread
by Hugh Powell
Photographs courtesy of  Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It started with a pair of Red-tailed Hawks on the Cornell University campus. On March 20, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology started streaming crystal-clear images from the hawks’ nest high on a light pole on campus. In the first 10 days more than 172,000 people logged on to watch Big Red and her mate (later dubbed “Ezra” in a public naming contest) take turns incubating their three eggs and carrying in meals of squirrel or vole.

As this issue reaches your mailbox, the hawks should be feeding a nestful of growing chicks—watch them at www.allaboutbirds.org/cornellhawks.

The hawk cam is just the first offering in our expanded Bird Cams project, which aims to make unseen parts of birds’ lives visible to the public—and to use them as teachable moments as well as a source of sheer awe.

“We’re one of very few HD streaming cams on the Internet, with beautiful ambient sound that gives viewers as near a real sense of the richness of the surroundings as can be given remotely,” said Charles Eldermire, who leads the project. Bird Cams builds on the Lab’s long-running NestCams project, adding the capability of new, cutting-edge cameras that stream in high definition and can pan around, zoom in on details, and make use of low light.

Our second new camera stars the Great Blue Herons that have nested for the last three years in a massive, dead white oak right outside our office. We launched it on March 28, just as the pair laid its first egg; they eventually laid four more.

To showcase these tall birds we installed one camera at nest level to watch incubating adults and chicks and another, moveable camera, higher up. That one can go eye to eye with a standing heron, swivel to watch them on their favorite perch, or scan the pond below for hunting herons, honking geese, mergansers and other birds. The cams are live at www.allaboutbirds.org/cornellherons.

“Birds have an almost unlimited power to captivate and engage people, but not everyone has access to that world around them,” Eldermire said. The Bird Cams project aims to inspire the public—and to amaze, comfort, soothe, and inform them—with these intimate glimpses of nesting birds.

As the project grows, we hope to feature more species such as an Osprey nest in Montana, as well as upgrades to some of our previous NestCams. We hope soon to feature Alaskan seabirds, Atlantic Puffins, American Kestrels, and Pacific Loons. We’re also looking past the Northern Hemisphere nesting season to find ways to feature birds at feeders, birds in winter, and even nests from the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere. We hope you’ll come along with us.

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