Thursday, November 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Lights, cameras ... birds!

Philly's red-tailed hawks, which have attracted a web cam following from around the world, have just gone live for their spring season of nesting, mating and raising their young in a perilous urban world. Likewise the reknowned peregrine falcons that nest on a ledge of the Rachel Carson office building in Harrisburg.

Lights, cameras ... birds!

The birds are back. And the cameras are on.

Philly’s red-tailed hawks, which have attracted a web cam following from around the world, have just gone live for their spring season of nesting, mating and raising their young in a perilous urban world.

Likewise the cam view of the reknowned peregrine falcons that nest on a ledge of the Rachel Carson office building in Harrisburg.

And, undoubtedly, many more.

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Web cams that give a view into the secret lives of birds and many other animals have proliferated in recent years. Not to mention the viewers as well.

Philly’s hawks have nested for three years on a third-floor ledge outside a meeting room of the Franklin Institute, where a video camera has streamed the drama as the eggs are incubated and the young hatch.

Then many of the region’s office workers, school teachers, parents and others pretty much give themselves over to nonstop online gawking as the scraggly young first lift their heads, begin to feather out and open their tiny beaks, begging for bits of ... ahem ... pigeon, usually.

A group calling themselves the “Hawkaholics” — whose members have been known to stand vigil below the nest, in hopes of seeing the action closer still — has set up a chat and a facebook page.

The first eggs the last three years have come on March 9, 13 and 17.  The pair produced three eggs and three young each year.

So for now, the birds are just getting ready, said Franklin spokeswoman Kat Stein. The view of the nest from inside the window shows a lot of new twigs and for whatever reason — just like last year — a patch of crinkled newspaper.

“We have been seeing them check in on the nest, build it up and peer in at our meetings,” Stein says.

Meanwhile, live streaming began earlier this week on the Harrisburg falcon nest, which is now monitored by three cameras.

Here, too, the action might be a little difficult to spot for now — it’s still too early for the eggs, which should arrive in late March.

But lucky viewers might just get to witness two males — the resident male, who has been at the nest for five years, and an upstart adolescent challenger — battling it out. The winner gets the female, of course.

The last news posting on the falcon site, on Feb. 24, read: “Any activity observed from this point on is critical in determining how this nesting season will play out.”

For help identifying who is who: The adult female is not banded. The new male is not banded. The resident male is banded and is somewhat smaller than the new male.

DEP Environmental Education director Jack Farster predicts the resident male will maintain his dominance.

“The encouraging thing is that the female is here and healthy,” Farster said in a press release. “My expectation is that the breeding season will be successful.”

Over more than a decade of falcon cam stardom, the birds have become internet celebrities, watched by viewers worldwide.

In 2000, the first year of the cam, the state reported more than 12 million hits in just the first few weeks.

From there, it only grew.

School kids watch and learn. Office workers get distracted by the drama.

“I couldn't stop watching the little things,” said one office worker — in Seattle — that year. When one of the chicks seemed abandoned by its mother, everyone rooted for the falcon “like it was in some sports competition,” she said. “Come on, little guy, get back to your mother! You can do it! “ When the mother reclaimed the baby, the office cheered, she said.

People in British Columbia were watching, too, and they panicked when one of the images showed seemingly comatose birds. “We soon discovered why,” said a worker who checked on “the gang” every morning when he woke up. “The temperature in Harrisburg was 80-plus degrees and the little rascals were just roasting in the heat.”

And so on. Every year, the stories of a riveted public come streaming in, even as the saga of the falcons continues. The original female died in 2010.

In the 12 years falcons have nested at the building, they have produced 53 eggs and 45 hatchlings, of which 29 survived.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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