• Becci Pigeon

Better than a Zoo: Live Wildlife Cams!

Updated: Apr 1

2 to 4 April 2021 is Zoo Awareness Weekend, and what better time is there to discuss the many, many ways that zoos fail animals? What's more and despite their claims to the contrary, zoos are no substitute for appreciating a wild animal in his or her natural habitat, and they usually mean cruelty, suffering, and death for the animals themselves.

Almost everybody loves watching wild animals, though, and we’re very fortunate to be in the 21st century, where technology is improving to the point that we no longer need to imprison them to do so.

Case in point: Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Birdcams!

In 2012, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology began monitoring the nests of Big Red and Ezra, two free and wild Red-tailed Hawks who made their home on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York. Researchers monitored the nests of these beautiful birds via remote HD cameras, broadcasting them live for all the world to appreciate. They've continued to do so since then, though unfortunately Ezra died tragically in 2017. His mate Big Red found a new partner the following year, however, and he was dubbed 'Arthur'. And last week, Big Red laid her very first egg of the season! The second egg followed soon after!

Thanks to the cam, viewers can watch Big Red and Arthur throughout the entirety of the breeding season. We see them build their nest, lay eggs, and take turns brooding and warming them, standing periodically to roll them so that the chicks develop properly. We see Arthur bring prey to Big Red (for she is the one who does the majority of nest-sitting) and we listen to them communicate with each other in a series of chirps and screeches. When the babies hatch, we are witness to the entire grueling experience. (Hatching is a very tough process and can take up to 72 hours!) We watch Big Red and Arthur taking turns feeding them and we see as the hawklets finally figure out how to tear food for themselves. As they grow, we see them become stronger day by day, going from downy balls of fluff who can’t open their eyes or hold up their heads to fully-grown fledglings who leap off the edge of the nest for their first flight.

The video below shows the third of three chicks finally seeing the world for the first time last year:

Since then, the cameras have expanded. No longer is your only option Red-tailed Hawks. You can 'travel' to Panama to watch toucans, orpendolas and chacalacas feeding on fruit, to Texas for a variety of buzzy hummingbirds, or to Bermuda to peek into the burrow of the severely endangered Bermuda Cahow Petrel. There are also cams for Barred Owls, Ospreys, finches, grosbeak and more! Another fascinating option is the awe-inspiring Northern Royal Albatross cams of New Zealand. (If you happened to catch the hilarious viral video of the clumsiest albatross landing on record, that's where it came from.) Each page is handily equipped with highlight videos, FAQs and more, and several of the livecams have associated citizen science projects, so you aren't just a viewer: you're participating in actual scientific discovery. How many zoos can offer that to their customers?

Back to the start: you can join the journey of Big Red and Arthur now! As can be guessed from this blog post, I fully recommend it. At the time of my writing this, Big Red has already laid two of their three eggs! Will you be there to see the third?

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