published Monday, April 4th, 2011

Thousands watch online as eagles hatch in Iowa

LIVE VIDEO FEED

Decorah Eagle Cam
Bald eagles tend their nest in Northeast Iowa.

A live video feed from northeast Iowa with a bird’s eye view of eagle eggs hatching has attracted more than 100,000 followers — so many that the site crashed briefly Saturday after the first eaglet emerged.

The camera sponsored by the Raptor Resource Project shows a nest 80 feet up in a tree overlooking a trout stream at the Decorah Fish Hatchery, where a pair of eagles is welcoming their brood.

Three eggs were laid in late February, and the first eaglet started to emerge from its shell Friday. Bob Anderson, the project’s executive director, said the second hatched about 5:30 a.m. Sunday and the third is expected in about three days.

“The world loves it,” said Anderson, who controls with the camera angle with a joystick from a nearby shed.

Viewers can watch the adult eagles feed the hatchlings and trade shifts sitting on the nest. Anderson recently took on two volunteers to help man the camera so he could get some sleep and respond to hundreds of e-mails from eagle fans around the world. He said he got more than 500 e-mails from Saturday night to Sunday morning.

The video feed reports more than 100,000 people are watching at any given time. Anderson said a spike in traffic overloaded the site Saturday, and it was down for about two hours.

“I have had bird cams for 20 years . . . I’m in shock, I’m in awe,” Anderson said of its popularity.

The camera is about the size of grapefruit and camouflaged with leaves. It’s equipped with an infrared light — which the eagles can’t detect — for nighttime viewing.

Sue Thomas, 66, has been watching the nest from her home in Twyford in Great Britain. She said she checks in first thing in the morning — even though it’s still dark in Iowa and the eagles are sleeping.

“We have it on all the time and sort of pop in and out and have a look-see what’s going on,” she said.

Thomas, who enjoys watching birds in her own back yard, said her favorite shots of the eagles are when the adults stand up, revealing the little ones below. She saw one of the adults feeding shreds of a what appeared to be a rabbit to the first chick.

“It’s just lovely to see what the little baby eagles are doing,” Thomas said. “It’s amazing to see creation going on in such a happy way.”

Anderson said teachers log on for class projects and about 23 volunteers staff the site’s chat room from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST daily.

The pair of eagles have raised eight chicks since they built the nest four years ago.

During last year’s nesting season, the site recorded 10 million hits and about 78,000 unique visitors who watched three eaglets hatch then, Anderson said.

Donations combined with a grant from the Upper Iowa Audubon Society paid for a technology upgrade this year, which Anderson said has improved video quality and allowed for a switch to a better hosting platform. He said that’s increased the site’s traffic.

Anderson said the eagles on camera, like most native to Iowa, do not migrate and live in the nest year-round. The chicks should be with them until July.

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