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Barbara E. Ochterski: It’s easy to get hooked on Cornell Bird Cams

Are you looking for a little winter entertainment? Do you enjoy seeing life lived in fast forward? Consider yourself invited to go online to witness the wizardry of Cornell Bird Cams. In a condensed time period, you will see predator birds develop from eggs through leaving the nest, mirroring our human growth experience.

The fascination for daughter Cathie and me began last winter with the great horned owls in Savannah, Ga. It is easy to get hooked on vivid scenes of birth, near-death experiences, dangerous fights, comedy, terror and peaceful beauty. Caution alert: This is not a pastime for those with a queasy stomach or a tender heart. Predator birds rely on fresh prey of all sorts, so watching a feeding can be gruesome.

The suspense of birth produced nearly naked owlets and then, with lightning-speed growth, fluffy white chicks emerged. Strong beaks and outsized talons appeared in what seemed like a heartbeat later. The constant need for dry shelter, peppered with assaults from squirrels, larger birds and other threats, stormed the nestlings. However, devoted attention from parent owls, day and night, provided for all the chicks’ needs, especially a steady diet.

In a few weeks, flapping ever-stronger wings, the owlets were teetering at nest’s edge. Testing your wings takes on new meaning when a home is 70 feet above a dank, dark lake! We were surprised, as was the female that returned to her nest at feeding time, to find that the usually ravenous owlets were no longer waiting there with open beaks. They had begun flying on their own.

There was a bald eagle cam to turn our attention to next, set up at Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania. On a frosty early March day, we saw two eggs successfully hatch. During the following winter-like weeks, often covered to the neck in snow, ice or drenching rain, the parent birds protected the vulnerable eaglets, never abandoning the nest. The dark brown-feathered eaglets flourished, nourished on a rich fish feast regularly delivered by the attentive male. Often while waiting for the next meal delivery, a twig tug-of-war between the maturing birds relieved boredom.

By early June we saw the familiar wing-flapping, eaglets hopping from one side of the nest to the other, then one branch to another, testing themselves for flight. Would they make it back to the nest safely? It was hold-your-breath time again! Suddenly, the two took flight, returning infrequently to their nest-home.

There is a variety of types of avian life from which to choose. We followed barred owls in Indiana. In record time, the young ones were off and hunting on their own. Success! Triplet red-tailed hawklets at nearby Cornell Campus in Ithaca were a delight. Human parents can take a cue from the efficient feeding, neat housekeeping and exemplary behavior of the hatchlings, prompted by the no-nonsense female hawk.

Rearing birds is not easy. Parents of four barn owlets living in a nest box in Texas struggled mightily to find food during last spring’s torrential rains. Fellow bird cam watchers feared the smallest nestling would not survive. Fortunately, the water subsided and sufficient food to stave off starvation was delivered to the nest by persistent hunter parents.

Having an up-close glimpse into the brief lives of young owls and eagles has been entertaining, inspiring and informative. Nesting season is here. Join in the fun!