A handoff occurred during my first viewing. I was mesmerized by the piercing yellow eyes constantly scanning the surroundings, and the fuzzy gray head of a baby bird poking out from underneath the breast feathers. Suddenly, another eagle entered the frame and landed on the edge of the nest. The dramatic effect doubled: now there were two massive birds and bold white heads. After a few moments, the babysitting parent took off, revealing two more youngsters hidden underneath. The new arrival shuffled over to assume the position, and the eaglets huddled closer for warmth.
It’s a few days later and I’m back for more, sharing the site with about 80,000 other people also viewing live video feed of the Decorah Eagles at this moment. Many of them undoubtedly have visited before – it’s a bit addictive— but with more than 43 million hits since the site went online this winter, the total number of people who have sneaked a peak clearly is quite large. Sponsored by the Raptor Resource Project this real-time video feed provides anyone with an internet connection a voyeuristic view of a bald eagle family nesting near a fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. You can also click on links replaying each of the eggs being laid and hatching, as well as the youngsters feeding.
So what’s the big draw?
Well obviously the downy helpless eaglets are cute, stumbling over the twigs in the gigantic nest, with their stubby flightless wings catching them as they tumble onto their sides. And of course bald eagles are majestic creatures with symbolic meaning for Americans. There’s also the universality of parents caring for young. Watching the eagle parents break fish into manageable chunks for their fragile offspring creates a connection that’s hard to deny. Scientists traditionally have warned against anthropomorphizing – applying human traits to animals – arguing that it can interfere with objective observation of animal behavior. But perhaps it’s not such a sin if it allows us to relate to them. After all, our common ancestry millions of years ago means that we do share some traits with other animals.
More broadly though, people are drawn to nature. We find leafy tree-lined parks and snowy mountain peaks beautiful and calming. We’re thrilled to catch a glimpse of wildlife, whether at Yellowstone National Park, the zoo, or on film. Harvard University biologist E.O. Wilson calls it biophilia – literally, the love of living things. He wrote about this phenomenon in his popular book by the same name and argued that we have an innate attraction to natural places and creatures, since, after all, we depend on nature to survive.
A few weeks ago on this blog I wrote about how so many Americans are getting insufficient levels of vitamin D (myself included), and the value of honoring that universal urge to get outside in the sun. Biophilia is another reason to heed the call of the outdoors. But when you just can’t get your feather, fur or fin fix in real life, internet critter cams can be a soothing alternative and an antidote to a hectic day. So check out the birds-eye view of life in an eagle nest and if you get tired of that, try these dolphins in the Sea of Cortez. I just dare you to not feel energized.
(And please share your favorite wildlife sites with the rest of us. )