It was a new kind of family reality show in 2013 — often adorable, sometimes joyous, occasionally agonizing, but always unscripted. Viewership wasn’t great until they started livestreaming on YouTube. Suddenly, the world wanted to be in the nest with Minnesota’s eagles.
Ten years later, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources eagle cam is as popular as ever. The camera goes live in November each year. Eagles generally lay eggs in February and the adults incubate those eggs for about 35 days.
In addition to watching chicks hatch and grow, the camera has captured fights when other eagles try to take over the nest, and visits from predators such as owls and raccoons.
It’s also helped educate people and has sparked an interest in the outdoors for many, said Lori Naumann, an information officer with the DNR’s nongame wildlife program. It’s also prompted more people to donate money to the program.
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“It was pretty new at the time to have a wildlife live streaming camera in a wild bird nest, let alone bald eagles,” explained Naumann, noting that it took nearly a decade of permitting and approval work before going live in January 2013.
Initially there were only a couple of hundred viewers, said Naumann, but that changed when the video stream went on YouTube. Thousands of people from all 50 states and at least 150 countries have watched the eagles.
The camera feed has helped people better understand nature.
“When we first put the camera in, there was a huge expectation by the public who were watching that we would intervene and that we would save these chicks,” said Naumann.
“Our viewers have gotten more tolerant of the type of mayhem that can go on in the nest,” she said “It's nature, right? And it can be brutal. It can be brutal to watch. And it can be gory at times.”
Early on in the life of the eagle nest camera, a chick was struggling to survive and there was a public outcry to save it.
“We went up into the nest and rescued that chick and brought it to the Raptor Center where it ended up having to be euthanized because it wasn't going to make it,” recalled Naumann.
The following year a chick in the nest appeared to be injured.
“And the public started ramping up their phone calls and interactions with us,” said Naumann. “The mother ended up taking that chick and using that as food for the other two chicks. And it was valuable protein.”
And a lesson about the natural world.
Naumann said the agency has been careful about how the bald eagles are portrayed.
“Watching a wildlife camera on a screen gives people the misconception that it's something that's being broadcast for their benefit and is intentional in a way that might be Disneyesque,” she said. “Which is why we don't name the eagles or the chicks because then there's that anthropomorphizing going on.”
The nest has produced 15 young eagle fledglings, meaning they reach the age of being able to fly. Only about 50 percent of bald eagles survive their first year of life.