Great Blue Heron Nest Cam: Social Learning in Real Time

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On 28 March the first egg was laid. (Image sourced online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2433.)

Just this morning, I received an e-mail from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology announcing a new Great Blue Heron nest cam (they also have a Red-tailed Hawk nest cam this season). The nest is on the property at the Lab's "Sapsucker Woods" campus. In addition to point-blank nest views, the nest cam provides an audio feed so you can hear various other birds calling and singing in the background. It should be fun trying to pick out warbler songs over the next few weeks.

The best feature of the nest cam site is a live chat stream, which allows for a fun exchange among the many folks who are watching. Questions come fast and furious as some of those watching admit to knowing very little about birds. During the 4-5 minutes that I followed the chat stream there were questions/discussions about plumes, incubation, sexing the adults, and a resident Canada Goose named "Sweetie."

The questions and answers about plumes included mention of plume hunting and how that was in part responsible for the formation of the The National Audubon Society. Some chat participants were unaware of the impacts of plume-hunting and how it inspired early bird conservation efforts.

On this day, it's cold and blustery in Ithaca, New York, so the moment-to-moment video and audio provided by the camera are a far cry from scintillating. One of the adults has been standing essentially motionless over a single egg (looks like an over-sized American Robin egg) as the wind ruffles its feathers. During the time that it took me to write this short article, the adult heron has moved just twice. First it turned to face the opposite direction, stepping on the egg briefly as it did so and then, finally, it sat down on the egg.

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Finally, after many minutes the adult heron sat down on what had to be one very chilly egg. (Image captured online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2433)

Despite the general lack of activity in the nest, the chat remains lively. In addition to feeding our voyeuristic nature, this nest cam fosters a wonderful opportunity for birders and non-birders to share and learn together in real time. Over the next several weeks I will likely be one of many who pop in occasionally to see what the birds are doing and sample what everyone is talking about. I can't wait to see the baby herons and hear their incessant "walla walla walla" vocalizations.

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