[Slide text: Bird Cams Celebrating Discovery, Conservation, and Community
Miyoko Chu, Senior Director of Communications
Ben Walters, Communication Specialist
Charles Eldermire, Project Leader; Photo: Red-tailed hawk perched on a fence post]
[Miyoko] All right, good evening and welcome. My name is Miyoko Chu, I’m a senior director of communications at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and with me tonight are Charles Eldermire, our bird cams project leader, and Ben Walters on his way here, he’s our bird cams communications specialist, and we also have Victoria Campbell here who worked with us on the bird cams in the past, and is still with us at the Lab in a different role, so we’re really happy to have Victoria, too.
So thank you so much for joining us, whether you’re here with us on campus tonight or whether you’re tuning in on the live stream. You are a community, and a family to us and we really cannot thank you enough for the engagement and the support that you’ve given us.
What we see happening on the bird cams is really extraordinary. It’s extraordinary not only because we can see into the lives of birds in ways that are so often beautiful, and revelatory, but also because the emergent discoveries, conservation impacts, and community interactions are really something larger than any of ourselves.
In the next hour we’d like to share with you our appreciation for that phenomenon, and take a look ahead to the future. So after the talk we’ll invite your questions and your comments, and we’ll probably alternate between the audience here in the auditorium and our live streaming audience. So with that Charles…
[Charles] As you know that, often you’re trying to watch the cam, and do something else, and live chat all at the same time. So welcome tonight, and just to echo really what Miyoko said, it’s really fun, the times we’ve had the opportunity to get together in real life, IRL, as the the young kids say these days.
And really tonight we thought we would capitalize on the fact Migration Celebration was here was here in town today. How many of you actually went to Migration Celebration as well? So for those of you online nearly every hand in this room went up, and that Migration Celebration is a day-long event that happens over at the Lab of Ornithology. To just try and let you guys know how much we do appreciate you, and appreciate what we’ve done, where we’ve been and and, together, and and talk about hopefully ways we’re gonna continue to move together in the future.
So as you’re all obviously aware but, I can’t make my screen. There we go, as I just was posting in the chat, technical glitches are the things that make life interesting.
[Images: Birds from various bird cams, including hawks, owls, robins, hummingbirds, and more]
If everything always worked, it wouldn’t be that much fun. So cams take us into the lives of birds, across the hemisphere, and you know for the first time in history we’ve been able to see what happens 24/7, as you all know, thanks to the live streaming technology that we use. And in fact the viewers are always watching, some of you I know. I’ve, you watch, we have some of our like 100 you know percenters in the room today that have watched probably everything that’s ever happened on a cam.
And you know one viewer tuned in and told us that watching the cam’s a little bit like doing field biology in their own living room. And we all really liked that idea about how watching a cam is a little bit like doing field biology, and a lot of us have been field biologists in the past. Um but the crazy thing is the cams take it one step further. Field biology you almost never get a pretty view, a nice tight view like you get on a camera. You also, though, on a camera don’t get to see everything that’s happening around it. So that that tension between those two things often drives a lot of what we talk about on the cams, and and what we learn from each other, sort of thinking about and questioning.
So the images up on screen here are from cameras that we’ve streamed either by ourselves or with collaborators over the last 12 months. You probably recognize a lot of these species, and if you don’t you’re gonna see probably some highlight clips throughout this talk, and I’m, we’ll give you a little bit of an example.
[Slide text: Over 2 billion minutes watching — That’s almost 4,000 years of watch time in the last 6 years. But not just watching—sharing, too.
-Hundreds of thousands of tweets, Facebook interactions, comments, emails
-Millions of live chat comments and observations]
So more than a million people tune into the cams each year, and over the, over the last six years that means millions of people have watched. Collectively we’ve been watching these cameras for about four thousand years worth of time. Okay, we’re talking Egypt, right, we’re talking pyramids, we’re talking, that, just in these six years, just on our cams. We’re not talking the cameras, all the other cameras that are out there. So imagine that impact. People learning about the natural world.
And we’re not just watching. As we found out very early people like to communicate about what they’re seeing, and we get emails, tweets, Facebook posts, live chats. People talking to each other, people talking to us, us all talking together.
[Slide text: And Volunteering!
-More than 80 volunteers and birders on the ground
-Tweeting, answering questions, operating cameras, moderating chats
-Hundreds of thousands of hours of effort
-Front line of interacting with the public]
And it’s a crazy new medium for understanding the world. And then, some people even decided they wanted to spend more time volunteering. And we really wanted to thank all the volunteers who have helped make this cam experience what it has been over the years. Whether that’s leading chats, tweeting out your observations, operating the cameras, as well as our the birders on the ground that have spent so much of their time following around the birds, and finding out what happens to them off camera.
So if you’d like, if you’re here in the room and you’ve ever volunteered, you’re a birder on the ground, if you’d like to stand up and just let everybody know. I’m not gonna make anybody stand up, and if you’re out there in the chat, please feel free to give a shout out so we know you’re out there, too.
And some of these people have traveled hundreds, or even thousands of miles to be here.
And those of you online, we had a nice group of people standing up in here, and some of them had to be dragged up.
[Image: Great horned owl adult on a nest with two owlets and a dead rodent]
So you know, and really what’s brought us, one way that we kind of thought about this talk is just science, discovery, conservation, community, these themes that keep on bubbling up every time we have a camera or a conversation. But it all kind of starts with that magic moment of being able to see birds up close without disturbing them.
[Video: Same great horned owl making a threat display by spreading its wings out in an arc over the owlets while making a clicking sound]
You know we’re drawn in by the surprising, delightful, and unexpected scenes that just unfurl in front of us. And what I loved about this clip of the great horned owl in Savannah, Georgia is, some of you might know that great horned owls make a threat display. She’s basically, right now, posturing to a bald eagle that flew by. You could, if you heard earlier in the clip, you can hear one call, and then she popped up.
But if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of these threat displays, you always see it from the other side, because they’re pointing at you. You have these bright yellow eyes, and everything is super camouflaged, you know, tiger of the skies. Yet in this video, which seems to have just stalled, see, it should get to the point where you can see her eyes, when she comes around. But you’ll have to trust me on this. She turns around, you can see these bright yellow eyes, it worked great in the warmups. So so that unknown just, even like now, you know, without disturbing them, getting to see things from a different view.
[Video: An albatross pair displaying courtship behaviors, raising their heads in unison, clicking their beaks together, dancing and calling]
We’re also fortunate to be able to see natural behaviors completely unscripted. You know, I had always known that albatrosses performed these elaborate ritual, ritual dances, as part of courtship. But the first time I saw it live, I mean, I’ll never forget that. Then I got to keep watching it every year that we’ve run this albatross camera, and I have never once gotten tired watching it.
The neat thing is, it’s you know, six hours or five hours shifted from our time. We’ll get the kids to bed, we’ll be sitting, you know, sitting down after a long day of doing whatever in the middle of winter, when it’s dark for hours and hours, and sit down, and I can flip this on and every once in a while like two birds come walking in, the grass is green, the sun is shining, you know everything is beautiful, and these birds are dancing for you, and they don’t even know we’re watching. So I know they’re not actually dancing for me, they’re dancing for each other, and that’s a really neat feeling.
Especially when you think about how long-lived these birds are, the longest lived species that we know, that’s still breeding in there 60s, they can get up to, it takes them a long time to master that. So watching these birds practice endlessly or reinforce a bond almost endlessly on cameras is an amazing experience.
[Video: Red-tailed hawk on a nest, watching as one of the chicks hatches from its egg]
We get to see touching scenes like this shot of Ezra presiding over the hatching of one of the eggs back in 2015. I think it was the only time when he was there when it was actually hatching, and unlike Big Red who was a great mombrella of blocking the camera, this is the first time you really got to see this scene, as Ezra was the one that let us see it by stepping to the side. We had never seen it in such detail, we’d never looked at sort of this interaction between the adult bird and a young one hatching out.
And also that juxtaposition between this incredibly efficient predator, that can tear a bird to shreds, how gentle it can be. And we’d see that time and time again as these birds fed their young, tearing off just the right sized piece of meat, you know, to feed them.
[Video: Adult American robin with worms in its beak flies in and lands on ledge next to nest with nestlings, then feeds nestlings. Adult then eats fecal sacs]
And even one of our, you know, super common birds in North America, the American robin, was captivating when we just took the time to watch it. This was a camera we were able to set up very quickly this spring, nesting on the, on the building. And everybody knows that they eat worms, but I don’t think people knew much about something called fecal sacs, and it was, it was a really fun, it was a really fun conversation to have with people.
So we knew they ate worms, you know. But this this this happens in lots of passerine birds, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about why it happens, why they’re eating them, what was that? We had someone ask if they were laying, why were the babies laying eggs and why were the adults eating them? You know that’s a perfectly reasonable way to look at what’s happening, you know.
So this this natural world that were able to watch all together just winds up generating all of these shared observations and conversation starting points.
[Video: Several hummingbirds around a hummingbird feeder]
And away from the nests we also got to watch a spectacular assemblage of birds, at a variety of feeders that we have cameras on, as in this clip from the West Texas hummingbird cam. And this camera gave us all tons of identification challenges, you’ve got a dozen species, you’ve got different age birds, different sex birds, some of them look very similar to each other.
And it was just a reminder to me of how much diversity there was in all corners of the world, because when I landed in El Paso to install this camera. It’s about three and a half hours away from El Paso. You would not expect there to be much life living around there, it just looks barren, it’s desert. But you get up a little bit into the mountains, a little bit of water, and it turns out there’s hummingbirds streaming through there during migration. And to be able to sit there and watch, you know, right as a researcher is basically studying these birds, seeing the bands on their feet, it’s really neat.
And crazily this camera last year had the very first record of an amethyst-throated hummingbird for the entire United States. It just happen to fly to our camera, our little camera, down in West Texas, so you never know what’s gonna be around the corner.
[Video: Green-and-white hummingbird nest with two fledglings in it. One of the birds takes off and flies out of the nest]
So it all comes back to this idea that anyone can make a new discovery any day, especially when it comes to watching species that haven’t been well-studied before. This was a green-and-white hummingbird nest in the hill, basically right below Machu Picchu. And it’s actually a fairly common, fairly common species in that part of Peru, but it’s never actually been described, its breeding.
And so in this, in this clip you’re gonna see the first time anyone’s ever watched one of these guys fledge, you know that moment of fledging. And and about an hour later the other one fledged as well. But nobody knew how long they stood, they stayed in the nest even. You know nobody knew how many feedings it took. And between the recordings we made and the observations that were shared with us from viewers, we’re able to describe this and hopefully we’re going to publish this at some point in the future.
[Video: Great blue heron on a nest]
And even watching common species like the great blue heron yielded routine surprises. And these are events that field biologists would rarely see because they happen infrequently, or they happen at night. So this is actually a scene at 3:00 in the morning. We had this camera that was great, it could use starlight to give you a nice color image in the middle of the night.
[Video: Same great blue heron on the nest. A great horned owl swoops in, and the heron stands up, flaps its wings, and screeches while moving around the nest before settling back down on the eggs]
And in the middle of the night a great horned owl swooped in and attacked this incubating heron. So let me let me play the clip here. If anyone ever doubted that birds have evolved from dinosaurs, right. Um to me the the juxtaposition of this bird that you think of as being stately, and elegant, and a master fisherman turning into this, you know, crazed defender of in this case his, her nest, all puffed up. The rage almost that you can imagine being in that call. And that’s a call that we don’t even have a recording of in the Macaulay Library of sounds and video.
And when I woke up at 5:30 in the morning I had emails and phone calls waiting for me, because someone had been watching, okay. And we might have missed this, you know, if we’re scanning through footage very quickly. It’s possible you could have missed this because it literally happened in 15 seconds, you know. So between the people watching everywhere, and the technology allowing us to watch everywhere, we capture these things often in the middle of the night that surprised us.
[Video: Barn owl in a nesting box with nestlings. The nestlings move around under the adult, and the adult calls]
Another surprise, this was playing in the reel at the start, was on our Texas barn owl cam, where one night… it’s looking like there’s kind of a lag in the playing of the clip. So you can see in the upper left corner there is a view of the outside of the box, and, sorry, upper right corner, and a snake, a rat snake attempted to come in and predate the the nestlings.
And we can see this because of infrared lights, but those lights are invisible to the birds, okay. So this is happening in essentially pitch black. There may have been a moon that night, so maybe there’s a little bit of light that managed to find its way into this box, but she knows something’s there.
[Video: Snake is visible outside the barn owl nest box. Adult jumps up repeatedly until snake falls off nest box]
And you can see that snake now coming down towards the entrance and in a flash she’s able to hone in on that snake and evict it from her nest, all in the dark. And no one can actually go along with a, with a barn owl as it hunts and, and sort of see the world through its eyes, but technology like this and the, and the opportunity to see it actually gives us a sense of at least what their ability is, you know. That this bird in in near darkness, can just pinpoint accuracy hit that snake, it was, it was just to me mind-boggling.
[Slide text: Kerry Lapwing @kerry_lapwing @BermudaCahowCam A worm which looks like Bipalium nobile dropped onto the chick from above. Yuck! Photos: Bermuda petrel chick in a burrow with a worm falling onto it]
And last year a viewer even spotted a flatworm descending into the burrow of the Bermuda petrel on the petrel cam, the Cahow cam. And this happened again in the middle of the night. And you might not think much about a flatworm, but it turns out there are some flatworms that will eat flesh. And that this could have been for you know, for a bird for which there are only a few hundred of in existence in the world, and every aspect of the management is, revolves around making sure these birds that are in the burrows have the opportunity to fledge.
We were allowed to, well we weren’t allowed, we were able to the next morning, literally first thing. Got our collaborators down in Bermuda on the phone, talked to them about the risk in this. They said yeah, there could, this could be bad for the chick. We were able to go back and review the footage, and we were able actually see that small little flatworm just land, and then make its way out of the burrow. It actually wasn’t at least interested in in the nestling.
This is the first time that’s ever been seen in these burrows by biologists, so now then they’re aware of it, and that’s that’s another one of those kind of occurrences that would be very hard to see if we were just scanning the footage, kind of quickly for major events that might be happening. So human eyes, your eyes out there, amazing resource for people like us, and you trying to understand what’s happening.
[Video: Two male lance-tailed manakins fly up and down on a branch while calling, then start jumping on top of each other in a territorial display]
So thinking a little bit more about this idea of being a few about just in your own living room, thousands of people spent untold hours living the life of a lance-tailed manakin researcher. Patiently watching a branch most of the time until a male or female arrived and a flurry of activity followed. And people watched this enough that they got they got the ability you know at some point to realize when things were different than what’s should be sort of quote-unquote normally happening. Why are these two males spending so much time sort of aggressively jumping at each other, right? And they they’d write us and ask, this is what normally happens when they’re there.
And and it turns out on this display perch was this little bit of a power struggle unfolding across the whole year, where there’s a beta and alpha individual there, but another presumably bird that thinks it’s an alpha, was trying to sort of edge in on this display territory, and possibly take it over. So we don’t know what’s going to happen next year. These birds tend to live a long time, they don’t migrate, so hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to see these same birds next year and see what see what they’re doing.
[Photo: Red-tailed hawk adult and two nestlings in a nest]
And then you know, in addition to sharing these really infrequent events, viewers also showed, like you, that you could really comprehensively chronicle all the details needed to sort of draw a very detailed picture of what’s happening. A prime example of this was prey deliveries on the Cornell hawks cam. You know, for those of you who don’t, I mean I think probably most people here know where where the Cornell hawks nest. But it’s literally about 300 meters that way, 250 meters that way along one of the parking lots that we showed you on the map where you could park.
[Video: Red-tailed hawk adult and two nestlings in a nest. Another adult flies in with a chipmunk to feed the nestlings, but the chipmunk runs away]
So we knew that you knew they’d be bringing prey to the nest we knew they’re like chipmunks, but even when we know that, sometimes something unexpected happens in those prey deliveries. So in this case there was a, there’s a live chipmunk brought back, you know maybe he played dead. I don’t think he realized that he was 95 feet up in the air, and if my memory serves me right, well the clip was supposed to go about 3 seconds longer. Both adults dive off after the chipmunk, and he’s brought back up a few minutes later. So even though we knew that they were bringing chipmunks, you know it was it was kind of a neat thing to see.
[Image: Twitter feed of discussions about Cornell hawks and chipmunks]
And one of the ways we found out about that is on Twitter. So for the first couple years, a lot of this information was being shared on Twitter. And you can see here on the on the left side, you know, here’s somebody tweeting about that that live chipmunk being brought to the nest, as well as some other chipmunk deliveries down there.
So for the first two years we had actually a very comprehensive timeline, just in our Twitter timeline, of what was being brought.
[Image: Google spreadsheet of 2014 Red-tailed hawk prey brought to the nest post hatch, including prey species, date, time, and which adult hawk brought it]
And then that evolved in the third year into like a cloud-hosted spreadsheet that had auto-completing totals. It’s totally volunteer-led, totally community, like overseen, it wasn’t us. We said simply, I remember saying it, it’d be great to get a little bit more information about, you know, what’s coming to the nest. Like and a little bit more easier, because I’d have to go through the Twitter timeline and pull all that information out, and when there’s like maybe 4,000 tweets, just takes a long time.
And this was all done by the community, and and just to point out too, if you look down there in the bottom right, one of those food deliveries was pizza for Karel and Bogette there. That’s why I love this screenshot. So they were there doing some live streaming, and even even the prey deliveries to them got chronicled sometimes.
[Image: Charts of Prey Mass by Season Day for 2012 through 2015]
But what we were, we were able to do with that is actually then start to look at this information. It doesn’t exist in this form in the literature, nobody has a census, from four years, from the same two birds, the same number of young, that all fledged successfully.
And so just, you know, we’re able to start looking at the data, and saying okay well what patterns are we seeing? So in this chart here that we have up, there’s four different panels there 2012, 13, 14, and 15 from top to bottom on the y-axis on the left side here’s the prey mass, so we used sort of standardized masses for each of the prey items they would bring, and then along the x-axis is the season day, so starting from the first day of each year, going all the way until fledge, till the, I think till the first fledge.
And the green bars are Big Red, and the blue ones are Ezra and so what you can see, number one, if you look at Ezra’s contributions across the years it’s amazingly consistent. You see blue every day pretty much at a particular level. It’s around 400 often, between 400 and 600 grams of food brought per day, and then you see sometimes these big peaks that often involve really good pigeon hunting or rabbit hunting. But that changes each year, there’s no like, totally even way that it’s described each year.
[Image: Pie charts of percentage of total mass of prey contributed by Big Red and Ezra each year, and pie charts of number of each prey type per year]
We can also look at well, how much total did each of them contribute ,so again here the green is Big Red and the blue is Ezra, but you can see that Ezra in some years accounted for almost 81 percent of the prey mass brought to the nest, okay.
And you can break that down a different way, we can look at what kinds of prey were being brought, and then these ones at the bottom, those big purple wedges, the only one I’m going to talk about right now, but those are chipmunks, okay. And I thought this is a really interesting thing. Catch 100 chipmunks, how many you gonna catch the next year? About half. Catch 120, what are you gonna catch the next year? About half. And and I don’t know if that’s reflecting changes in the chipmunk populations, but you can definitely imagine that impacting them. So even a chipmunk researcher might actually be interested in these kind of data, because they show just one pair of hawks, what they’re able to pull out of the environment.
And so we’re working on continuing to summarize these data. I actually gave a talk about this at the North American Ornithological Conference last year in Washington, DC, and we’re hoping to prepare a manuscript for publication so that other scientists can can learn from all of the effort that the community has undertaken over the years.
[Images: Bird cams and people on web cams]
In the same way that you’ve gotten the tastes, gotten to have a taste of field biology from your own living room, you’ve also gotten the chance to converse and interact with people studying these birds. And so you’ve been able to ask questions, share observations, through live question-and-answer sessions. So we talked to at the top there biologists working with California condors, studying small birds and nests, as well as ospreys out in Montana.
And each of these opportunities those experts also really looked forward to, because it was a great way to learn what people are questioning, and ne-, and wanting to know. And so we hope to continue to do more of those in the future, because we get a lot of great feedback from people that they like them, and so thank you guys for just being such great participants in those question-and-answer sessions.
I think I’m gonna have Ben come up and take over from here.
[Photo: Heron in a nest, covered in snow]
[Ben] Thank you, Charles, and just wanted to take a moment to thank everybody else here for coming this evening and joining us online.
I’ve been with Bird Cams Project for just over a year now, and it’s been the most overwhelmingly positive experience that I could ever imagine. Being a part of viewing the lives of these birds as well as a part of the community, as well. So I have to thank everyone for that.
Well we know that these birds show us so much through their impacts on science, and the discoveries that we see through watching the cams. But one of the most striking revelations that we have is being exposed to their intimate lives, and just the determination that they have to survive and raise their young in the face of so many challenges.
The reality is that birds face challenges all the time, whether it’s through predation, through low food availability, harsh weather conditions, and even things that are like human cause threats. And the risks are even greater during the breeding season when they’re trying to raise their young.
And there’s really no better example of this than back in 2012 when we all watched a blizzard roll through Ithaca and roll through Sapsucker Woods on our heron cam.
[Video: Time-lapse of the heron on its nest in snow, with snow building up over the heron before she stands up, shakes off, and returns to incubating the eggs]
We can just see in this time-lapse that the snow is building up and up and up and almost covering the female heron as she’s incubating her eggs. But what do we see? She just gets up, shakes it off, sits right back down doing what comes natural, doing what she’s determined to do, um and that’s to keep her eggs warm for the next, to give them a chance at life.
So we witnessed these cut, type of things all the time on the cams, and the birds ability to persevere in the face of difficulty is really inspiring.
[Photo: Two red-tailed hawks on a nest]
And um along that same vein I’m sure many of you are familiar with this moment, it’s often referred to as the dadbrella moment on the Cornell hawks cam. This is when during a, April rainstorm Ezra actually zoomed up to the nest to shelter Big Red and their eggs, and young hatchlings, all of the eggs hadn’t hatched out yet.
[Video: Two red-tailed hawks on a nest in a rainstorm, with one sitting up against the other]
You can see that this amazing moment brought us all, a little shelter together, and it’s something that we can all really be inspired by. Not only the devotion between a mate and his partner, but also the devotion of the parents to their young. And this was no short rainstorm, this, they were hunkered down here for about 30 minutes, keeping their eggs warm and sheltered from the cold weather.
[Photo: One osprey on a nest with another flying into it]
But we also know that natural conditions can sometimes be too powerful to overcome. There’s no better instance than back in 2015 on our Hellgate osprey cam in Missoula, Montana when a sudden and powerful hailstorm came raining through Hellgate Canyon.
[Video: The second osprey lands on the nest. Hail is visible hitting the nest. The two attempt to shelter their eggs from the hail by standing over them. Then they start rebuilding their nest]
But ultimately it was too much to overcome, and unfortunately their eggs became damaged, and it ended their chances for the breeding season that year.
But what it didn’t stop was it didn’t stop us from watching them. We continued to watch the osprey as they rebuilt their nest from this hailstorm, they stayed together through the rest of the breeding season in Hellgate. And then they eventually kept interacting, bringing fish to the nest, they kept reinforcing their pair bond despite this loss that they faced during the breeding season. And their resilience in this case is really something that resonated with all of us in the community.
[Slide text: Luckily, members of the Montana Osprey Project are able to remove the netting shortly after being notified; Photo: Two people wearing hardhats in a cherrypicker]
We also know that the challenges that these bird fit these birds face aren’t always from nature. Sometimes they come from impacts that humans have on their environment. And while we’re sticking in Hellgate Canyon, we know that ospreys when they’re building their nests they collect all sorts of things. They bring sticks, moss, pinecones, greenery. But sometimes they also bring manmade materials like baling twine, fishing wire, synthetic netting, and these are all things that can be very dangerous to the ospreys themselves and their chicks especially if they get tangled up. So lo and behold Louie the male on the osprey cam this year did just that. He brought in some synthetic netting to the Hellgate nest.
[Video: Woman in hardhat removing synthetic netting from the osprey nest before an adult osprey lands in the nest]
But because our birds are so lucky to be on cam and have such a wonderful community, community surrounding them, we were alerted within the minute that it happened, by our, both our volunteers and our community members that were watching. And here you can actually see that we were allowed to, we were able to contact our partners the Montana Osprey Project who worked with, with the Hellgate cam, and they were able to get out a lift and up in the nest within hours to remove this obstruction, and help the ospreys continue to breed, or continue to start building their nest that year.
And through the community’s growing support and awareness of these problems, there’s you know a real inspiring message here, that not only have you helped birds like these, but it also helps projects like the Montana Osprey Project continuing to address issues like baling twine, and promoting awareness throughout western Montana and the country.
[Photos: Laysan albatross fledgling, and plastic and other objects]
Many viewers were also a bit confused during the first year of our Laysan albatross cam on Kauai when a young albatross named Kaloha Kaluha actually regurgitated a bolus of indigestible material on camera, and it contained over 30 pieces of plastic.
Now you can see here is the bolus that the young bird regurgitated, and it contains some squid beaks, which are sort of natural and digestible material that they regurgitate naturally, but we also see up to 30 different shaped pieces of plastic and pollution that they picked, their parents picked up, in the ocean.
And the possibility of plastics and trash even being an issue for the species that spends nearly their entire lives over the Pacific Ocean foraging was a new concept to a lot of people. They didn’t realize just how much plastic is in our oceans and that seabirds even went to ingest it. And even though researchers are still trying to understand the impact that these plastics actually have on this species, we know that’s estimated that up to five tons of plastic are being accidentally fed to their nestlings on Midway Atoll, where the majority of the breeding population of the Laysan albatross breed every year.
[Slide text: “It has literally changed my life finding out about the plastic pollution problem in our oceans!” Photo: Laysan albatross adult with chick]
And after learning about this hazard on cam it really hit home for a lot of us in the community. Some viewers wrote in about swearing off plastic. They wanted to know how do we stop this problem, or what can I personally do to help these albatross? And through everyone’s observation we started to ask questions, we started to get feedback from one another in the community, and viewers across the world started becoming part of the solution just by watching these cams. One viewer even wrote in that it’s literally changed their lives learning about the plastic pollution problem in our oceans.
[Image: Posts about Cornell hawk injuries and deaths]
And nowhere does this reality of the risk of man, of a manmade environment become clearer than with our own Cornell hawks here on campus. As I’m sure most of you are aware, in multiple years, as you can see, many juvenile hawks have been injured or killed due to collisions or interactions with other manmade hazards on campus. And this all sadly eventually culminated with Ezra’s collision injury and death earlier this year, right before the breeding season.
And we’ve learned together and prepared for this reality that most juvenile hawks don’t live past the first year, but understanding the causes of why it happens, and seeing it play out through the effort, efforts of the camera, and of our community, our birders on the ground who have tracked and followed these birds on a daily basis. It really drove home this topic for all of us.
[Slide text: “With the death of G3, EVERYONE started researching bird strikes and options to prevent them.” Photo: Imprint of hawk collision on window]
And now what we’re showing here is a bit of a haunting image. This is actually a collision from the juvenile G3 back in 2016, when it struck a window of the bus shelter on the right here. And you can actually see the imprint that the, that it left on the shelter with its feathers and it’s bill down at the bottom. Window strikes are estimated to kill 599 million birds in the United States alone each year. And, however the good news is that making windows safer is an easy thing to do, and something that any of us can do. Anybody in the community, anybody around the world.
And many people are now helping to raise awareness because of what they’ve seen watching the cam, and learning about this hazard in the community. One viewer wrote that with the death of G3 everyone started researching bird strikes and helping to learn options to prevent them.
[Photo: Bus shelter with windows covered in tape designs to prevent bird collisions]
This particular event led to an effort to research the best ways to mitigate the risk of these actual bus shelters had to our hawks on campus, and thanks largely in part to the help of our birders on the ground, Karel and Cindy, both shelters near the hawk nests were fitted with a rather stylish design of bird tape. And it was applied according to the most recent research on how to reduce collisions. And before, this this all happened just weeks after the collision and before the next season was upon us, making sure that these shelters no longer posed a risk on campus.
However we know that there is still a lot of work to do. Since birds on campus and in these urban environments come in contact with these windows and hazards on a daily basis, at every turn, we know that from this event the hawks have become an ambassador for our education. They showed us why it’s important to do more, and what we can actually do to help.
[Photo: California condor with wings spread]
Also in some instances we know that the birds on cam are actually a member of a species that’s faced challenges for years, including even being driven to the brink of extinction like our California condor here on the California condor cam. And it’s really interesting because it’s a species that continues to require ongoing management even in order to main, maintain just a sustainable population in southern California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja, Mexico.
In fact, the cameras that we use to show the condor cam are actually utilized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and are, and their partners at Santa Barbara Zoo and everybody at the condor recovery program to monitor these nestlings as part of a nest management strategy in order to increase condor nesting success in this southern California population on the condor cam.
[Slide text: Biologists returned on April 2 to replace fake egg with the pipping egg from the zoo; Photo: Large rock formation with a hole in it]
And in 2016, last year on the cam, tens of thousands of viewers actually got to witness the nesting of one of these magnificent birds. And they saw firsthand the opportunity to learn the backstory of how much effort it actually takes for these birds to succeed in the wild. The Koford’s Ridge pair, which who was on our cam last year, had laid an egg and successfully incubated for about two months time, and it was about a week away from hatching, they’re just about to launch the cam, and the egg disappeared from the cavity overnight, it was likely taken by a predator. But because we were watching, luckily biologists were able to rush into the nest site and insert a fake egg in order to keep the adults interested in incubating, and it actually worked.
Then the biologists would return to replace the fake egg with a captive laid egg from the captive breeding program at just the right stage before hatch.
[Video: Perspective of a biologist walking along a rock ledge, then down to the condor nest cavity. An adult condor flies out, then the biologist swaps the fake egg for the real egg. An adult walks back into the nest; Text: The female returned as the biologist exited the nest site]
So let’s take a ride with these condor biologists in this clip from 2016. We watch them descend into the nest cavity, the adult flies out, they come in and replace this dummy egg with one that’s just about ready to hatch. And this is really amazing, the female enters right after the biologist leaves, and it resulted in a net positive for both the adults and the possibility for the chick within that egg to add to the wild population.
[Photo: Bermuda petrel chick in a burrow nest]
In the same vein we all glimpse into the otherworldly burrow nest of the Bermuda petrel
on our Bermuda petrel cam this year on Nonsuch Island, Bermuda. This is one of the world’s rarest seabirds, and in fact it was even thought to be extinct for over 300 years before nesting populations were discovered in 1951. And now that they’re clinging to survival, it’s only thanks to the Bermuda government, the biologists working every day tracking the nesting populations, the nonprofit organizations, and the people in the community just like you who are bringing awareness to this bird, and learning about their struggle to survive.
We often watched as the nestling on cam was checked upon by Bermuda Department and Natural Resources terrestrial conservation officer Jeremy Medeiros, who manages the entire breeding population of the species, and his work ensures that each chick has the best likelihood to survive and have the opportunity to fledge and become part of this breeding population.
And we all eventually cheered a little bit wistfully when it climbed out of the burrow for the last time and fledged over the Atlantic Ocean where it would spend the next three to four years of its life only to return back to Nonsuch to tried breeding for their first time.
[Video: Bermuda petrel chick in burrow, also viewed from above. Jeremy Medeiros picks chick up and removes it from the burrow to measure it]
So here’s just one of those clips where, one of the many times Jeremy came in to check on the petrel. Just a little fluffball this time. He actually opens up the top of a manmade burrow. And these are really exciting times, because we got to see the birds in natural light. And he’d actually pick it up out of the burrow, and explain as he took measurements, and told us about how the development of the chick was going, and gave us sort of a timeframe of when we would expect it to fledge, or when we would expect it to lose its natal down. And so this is really cute little fluffball, this one.
[Photo: Group of people in a computer lab]
So as we mentioned earlier one of the most powerful aspects of the bird cams is that they allow people from around the world to share in very real experiences shown on these cams. These experiences not only, I’m gonna pop out here real quick. They not only build connections between all types of people, but also all over the world. And I’m just going to show you a quick photo, or a quick video here. And many of these experiences are shared back with us as well, including this sixth grade class whose teacher featured the red-tailed hawk cams in class. And in this clip they’re watching the very same clip we showed you with Ezra and as new hatchling earlier in this talk. And I’ll just let you watch.
[Video: Children watching Cornell hawk cam and cheering as the chick hatches]
So it’s, it’s so amazing seeing all those young people excited about birds and science. And their excitement is truly infectious when you you get to have those things from the community shared back with us.
[Photo: Various drawings of birds, including herons, hawks, albatross, and owls]
The experiences with these birds also inspire people in many different ways. As Charles mentioned earlier it makes people inspire by volunteering their time, but also by expressing themselves through art, poetry, and literature. And as you can see we’ve received just an outpouring of art throughout the years across all of our cams from people of all ages expressing their love for birds, and looking to give back through their spirit of community.
[Photos: Sculpture of a red-tailed hawk on a branch and block print of Laysan albatross pair]
And over and over again we’ve also been touched by the passion and generosity of viewers, such as David Cohen, who’s here tonight. You may have seen this Ezra, for those of you are here, you may have seen this Ezra sculpture out in the lobby earlier, it’s absolutely amazing. And also Caren Loebel-Fried, who created this block print of Laysan albatross as part of her book that’s inspired by the Laysan albatross called, titled A Perfect Day for an Albatross. Both artists have decided generously to sell these works and donate the proceeds to support the bird cams. And we’ll definitely share more information about these works on our bird cams website in the coming weeks for those of you who aren’t here tonight. For those of you who are here, you can also see the pieces themselves out there for more information.
[Slide text: “This was a cool moment. We were tracking Ezra in the Plantations Bowl and he was looking for a snack when BR came from behind us and wanted to share the its bitsy top of the pole.” -Cindy and Karel Sedlacek “Ezra flew from the balcony to an ivy ledge as if to say “Oh did you want a photo of me surrounded by ivy?” He’s something else..” -Christine Bogdanowicz; Photos: Two red-tailed hawks with wings spread, one on a pole and one flying just above; and red-tailed hawk surrounded by ivy]
And of course we’re also very grateful for the gifts of our birders on the ground, or our bogs, who have spent countless hours outside on campus with the Cornell hawks, tracking them, updating the community about their adventures through photography, through live streaming, through different blog posts. And we’ve asked them all to share one of their favorite captures or memories throughout the years with everyone tonight.
Karel and Cindy Sedlacek, who probably spent one of the most times following Big Red and Ezra over the years on campus together. They are so dedicated that they also blog about the birds, and do a live stream with the community about the hawks when they follow them around campus. They shared this striking image of Big Red and Ezra, with their red tails fanned out for everyone to see, when Ezra greets Big Red atop a post as they shared time hunting together in the Cornell Plantations.
Christine Bogdanowicz, on the right, who’s collected a draw, a jaw-dropping gallery of photos of the hawks over the years, shared this moment of Ezra when he seemed as he was just posing for the camera for her in front of an ivy-covered wall on Cornell campus.
[Slide text: “One of the many benefits of watching Big Red, Ezra, and their young was the realization that apart from all the activities of the students, faculty, and staff at Cornell University, there was another truly different, interesting, and very beautiful world to see right there on the campus, if one takes a few moments to look.” -Ferris Akel “Ezra and G2 sharing a [illegible] stole from Ezra after he [illegible] was such a fantastic [illegible] time showing the kiddos how to hunt, chase and be patient.” -Suzanne and Woodg Horning; Photos: Close up of red-tailed hawk’s head, and two red-tailed hawks on a picnic table]
Ferris Akel, who also conducts a weekly live stream from our Sapsucker Woods, and is also live streaming tonight, thank you Ferris, shared his experiences with the hawks have taught him that there’s an entirely new and beautiful world right here on campus with the birds, if we only take the time to sit and look. And Suzanne and Woodg Horning, who are always counted on for an update with the hawks on campus, they recalled a family moment that they shared with Ezra and G2 during a squirrel hunt.
[Slide text: “Birds are resilient and resourceful. My respect for all creatures here on earth has grown.” “Ospreys are an amazing and resilient bird. They have persevered through some very tough times and have come out better for it. If they can get through what they do then we can do the same.” “I learned how to be calm and quiet during a busy day. You have given me the best way to look at the birds, as if I’m in the trees with them, not looking at them through binoculars.” Photos: American robin feeding chicks, two adult ospreys with a fish on a nest with a chick, and oriole on an orange near a bird feeder]
And we often hear from community members not only about what they learn about the birds on cam, but how the birds teach them, the birds’ experiences teach them about their own lives. Here we see that one cam watcher’s respect for all creatures on Earth has grown by watching the cams. One faithful osprey watcher says the ospreys are so resilient, if they can get through what they do, then we can do the same. And one viewer even found a little zen moment from watching the Cornell feeders, and learned how to be calm and quiet during a busy day.
[Slide text: Thank you for the wonderful view of these great birds. I’m 81 and you have given me a view I never dreamed I would see; Photo: Great blue heron nest with chick and one adult, with second adult flying toward it]
And one even wrote in saying, “Thank you for the wonderful view of these great birds. I’m 81 years old and you’ve given me a view I never dreamed I would see before.” And the views from these cameras are views that none of us would ever seen, would have ever seen from this perspective before, and it is a experience that really binds us all together, sharing what happens with these birds.
[Slide text: “I look up all the time. Never did in my previous 60+ years. I missed a lot.” Photo: Red-tailed hawk flying in front of buildings]
And we know that one thing is for sure. It’s that the cams provide a keyhole into the most most intimate times of these birds’ lives. They show us a whole new perspective on nature, they teach us things about our own lives. They also can be counted on for a surprising revelation or even a glimpse into the unknown at times.
It’s an idea that’s been captured in a simple refrain from our hawk cam community, and that’s look up. As a tribute to Ezra’s legacy, many of you and many people in the community, have donated funds to create an educational panel for a new sustainability trail on campus. That’s scheduled to go up later this year. Our design director is currently working on on the panel to share the inspiration about bird life, sustainability on campus, and the message from our hawk cam community, look up.
So we hope someday soon we’ll have a chance to, to witness that in person, witness that in person. And speaking of looking up, let’s start looking ahead, I’m gonna pass it off to Miyoko and she’s going to tell us a little bit about the future of the cams.
[Slide text: Looking Ahead, Looking Up! Photo: Red-tailed hawk on a snowy field]
[Miyoko] All right, well thanks Ben and Charles. It was all beautifully said and presented. And I really hope that all of you who’ve joined us tonight feel as inspired as I do about the power that these cams have with discovery, conservation, and community. It actually inspired our team to work during the last two years to really envision how we could build on this incredible momentum, by connecting viewers and scientists to work even more closely together on unraveling new discoveries. And so I’m thrilled to let you know that just last month we received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to do just that.
[Slide text: Collaborative investigations joining communities and scientists; Photo: Owl nest box with one adult and three owlets]
And it was a collaborative effort from the start, because thousands of you actually responded to a survey that we put out asking you questions about your interest in participating in science through the cams. And so we used that information in our proposal. The three-year grant will help us build tools and support for what we call co-created research, which really means investigations that the community and the scientists conduct together. All the way from asking questions, to figuring out what’s needed to answer those questions, to pursuing the answers.
[Photo: Two adult California condors in their nest cavity]
So this differs from traditional citizen science projects in which participants typically would collect data for the scientists to use. And instead we’ll be asking you the community to pose the questions, and the scientists will collaborate with you to bring your investigations from start to finish.
So the labs web team is going to need to build some new tools, so that in addition to not only viewing the cams and being able to chat about them as you can now, that we’ll be able to actually let you comment on footage, tagging the footage in a way that they become data for us. To be able to bring those data out in ways that we can analyze them, and tools for you to be able to visualize the data online as well.
So that will all be layered on top of the wonderful cam experience that we already have, but that will enable those who want to to go deeper with the science.
[Photo: Red-tailed hawk looking directly at the camera]
It will be a new kind of opportunity for public participation in science, and it’ll generate discoveries not only about birds, but also about ways of supporting questions and investigations that are driven by communities.
[Photo: Adult heron standing in nest with two chicks and three eggs, one of which is hatching]
So in the coming months we’ll share more information about this project with you. We invite you to work with us as we develop it, hatch it, and grow it. By working with you we hope to chart an even richer way to collaborate across living rooms around the world. And so in closing Charles, Ben, and I want to express our heartfelt thanks to you, our community, for being co-creators in our cam experience past, present, and future, and we really look forward to continuing the adventure with you. Thank you.
So with that we are happy to open up for questions and/or comments, even if you just want to share something. We’ll alternative between live stream and questions from the audience.
[Charles] Are there any questions here, no? I’m just kidding.
Does anybody have any questions or reactions to tonight? Burning questions.
Last year, with the egg replacement? Yes, great, a great question, because, yes. So the question was what happened with last year’s condor. We showed the footage of the egg being replaced, just all the effort that goes into it. And that did make it to successfully fledge, but unfortunately died soon after. And that sort of underscores the the challenge of being a wild animal. These birds are, they take a long time to become adept at what they do, takes a long time to grow. We’re talking, we have months and months of growing time. When they do start taking those first flights, they can find themselves in a position that’s not great to be in, or just not necessarily recognizing that there’s a threat. And in this case it looked like it may have been predated by something.
But the crazy thing is you know biologists have transmitters on these birds, and they can track them. And the way that works is if the bird doesn’t move for like 8 hours, or 12 hours, or something, it’ll send up a different kind of signal to alert you that this bird might not be well. And so it was a very quick turnaround, but even by the time they got there, the bird was scavenged to the point where it’s hard to necessarily know exactly what happened.
But on the plus side, you can call it plus side, I guess, the bird died, but as compared to what happened the year before, which which actually bird died on that one as well, lead was the primary reason two years ago the condor fledgling didn’t make it. Lead is a continuing issue for condors because condors only eat dead things, that, things sometimes are riddled with lead bullets. And lead bullets for hunting aren’t outlawed in all of California, in Arizona, just within very small ranges that the condors actually can travel widely outside of.
And so at some point between when it was checked on at four months, and fledging around six months, it was delivered nearly, essentially a lethal dose of lead that really made it unable to survive that fledging process.
But the, this year’s bird is looking great, Devil’s Gate. So I encourage everyone to tune in. It’s been spending a lot of time in front of the camera stretching these ten-foot long wings. So I’m really excited that hopefully, cuz all it’s gonna take is for one to make it. We’ll actually have an individual will be able to follow for potentially you know, maybe not the rest of our lives, but you know for quite a long time, twenty, thirty years wouldn’t be uncommon.
[Miyoko] So online audience, if you have any questions please feel free to put them into the chat. We didn’t have any questions that I saw yet, but we had a really nice comment. And it’s one that I want to share with all of you, and to preface it by saying that educators around the world have done so much to bring these cams into their classrooms, and to engage their students where they we hear a lot of feedback from students about how much their students with it. We get a lot of feedback about how much their students love it. And so this comment that echoes a little bit of what goes on in the classroom, and I want to thank Mohawk for posting this in the chat.
“My seventh graders have watched the cam since 2014. They often mention the hawk cam in their graduate presentations. I just put the cam up on the active board when they arrived in homeroom each morning. It served as a backdrop throughout the day. We did math and science lessons via a hatch chart for the 2016 G group.” So thanks to all the educators out there who are doing things like this on a daily basis.
[Charles] Yeah, that’s great. Did you have a question? Yeah, so the two questions are how to decide where, what can be steamed and also whether or not there’s going to be another barn owl cam. And I’ll take the first one first. We’re actually a really small team here. There’s actually two people that work full-time, it’s Ben and I. We work with a team of great people that do a lot of other things along with helping us with this project.
And so a lot of our camera opportunities have really come through collaborations with people who figured out they either have a camera already on species, for example the Hellgate osprey cam initially have a camera on that osprey nest. They reached out to us to help with the live streaming, the messaging, and working together to build a greater impact for that camera.
Sometimes it’s purely a stroke of luck. That robin nested right outside a window where there’s an active internet port. Right right that guy in the eBird shirt in the middle of the room there. It was his office that I put the wire in through the window, thank you very much, and and we were able to very rapidly do that, because I had an extra camera sitting around, and the, robins are really you know a resilient bird that lives near people, we didn’t have a lot of things to worry about.
But in some things like the condor cam, you know it took four years of working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to finally get that online. Same thing with the albatross cam, that was like three years of working with the Kauai Albatross Network to find the right spot, that have broadband internet, so a lot of it just comes down to logistics. We need internet and we need power, and we don’t have the time or the funding to do a whole lot of research and development on how to I think, like, way outside the envelope.
[Ben] So I’ve definitely communicated with a lot of folks about the barn owl cam that was retired last year after a hard 2016 season. And we are currently searching for new opportunities for the cam. Definitely some of the things we want to make sure we have with a species like the barn owl that is so high risk, and prone to starvation you know, problems with low food availability on cam. We want to have a researcher or some sort of barn owl expert to actually be a partner with on the cam, on our next cam that we’re planning.
So we’ve been researching it, and we certainly want to do that for the community because we know the barn owl cams inspire so many people, so many great questions, and that’s such a high following that we definitely do that for the community. It’s just finding that perfect spot to have a good good relationship with someone to really provide sort of a scientific background to what’s going on in the cam while it’s happening.
[Charles] And you can always thing of it as a broader context, too, for understanding what barn owls do. So we need to be more responsive to the community when those questions and those and those inevitable hard times come up, they’re a boom and bust kind of species. That can be a very difficult thing to experience online, as everybody learned, including us.
[Man] Charles, are you coordinating at all with Steve Kress and Project Puffin, which has at least one, or several bird cams?
[Charles] Yes, I wouldn’t say we coordinate with him. We talk with him in the hall all the time. He streams all the cameras from Hog Island, streaming through Explore.org, and that’s through a grant with them, so all, his whole streaming relationship is through Explore.org. But he’s a great resource at work, we trade cam management stories when we run into each other in the hall all the time. So yeah. So we don’t do more than that I guess at this point.
[Miyoko] Okay so we have another question from the online audience. My apologies, my chat had actually frozen and I had to refresh. So of course there are questions there, and we’ll catch up on those.
One of the questions is are we going to be able to have live chat? And you know we’ve had that on some of our cams, not all of them. We know that people really learn a lot from those chats, the can be very rich. They also can be very challenging to manage, as our moderators know. We couldn’t do it without them, they put in an incredible amount of effort into it, and it can be exhausting at the level that we used to do, that number of hours in a day.
I think it would be manageable to try to have live chat hours for restricted times, especially as we move forward with this NSF-funded project, which will, we want to find out what are the methods that do enrich learning the most, and that’s definitely one we want to take a look at. But as far as rolling them out across all our cams, we find that with our current capacity that’s going to be a bit difficult to manage.
So learning more about it and if it does prove to being incredibly richer learning, that’s going to tell us it’s worth the capacity to try to do as much of that as we can. Thank you for your question.
[Man] Was the, were you and others at the lab surprised at just the level of enthusiasm that you received for all the various cams?
[Charles] Yeah, that’s a great question, so when I was. I’m sorry so the question was were we surprised at sort of the level of—what was the word you used?
[Charles] Enthusiasm, the level of enthusiasm that we experienced after rolling out these cams. And you know honestly I can remember interviewing for the position back in 2011, and being asked like, you know, what do you think what would be a good response? And you know during an interview question, you know, if this were a successful project, what, how many viewers would make it successful? You know I’m sort of sitting there, I dunno, a thousand?
So in one sense I think that we had been shown what was possible by really the Decorah eagle cam, which had just skyrocketed as a platform for people learning about bald eagles. Really the year before we started our program. And it really opened our eyes in some ways to the value of trying to engage people remotely, in an experienced that wasn’t just about the science, it wasn’t just about um, I guess the way to put it is that also really thought about the viewers’ experience watching it. And put that kind of at the forefront, so you know, covering the technology side where it’s actually fun to watch it, and it competes with almost anything else you’d want to watch because it’s beautiful and it’s got nice sound.
But then using that as a platform to talk about birds, to bring people in. So were we, were we surprised by the enthusiasm? I don’t think we were surprised by like the fact that people were enthusiastic, because I mean even us watching those first, all around the Lab, the cameras were on from the moment, on people’s computers, you know from the moment we flipped the switch and it went public. We knew just from in the building, and knowing that there’s 47 people that self-identified as bird watchers basically in the United States, that there was a lot of potential there.
But I think the level of not just watching but also communicating, like I said in like that second or third slide, the amount of interaction that happened. If you think about something like TV being super passive, right, people sit and watch. Maybe there are, there’s other things to watch to make you think more, but the fact so much energy was being spent on trying to understand and share what was happening. I think that was maybe what surprised us in a really good way. It made us think this is definitely something we need to keep working on, figuring out the way to increase its impact within our capacity. Thanks.
[Man] Thank you.
[Miyoko] It sounds like some people in the chat are having trouble with sound. So maybe we can just pause for a minute while we look into that.
[Charles] Can you hear me now? We’re not muted. I’m unfortunately at a little bit of a loss, as to why you might not be hearing us. Because we haven’t changed anything when we got to this part. So people can hear us on Ferris’ chat, but not on our live stream? Is there a way of letting everyone know that Ferris has a live stream?
Maybe somebody could put the link in in the chat for people to see it, I apologize.
[Ferris] Go to Ustream, I think it’s hold on one second. I believe it’s ustream/ferrisakel, but I’ll try to find out.
[Miyoko] I found it successfully just by Googling Ferris Akel.
[Ferris] Okay, that’s that’s the way to go.
[Charles] Yes, although if the audio isn’t going through then we won’t have the audio on our archive either. It’s a good thing to think about, we started out this talk with some technical glitches, and I like that I like to blame on the fact that we’re not using our own equipment. I learned something, relying on some stuff that I tested earlier this week that seemed to work. Ha, it’s not, it shouldn’t be bandwidth anyway.
[Miyoko] All right, so let’s move on with the questions, shall we?
[Miyoko] I’ve got a question from the chat. Any possibly for a camera on the gorge red-tailed hawk nest?
[Charles] Right, that’s, do people here know about the gorge hawk nest? There’s a, so there is a there’s a hawk that nests on a gorge near campus, and we have a red-tailed hawk, that is, and we have looked into what it would, we basically talked to all the right people, just start trying to understand what it would cost to install on that position and we have preliminary approvals from some of those people. However the, it’s moving at a glacial pace. And not because we’re not asking questions, we’re just having a hard time getting the answers out of the people that we need. So it’s definitely on our radar screen as a possibility. The, it’s very complicated because all the internet infrastructure that’s there is related to, basically Cornell’s secure internet for monitoring things out there.
So there’s some open questions with that and the fact that it would have to be installed on city property. So I’ve had preliminary discussions with the city of Ithaca and they seem very open to the idea, but at this point there’s nothing firm in place.
Any more questions from the folks here?
I think that one back there first.
[Man] We’ve seen human interference with the condor cam. Is that allowable to any extent?
[Charles] Yeah so condors are really interesting. The thing about condors. Okay so the question was, we’ve seen human interference on the condor cam, is that even permissible? And in the case of the condors, Bermuda petrels, most endangered species have management plans that outline exactly what and why biologists do what they do at those nests. So in case of the condors for example, there’s a whole protocol outlining when they would try and do what they did for that nest. It had nothing to do with is being live-streamed for us. It had everything to do with trying to have as many wild condors in the environment as possible, because that’s what they’re charged with.
Same thing with the Bermuda petrel. That, those nest checks that are being done are to make sure that the nestlings are growing at the, you know, an ideal rate that they’re not basically fallen, you know gotten sick with something that could be fixed. Basically to increase the likelihood that these very few birds that are being produced each year in the wild population have the greatest chance of going on and becoming productive adults in that population.
So that’s, all the people interacting with those birds are working with the correct protocols and that sort of thing. Does that answer your question? Great.
And yes, so the question, yes the question was, well you guys all heard it. Would we be able to film the Devil’s Gate fledging? So we had a plan in place to film at Koford’s Ridge, the one we did last year. That was in that little cavity that you saw them go into. The configuration of the canyon is such that we can have that camera inside the cavity, and the next hillside is close enough that we could have put another camera over there and gotten a shot of the outside of the cavity. Potentially, you know, both see the adults go in and out and the birds fledging.
In the case of Devil’s Gate that’s not possible. But it’s something that the Fish and Wildlife are really interested in wherever it’s, it is possible. With the caveat that all of these cameras we’re not just plugging them in somewhere. They’re all running on solar, and they’re all connected to each other in a point-to-point wireless network. So for example to get that signal from Devil’s Gate requires you know a solar panel big enough to power that camera, as well as an antenna that, that then talks to another antenna, a repeater, which then sends it up to the top of Hopper Mountain to another repeater, which then sends it all the way to Ventura, 35 miles, and a point-to-point wireless connection. And so each of those points for every camera have to be established except for that main one on Hopper. And that’s why sometimes we have problems with the cam because one of those can go down and then obviously somebody has to go fix it. That actually sounds like fun [laughter] but they do not call me to go fix those things.
I saw a few hands go up before. Yeah.
[Miyoko] So the question was if we could share a little bit more about the grant and how we, what we’re thinking when we say we can have research conducted by scientists and the viewers together. So I think this talk showed really well what’s, what planted this seed in our minds, right? Because you can already see discoveries being made on the cams that weren’t in the scientific literature. You can already see everyday people asking questions about what they’re seeing on the cams and sometimes contributing observations that alert us to something that we weren’t aware of, and sometimes bring attention to it either, other scientists or even we’d like to be able to publish more in the scientific literature.
So we know it’s incipient, but we don’t have is an actual system or way to engage people to do that at a deeper level. It’s kind of anecdotal and organic right now, and what we would like to do is corral that potential in a way that we can get the whole community for example working on a question together. So just as an example, the first thing that we want to try is on a feeder cam because we think that might be simpler to implement. So imagine you’re watching a feeder cam, and we put out a call and we say anybody with questions you’re curious about investigating, now that you’re watching these cams, and we imagine we’re going to get so many questions, and I don’t want to you know say them all, because you guys are going to come up with them.
But then we would engage our team as well as a graduate student that we’re going to bring on board to engage in dialogue. Okay so we’ve got all these questions, what would it take to start to try to answer some of them? So then we start getting into the phase of protocols, and study design, and people can think together, okay what do we actually need to collect to get that, and could we do it on these cams?
Once we have a protocol, or a method we can share with everyone and invite everyone to participate, what we would really love to have is live data annotation. Right now there are quite a few projects that enable the public to annotate still images, there’s a project called Zooniverse that’s been fantastic for that, and they get you know, just thousands, probably millions of annotations. You may have heard about this for astronomy. Where people are looking at astronomy images, and helping to recognize stars and other phenomena in the universe. So but what is less common is live annotation, and we know from you that live annotation is going to be probably more engaging than looking at snapshots that are archived, or even footage that’s archived. So we wanted to do both. We want to try to offer that you can go back in the archive and help us look for certain kinds of data and tag, depending on the question.
But we also would love for you to be able to do that right when you’re watching. Let’s say that we’ve collected all the data, kind of similar to what we saw with the hawk community, put that all on a spreadsheet, it just happens to be in our database this time. We’d love to find a way for you as viewers to explore those data, to query. And also maybe you want to plot two things on a simple graph, like that the season and the number of each kind of prey or something like that.
Finally, and this is where we go back to that question about live chats, and we’d love to have live q and as with our scientists the way we do now, except those conversations might be focused in this case around the investigation. Now that we have some data, and some graphs to look at, what are we, how do we interpret this? What are some ways we could suggest the meaning behind the data?
And finally it’s gonna be graduate students charged with formally analyzing data statistically, and then also to write them up for publication. It will definitely be publication on our website. We hope it will lead to publication in scientific journals. So you can imagine that sounds pretty ambitious. As I mentioned this is a three year grant. And the grant is really to create prototypes to see if we can be successful with this kind of model, which is new. You don’t see this happening anywhere else. And so it’s gonna be a learning process for all of us and we hope to by trial and error, and evaluation come up with something that really works well. Does that answer your question?
[Charles] Okay yes so basically the quick answer is no. So oh, did it come from there? Oh okay great so the question is whether or not hurricanes or any other natural disasters like fires out west have affected any of our cams. And outside of taking the Savannah osprey cams offline for a couple of days when power went out on Skidaway Island, all of the cameras have been up and running and there aren’t birds in them for the most part at this point in time. So even in Montana the ospreys were there basically through a summer filled with smoke, and then left only recently.
So they don’t appear, the smoke didn’t appear to have a negative effect at least on their behavior around the cam.
The petrels? Yeah, so the nice thing about them, well nice in a sense. They’re far away from the Caribbean they have yet to be impacted, it’s there almost if, you can think of them as being more on an Atlantic island. So as Jose if ever comes closer to the US, if it comes towards the east coast, Jose would be passing kind of between the US and Bermuda there. Hurricanes are a huge threat to petrels, okay. So the whole reason why they’ve done, one of the main reasons why they have done these translocations so all these manmade burrows in part were there to translocate young from other nests on smaller little islets to this larger, higher island to reduce the likelihood of hurricanes destroying the nests or young adults or chicks.
So hurricanes an and just global sea level rise are two very big factors both for petrels and for the albatrosses actually. So not on Hawaii necessarily, but 98% of the world’s population of Laysan albatrosses are on two atolls in the middle Pacific, they’re only a few feet above the current level of the ocean. And it’s predicted over the next 50 to 100 years that the intensity of storm events and the sea level rise may make those islands much less productive than they are now and possibly remove them from you know being you know great places for albatrosses to breed.
So Hawaii in some ways people think about Hawaii as this interesting like almost Noah’s Ark in a way, of the future because the islands are so much taller. The challenge there is they’re also filled with people and private property, so that sort of is a shout-out to the work of the Kauai Albatross Network has been doing to interact with private landowners and increase awareness of what albatrosses need on Kauai. Great question. Anyone else in the room. Yeah, back there?
So the question for folks online is how how do we handle sort of the catastrophic loss of nests, like what happened on the heron cam, catastrophic in the sense that the nest basically fell out of tree and in that case they weren’t really showing a lot of interest breeding that year either, so you know the challenge, I guess, I don’t know if it’s a challenge exactly, or if it’s a mindset, or a perspective. There’s just very little we can control. And I come into this job, that’s what I say to myself every day when I walk into work. Because every day something I can’t control, like glitches in presentations, is going to crop up because, a) things are just a too complex so we can’t control the natural world, we can’t control most of the technology between me and this camera. I can, I can control like how it’s installed, but I can’t control what happens to it after I install it, a lot of the time.
So part of it’s just a mindset, where you know even cameras that are super important to us as a program because of just their following and we know that that following can have a big impact, you know there’s still a limited ability of us safeguard really anything about those cameras at the end of the day. But what we try to do is have different opportunities to engage audiences, always kind of like think of like a portfolio or a quiver full of different opportunities for people to interact with birds online.
And then different individuals hopefully to rapidly be able to turn to and say hey can we make this happen so. That’s really the only way we can deal with it. And I think by providing forums for people to talk about it, so that everybody can commiserate, but understand what we’ve learned from it, be thankful for it.
You know those those herons are a great story because Sapsucker Woods has been there for a long time, that pond was dug back in the ‘50s okay. And yet, despite Sapsucker Woods being named 100 and roughly 10 years ago, as far as anybody knows those five years that there were herons there were the only time during that hundred years that people been watching where herons have nested in Sapsucker Woods. How lucky are we to be alive? And alive at a time where we can throw a camera up there and share it with the world.
I mean like, so it’s, a lot of it comes down to perspective too. We can be strategic, making partnerships with people so we can pivot very quickly if something does go down. So that people have that ability to connect and learn and share. But at the end of the day we also have to you know acknowledge what we can’t control, and not let it gets down.
[Woman] Those were amazing years, I’ve gotta say.
[Charles] They were, hear hear, they were amazing years.
[Miyoko] We have two questions from the online audience that relate to Ezra. One of them has to do with the art, the carving that David has done, and the other has to do with the planned educational panel. So the first, since we have David in the audience, I’m given the option of whether he wants to be put on the spot and come give the answer to this question himself or whether he’d rather I summarized, but the answer is that they read in his bio that he’s working on a full-size Big Red and Ezra at the nest piece. And they wondered if that’s going to have a home at Cornell.
So David would you like me to just do that, or would you like to come up and share a little more? Great, he’s coming up, so online audience give us a minute while David comes up. And we would just love to hear a little more about your plans for that carving, anything you want to share about Ezra and the carving that you displayed here tonight. And again I’ll repeat for the online audience that David has generously offered to donate his carving of Ezra and the proceeds will go to the Lab of Ornithology. We’ve put a link in the chat if you’re interested in more on that and we’ll also be sharing it on our website.
[David] Thank you. So the full-size nest scene is something that I’ve been dreaming about since I first encountered Big Red and Ezra back in the early days of the cam site. And I wondering how to best fit, put that together, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to design it. And when this last season really hit us hard with Ezra’s passing, I was more and more dedicated to completing the project. But the nest scene will be full size, where the sculpture that’s available now is a half size study, which was basically done so I could convince myself that I could do in wood a portrait of Ezra, as opposed to saying a painting or drawing, which is little bit easier to work with. So the study was to convince myself that I could use wood and actually do a portrait. And I think I’ve proven that that is the case. At least I’ve proven it to myself, it’s up to you to decide.
Thank you, thank you. So right now I’m working on Big Red, in full size, and she started out as about 15 pound block of wood, which is slowly being shaped into the pose that I envision for this nest scene. That will be a [inaudible] Big Red hovering over some prey that she’ll be feeding to some chicks. It’s been my dream as I expressed to Miyoko and the others here that, it’s been my dream that when that work is complete I would like very much to donate it to Cornell for permanent display. So that the community can share it and share it. I don’t envision it as work that will go up for sale. I can make other works, but this one will be for expressly for the purpose of permanent display here at the Lab of Ornithology because I know that it means so much to the people that have been part of the hawk cam community.
And you know I saw a lot of that today, where people feeling so much when they saw the carving of Ezra, how much it meant, and how many people already miss him and continue to mourn for his loss. But this is just a little step to try to bring some of that back. So the answer is yes it will be something that I will certainly make available to Cornell for permanent display. It will be at least a two-year project, I am working on it now, and anticipate at least a two-year project because the half size study took about eight months to complete that one piece. So I’m being very optimistic in thinking I can complete the whole nest scene in two years. But you never know, maybe with all this energy it will go a little bit faster—not much faster because it is incredibly detailed work. So thank you.
[Miyoko] Thanks so much, David. So one last related question about Ezra from the online audience, and then we’ll maybe take one more from the audience here, and then close out our Q&A for tonight, and we’ll see you back online. So the question is can you tell a little bit more about the plans for the educational panel that’s a tribute to Ezra. So there were lots of ideas that we received about how can we best pay tribute to Ezra who’s really touched us all so much. And after a lot of thought and discussion, one really thing that we thought would be very meaningful is to think about what legacy Ezra gave us. And it is that legacy about look up because what can you experience and learn by doing that?
We want to share that with the Cornell community because some of you may have seen when you parked near Tower Road, and those nests are right above you, it’s really easy to walk by and not even know that they’re there. I walked by for years and didn’t know that red-tails were on campus and nesting. And so we just feel if only more students, and more faculty, and people on campus knew to look up. That they would be able to experience the things that we have as a can community. A wonderful coincidence happened which is that Cornell’s working on a sustainability trail right off of Tower Road. Some of you might be familiar with the Dairy Bar, and across the street there are facing plantations. They’re going to put in a green parking lot and then a little walkway that goes from there over to Mann Library and to where we are tonight will be a sustainability trail. They’d like to put in more education about sustainability on campus.
Another coincidence is that Karel and Cindy brought to our attention a spot where Ezra used to love to perch above the Botanic Gardens there, as well as where the hawks would hunt on a grassy hillside. And they recounted this anecdote of seeing one of the botanic garden landscapers really actually taking care of that hillside for hawks. He was trying to maintain the grasses so that it would attract the hawks in. Because by attracting the hawks he could get natural rodent control instead of using any pesticides.
And we know that pesticides can be, rodenticides can be really harmful for hawks because if they nab a rodent that has that in their system, those can be an anticoagulant in their own systems, which can hurt the hawks. So how beautiful that here at Cornell the landscapers were creating habitat for hawks and for other wildlife and it happened to be a spot right along the sustainability trail.
So we’re collaborating with the Botanic Gardens and facilities here to install that in the next year. We’ve drafted the text, which has three parts. The first part is, well it’s called Look Up, and it encourages people to think about the habitat that they’re seeing and lists ten birds that they can see, including red-tails of course. And then the next section tells a little bit about sustainability, and then there’s a little blurb about that sentiment from the hawk cam community about what you can experience by taking that time.
So I want to thank everybody who not only contributed donations for that but who also contributed ideas. It was a collaborative project as is everything that we do.
So one last question for the night.
[Woman] I appreciate what you said about savoring the moment or the experience because we’re not entitled to them, they’re just given to us, and as one of those people who really struggled today to come and see all the places where Ezra has been. All the places I’ve heard Bogette and Karel taking us all over campus following them. I understand that there’s work still being left on the hawk cam, and other part of the question is since I’ve kind of moved away, in fact I’ve focused on this one cardinal in my neighborhood, who seems to like my corner of the neighborhood who sings almost all the time, and he’s a daddy, and I think he must be a wonderful daddy, although I’ve seen him. What is going on that we know of about Big Red and her friend?
[Charles] So the question is two parts. One of them I might have to ask for some help answering but the questions involved is, it sounds like there’s some work going on on the hawk cams, we can talk about that, and what do we know about Big Red and the hawk she’s been hanging out with this summer. So I’ll take the first part for sure, so as you all probably know the hawk cams have been offline for several months, and that all stems from essentially a failure in the cabling that connects our network that’s up on those poles to the infrastructure in Weill Hall. So when it went offline, I worked for about about six weeks with CIT to try and salvage that connection, and at the end of it they just said look it’s just not going to work, you need to go to this, basically to upgrade it all to fiber. Which is great, it just costs a pretty penny to upgrade to fiber. But the biggest issue with that is we then had to get into a queue basically for CIT to do that work that queue was about two months long. Anybody who’s been at Cornell in the summer knows that there’s a lot of construction that happens here in the summer.
There’s a number of buildings going up all around campus and even off-campus that their small team of basically that, they’re cabling experts, were responsible for.
So just last week we finished upgrading the connection from Weill to that first pole with fiber so we’re connected now with basically more bandwidth than we’ve ever had before. And I’ve been running a test event, basically a test live stream for the last couple days to see how stable the cameras are and to make sure that everything’s working, and probably early next week I’ll flip the switch to make that public, and not that we expect anything to be flying in on camera anytime soon, but you’ve never know. In past years Big Red and Ezra have visited off and on through the winter each of those nests, so we’ll probably have one camera on each of those nests so viewers can view and toggle between the two of them.
So I’m really excited about that we have, you know, we may have the ability if they do stick together through and decide to breed. If Big Red decides to breed on one of those towers, we’ll be ready to go. If she picks a different tower um [laughter]. It’s a hard question, the one thing I’ll say is with with Ezra we knew they had a long history together of breeding on those towers already. So my ability to be conservative about the impact that we would have rapidly deploying a cam over the course of a couple days on a site they were actively building on, as we did with the Weill Hall nest.
I felt fairly comfortable with that because I had watched and been around those birds and seen them react to us, seen their ease and basically nonchalance. Sometimes we’d be 20 feet below them on a pole, they’d be mating up on the platform. And so we don’t want to ruin anything that could happen, and we don’t know as much about the new guy, if he turns out to be the new guy, and his reaction to us being around. So we’ll just have to take it as it comes, but we do have sort of it, we’ve got it figured out how to make it happen fairly quickly on this post. We just don’t want to also ruin anything by getting out there and potentially disturbing them. We have a couple of contingency plans as well.
I wonder if I could turn that second question around to the birders on the ground that are in the room. I know Karel and Cindy have been telling me the last couple days that you have seen Big Red and I don’t know if Ferris or anybody else here has as well, but do you guys want to share any observations from the last couple days on the two of them?
[Karel] Yeah so Winken.
[Miyoko] Karel do you want to come up here so the online audience can hear?
[Karel] So the one thing that, a couple of things that we’ve noticed about Big Red and Winken’s behavior is that, first of all there seems to be quite a bit of commitment between the two of them. We’ve seen Winken guarding Big Red when she takes baths in the gorge. He has demonstrated his ability to defend the territory, I mean there was concern among all of us when, after Ezra died, and Big Red was so distraught, and traveling the territory, she covered eight territories one day looking for Ezra, and she flew all the way out to Varna and Snyder Hill, and then over the [inaudible] area, then she flew diagonally across to Cayuga Heights, and then she flew across North Campus, and so she basically touched eight hawk territories and flew right through there, and she was challenged in some of them, and basically held her own but she was looking for Ezra.
But Winken has, among the ones, the the males that have visited, she one day went off to the northeast and we thought in fact that she might be leaving the territory because it had been a difficult time, and she. And remember this was Ezra’s territory, it wasn’t Big Red’s territory. So she came to join him here, she was in from Brooktondale, she’s a country girl, and but this was his, he was a city guy, this was his territory so he brought her here. So she could have easily decided that she could not manage this territory and had gone off with somebody else.
The good news is that everybody else was busy you know with their own territories that they’re having to deal with and their own nests and so forth. So she had a couple suitors and and Winken seemed to be the guy who was most adamant about his interest and he, an example of his defense was defending the southeast territory against horsey hall hawks which are pretty aggressive actually. Big Red and Ezra had to do that together, they couldn’t do that separately. They’re an aggressive pair.
But one day Winken chased off three vultures to the east is kind of like Harold of England, if you know the story. They were all related back then, right. So you had the Vikings, and you had the Normans, and they were all kind of clans and they’re all struggling to take over England at the time, Britain. And Harold of England had to march to the north to defeat the Vikings, which he did, but he left his archers behind, and he had to then come down to the south because William of Normandy had come to land across the British channel. And so he had no archers and so he had to go ahead and and challenge the Normans and he defeated, they were defeated because of the fact that they couldn’t defend themselves against the archers at long distance.
So Winken went and chased off three vultures off to the east, way out over the plantations, and then he came back immediately and Big Red was up on Brad field, and he challenged two red-tailed hawks that had come in from the north, and chased them off. And then he finally came back and sat on the tower.
So they’ve tried to mate, we’ve seen them do that, and and they have done the the separate. And they’ve done their separate thing. He sat down minding his own, so he he has his times when he goes separately, and they have they have spent time on Riley Rock together in the sunshine, and they have done some preening, and some kisses, a little bit. And so they did start talking about the nest that Charles was talking about. They did I don’t know if you’re familiar, with you have the Weill nest right, and you have the Fernow nest, and there’s what we call the third base tower, and they’ve done some work on that nest, and you can go out there and you can see that it’s sort of partially built.
But in the end what they decided to do was to actually take the Fernow nest, remember all the nests are on the west end of the platform, and so they decided to take the Fernow nest and move it stick by stick all the way to the east end of the platform. So they rebuilt the nest on the east side of that platform. So there are some interesting indications, I mean that they are hanging together. We’ll see what happens during the wintertime, and then in the spring whenm they challenge each other to see whether or not they’re capable of defending and fighting, and getting prey and so forth. So it’s an interesting time. He’s a young guy, and she’s not so young but it doesn’t seem to matter.
They’re doing pretty well. He’s uh he’s got he was very champagne colored, very light colored naturally, but he’s his molting, he’s darkened up quite a bit, he’s got some nice red on his shoulders and stuff like that. So they’re like an old married couple, they start to look like each other.
So anyway we’ll see what happens, whether or not they stick together. We’ll see what happens in the springtime.
[Charles] Thanks a lot, Karel.
Well with that, I think it’s gonna bring tonight’s event here to a close. I want to thank everybody for showing up online and in person. We’re gonna, feel free to grab a bite on your way out, and we’re gonna do our best to archive the talk, we’ll see how the audio comes out. So I apologize for the issues. And hopefully it’s not indicative of our efforts moving forward with any of our other technological projects that we might be planning. Thank you all for coming and I can’t wait to keep conversing with you online, or in person when we get the chance. Thank you.
[Applause]End of transcript
Join Bird Cams staff and community members as they reflect on the exciting and challenging lives of the birds on cam, review the lessons the birds have taught us over the past six years, celebrate the communities that have been built, and anticipate what the future holds for the Bird Cams project.
Special thanks to Ferris Akel for contributing the Q&A portion of this presentation for this archive of the Bird Cams Appreciation Night.