Get a thorough nature education thanks to web cams

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Friday, October 16, 2015 3:55pm
  • Life

Sharon Nelson once discovered the tiny embryo of a great blue heron left in her bird bath by a crow who had presumably opened the egg. Nelson also has seen just-out-of-the-nest robins flapping around in her yard and discovered that some chicks’ poop comes out in little sacks that their parents can toss out of the nest.

But for the Lowell resident, most of her ornithological lessons have come from watching streaming web cams that capture the action in nests from around the country. She can start with the web cams and links through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ( and, and also search the Internet.

She recalls the video of ospreys in Montana.

“Iris was sitting on the edge of the nest for days but Stanley didn’t come home. Somebody else came along and caught her fancy and they took up with each other and mated. Then he left her and someone else came along, a widower from downriver who lost his wife to powerlines,” Nelson said.

“He knows what being a husband is all about. But here comes Stanley on a Friday night. He finds an egg in his nest and a stranger! (The stranger leaves) and Stanley asks Iris to forgive him, and the egg is kicked out of the nest.

“Two days later, she lays another egg. Stanley knew that was not his egg. He and Iris have this big discussion in the nest, then they ate the egg together! The two mated again and Iris started laying eggs. Stanley helped take care of them. It all happened on the osprey cam.”

Nelson told this story to a neighbor and her young girl asked, “Are you talking about people or about birds?”

Ah, the risk of anthropomorphizing …

Life is fraught with danger. Last spring, the osprey pair had eggs ready to hatch. A storm sent hailstones onto the nest. Iris flew in to protect the eggs, “but the hail was coming in at such an angle that it cracked all the eggs,” Nelson said. “They ate them.”

A web cam lets watchers in on the cute stuff and the drama.

“A great horned owl attacked a mother great blue heron sitting on her nest. She didn’t have any feathers on her head after that.”

Behavior is part of the fascination with streaming. Take the African penguins in a Philadelphia aviary this spring.

“Once the babies were big enough, the father brought in all the other penguins, taking a string of visitors back and forth. They didn’t do much, just came to view the chick,” she said.

Being a nest-peeper does have its rewards.

Sharing stories: Periodically readers ask how I find people who will share their experiences. Truth is, they find me via email and phone calls. Sometimes they want me to identify what they’ve found by describing a bird or its song (too difficult a task).

Talking with Sharon Nelson started with her calling about discovering a pair of blue-footed boobies on a World Wildlife Fund calendar, reminding her of the story of the booby in Edmonds.

“I really appreciate your column and the ideas that go with them. It has lots of information. Sometimes I think, ‘I have to go do this, or see this.’ ”

Some of that information is supplied by readers. Thank you!

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or

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