Behind the scenes of the Decorah Eagle Cam

11:10 PM, May 3, 2012   |    comments
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Decorah, Iowa -- It's the most watched livestream event in history, and the participants could care less. That's because the Decorah, Iowa eagles have more important things to do than worry about the world looking in.

There's something special about this intimate view into the life of our national emblem. Something that makes us stop everything we're doing, to watch nature's most compelling reality show.

Curiosity prompted me to travel to Decorah - to an unassuming country neighborhood, where a tall tree overlooks a trout stream, and some 80 feet off the ground - in a nest that weighs well over 1000 pounds - sits the world's most watched family.

In the nest are three eaglets. They've grown so much in the past few weeks that things are getting crowded for mom, dad and the kids. Change happens daily and that's why we watch. We don't want to miss what's going to happen next.

And the man behind the camera is just as hooked as we are. Minnesota native and Raptor Resource Project Director Bob Anderson took me inside Decorah eagle cam's mission control - which, in reality, is a tool shed a few feet away from the eagles' nest.

It's where Anderson and his volunteer group of devoted eagle followers run the camera you watch from your computer. The system is high tech but, in person, it doesn't look that way. Anderson runs the camera with a joy stick, and the wires which connect the nest to the world looks like a bowl of spaghetti. However, a new camera this year - with higher resolution - has allowed incredible insight into the nesting season of a pair of bald eagles.

"At first I was truly overwhelmed by it when it became so big I was awestruck by the popularity. And then I had to give it some thought. We're really doing a great service, virtually every classroom in America uses it; I mean that's huge," explained Anderson

Eagle cam is a big part of Joyce Heille's fourth grade class at Falcon Heights Elementary in St. Paul.

"I think they relate to being the eaglet; I think they can picture their mom and dad protecting them," said Heille.

The kids watch eagle cam and document the eaglets progress. They've also put their impressions on paper, and they've even had a chance to ask Anderson questions during a conference call or two. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Heille is Anderson's sister.

"I'm so proud of my brother's accomplishments. I can take what he's learned and discovered and bring it into my classroom," explained Heille.

Eagle cam is a world-wide phenomenon. And people write to Anderson every day to say how much they love the Eagles.

"Dear Bob, my name is Aiden and I like your website of the eagles, our class has been watching the eagles on your website. Our class likes to watch the eagles on your website. We need to save these eagles so they don't get hurt. We saw a rat in the nest, sincerely, Aiden" Anderson quoted from a letter he received.

He says he tries to answer all of the letters, especially the ones from kids.

The eagles' nest is like Mecca, and it literally draws people from all over. They come to the country road in Decorah to witness in person what's captivated them on the internet.

"We drove from Madison," said Lynne Weil.

There's an interesting psychological phenomenon that takes place somewhere between someone watching it five hours or 5000 hours, it becomes their eagles.

"They develop this sense of ownership about the entire eagle family and then they become my boss they write me letters starting panning more, zoom in more because it is their eagles," said Anderson.

That's not what a rookie at the controls wants to hear. When Anderson turned eagle cam over to me, some 30,000 people we're watching on line. That's a lot of pressure.

But it's nothing compared to the pressure Anderson feels every day in keeping eagle cam up and running. He also admits it could all go black tomorrow. There's a chance the nest could fall, which eventually happens to all eagle nests because of their weight. Eagles add 200 pounds of sticks to their nest every year, and this one is getting rather large.

Anderson said the ability to watch the eagles at night has proven a few things. The greatest threat to eaglets is raccoons, and they are fearless and relentless. Anderson has also discovered Eagles are nocturnal and will even hunt at night. And during the day, both parents will share time on the nest evenly, but it is mom who is in charge at night.

We all have learned a lot about eagles. And they've proven to us, there's nothing like a good old fashioned American love story to capture the imagination.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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