Interview with “Father” of Iowa Eagle Nest Cam

Clint Henderson, guest bloggerClint Henderson is an advocate of wildlife preservation and all things nature.  He is a freelance writer out of Ft. Worth, Texas and received his Bachelors in Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington.

I recently had the pleasure to speak with Robert Anderson, the Director of the Raptor Resource Project, a non-profit wildlife preservation organization famous for its bird cams. The Raptor Resource Project has come a long way and in their 33 years of operation has gone from “breeding falcons” to “wildlife education.”

Decorah Bald Eagles (UStream screen shot)
Decorah Bald Eagles (UStream screen shot)
The famous UStream video footage of the Decorah Bald Eagle Camcaptured by Mr. Anderson and his team is one of many projects that have captivated millions and is, in fact, the #1 most watched live video stream of all time. This was their very first streaming video feed, which was added last year.

Since then, the Raptor Resource Project has added a redtail hawk cam, the first ever turkey vulture cam, and supplanted the older bald eagle equipment with high definition cameras from 2M CCTV, which Bob says has “improved the video capability by light years.”  They are also in the midst of setting up two peregrine cams. , which Bob says has “improved the video capability by light years.” They are also in the midst of setting up two peregrine cams.

State-of-the-Art Technology

Bob Anderson and I discussed the technical aspects of his setup as well as the influence this footage has had on people across the globe. Bob has worked alongside Xcel Energy with bird cams at their plants across the country but, unfortunately, the limited bandwidth was causing streaming problems. In 2009 they decided it was time to start a new bird cam project.

With the assistance of Amy Reis, the webmaster at RRP, they integrated their 24/7 video feed with UStream, which now airs a stable of their high resolution live bird cam feeds. They use Adobe Flash Media Encoder, software used to stream audio and video in real time, to maintain high-quality streaming. Power flickers and other technical issues are alleviated with help from the UStream technicians, who work together with the techs that do the bird cams. Bob Anderson states, “They’ve been very cooperative. It would not be what it is today without UStream.”

The cameras used to record video are mostly PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) cameras from KT&C. These cameras can capture night time video, as well as day time, through the use of the cameras’ infrared technology. The KT&C KPT-ON10T is the camera used for the footage of the Decorah Bald Eagle at UStream.

Bumps in the Road

I asked Mr. Anderson how he has dealt with various issues that his team has encountered since they’ve started recording wildlife footage. He says, “Every situation is different. You need to make sure an electrical power source is nearby, or you may need to use solar powered cameras. You also need to take weather into account.” For instance, the PTZ camera will sometimes make noise when panning if the temperatures fall below 10F. Another consideration is the proximity of the cameras to the birds and their nest. “There was a slight issue with a poop-covered lens on two of our cameras. So now we monitor the nests from up higher to prevent such a mess,” Bob says.

The Work Pays off: Eagles are an Online Sensation

There is year-round interaction on the Decorah Eagle Cam video page with students, teachers, and other bird enthusiasts using UStream’s Check-in & Chat feature, even when there is very little action in the nest itself. Video views start to increase in early January, when there are increased visits to the nest and views skyrocket in early April when the eggs hatch.

I asked Bob what has been the most amazing footage captured to date. He replied, “The most stunning footage we captured to DVD is the 3rd egg hatching in great light. National Geographic will be using this footage in an upcoming documentary on the Mississippi River.” Bob enthusiastically states, “In total, there have been 186 [of the 196] countries in the world that have tuned in to watch the Decorah Eagle Cam.”

Mr. Anderson says he was shocked and encouraged at the impact the birdcams have had on people’s lives everywhere. It has affected many people in many different ways. It has made people with disabilities forget about their illnesses. It has given residents in nursing homes a reason to get up in the morning. Many classrooms have the video stream up constantly for students to see. Bob states, “The Decorah Eagle Cam is the single most important wildlife education effort on planet Earth.”

The efforts of the Raptor Resource Project and Director Bob Anderson have strengthened raptor populations and stimulated participation in raptor preservation internationally. Many have witnessed the active enthusiasm online and how viral this has become. The Birdcam community at the RRP even worked together to get a Decorah Eagle design on a NASCAR Sprint Cup car! Check it out, it’s pretty slick! (Link takes some time to load)