Web cams, installed inside a nest box while the birds are away on migration, can offer a glimpse into the secret lives of birds. Credit: Sam K; pexels
The Spring Alive season for Europe and Central Asia is drawing to a close. But while our programme of lessons, workshops and nature activities may be winding down, the birds are still out there, busy raising their young. This year’s topic is how to keep birds’ nests safe. One of the most important rules is to keep your distance from nests and avoid disturbing them. Thankfully, nowadays you don’t need to be anywhere near nests to observe the birds that live in them. Web cameras, installed while the birds are away on migration, can offer a glimpse into the secret lives of birds wherever you are in the world. The feeling of watching nesting birds in real time is truly magical. We often see birds feeding or flying through the air – but inside the nest is where their most charming domestic behaviours come to the fore. The personalities of the birds really shine through as they lovingly preen each other, tidy the nest and tend to their young. It’s a joyous and uplifting reminder of the real birds’ lives we’re working to protect. In this way, nest cameras are an excellent way to educate the public, raise awareness of conservation and build a bond with the natural world that inspires action far more effectively than any facts or figures could. Here are just a few examples from across the Spring Alive Partnership of nest cameras that are doing great work for birds and people.
Spain: Pallid Swifts in a school roof Watch here: https://youtu.be/AZVf-F0Mbmg Like many swifts, Pallid Swifts spend their whole life on the wing, feeding, sleeping and courting in mid-air. The only time they come in to land is to build their nest and raise their chicks. The pupils of Esclavas SCJ school in Cádiz, Spain, have taken advantage of this rare opportunity to observe the species close up. With the help of SEO/BirdLife, they installed a nest camera into the roof of their school, and study the swifts as part of a yearly academic project.
Czech Republic: Common Terns on floating islands Watch here: https://youtu.be/AGwdNpWCyjk Common Terns travel all the way from southern Africa to reach their breeding grounds – a journey of up to 10,000 kilometres. Unfortunately, when they get there, suitable habitat is hard to find. In central Europe, the species breeds on low gravel islands and river banks – however, with dams and other modifications to watercourses, these habitats are becoming more and more scarce. In the Czech Republic, HeidelbergCement worked with Czech Society of Ornithology (BirdLife Partner) to set up a series of floating concrete islands within the quarry site, where the birds can feed and breed undisturbed.
UK: Barn Owls at a former quarry Watch here: https://tices-meadow-barn-owls.click2stream.com/ Tice’s Meadow in Surrey, UK is a former HeidelbergCement quarry that has been restored to meadows, woodland and wetland habitats forming now a local nature reserve. Volunteers from the local community installed a range of nest boxes throughout the site, one of which has become a luxury home for Barn Owls. This year, they have raised four chicks that are almost ready to fledge!
Latvia: Black Storks on a tall treetop Watch here: https://youtu.be/1JFzsE7NWoU Unlike the iconic White Stork, which often nests on top of people’s houses, the Black Stork is a very shy bird that avoids all human contact. The storks build their nests on the tops of tall trees, at least 25 metres from the ground. This nest camera, set up by the Latvian Fund for Nature, is one of the only ways to get an insight into the life of this secretive bird.
Latvia: Northern Goshawks in an industrial landscape Watch here: https://youtu.be/9WfUw51PJzw Raptors may be fearsome hunters, but they are also caring and dedicated parents. These majestic birds of prey spend much of the breeding season catching small birds and mammals for their hungry chicks. The female Northern Goshawk in this live stream, set up by the Latvian Fund for Nature, is renowned for her assertive personality, often attacking people when they get too close to the nest. But overall, the pair are very accustomed to the activity of the industrial facility they live alongside.
UK: Common Swifts’ magic moments Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7VS2c49LXzzGcYVznWNqCklp45XnbAcN Common Swifts love to nest in gaps beneath the rooves of old houses and churches – but modern buildings don’t have as many nooks and crannies. That’s why more and more people are installing artificial nest boxes. When they find a suitable spot, swifts build a nest out of any materials they can gather on the wing, including feathers, straw and seeds, cemented together with their own saliva. Salli Roskilly, a dedicated swift enthusiast from the UK, has put together a playlist of the most magic moments from the swifts that nest in her roof.