They are unlikely Internet celebrities — two bald eagles tending their young on the campus of Berry College in north Georgia.
But there’s no denying that they’ve become an online sensation. Thousands of people tuned in last weekend to watch as two tiny eaglets emerged from their carefully-guarded eggs, thanks to a live streaming “Eagle Cam” installed by the school.
Since then, online viewers have been able to watch Mom dutifully warming her hatchlings while Dad works around the clock to hunt and bring back food. The birds have been featured on multiple TV news broadcasts and been the subject of national and international stories. They even have their own Facebook and Tumblr pages.
“People are personally invested,” said Christine Reinolds Kozelle, director of news and editorial services at Berry College. “You have this ‘Truman Show’-like experience. People want to be part of it and say they saw it happen. Plus they are so beautiful.”
The eagle pair first appeared on the main campus of Berry College in the spring of 2012, nesting in a 100-foot pine tree between the main entrance and the athletic center. Soon, cameras were installed — one on the approach to the tree and two infrared cameras with direct views into the nest.
“When it was discovered we were really excited about it,” Kozelle said. “Animal science is one of our most popular majors so there were a lot of very curious people. We figured we’d put up the camera and we’d be able to sell our story as well. We had no idea it would be this popular. No idea. The first year we put it up, we had to move it because we couldn’t handle the traffic — it almost crashed our server.”
Kozelle said there have been over 20 million views since the live stream was set up last year. But interest spiked significantly last week, as the projected “hatch date” for the eggs approached. “We’ve gotten calls from all over the world,” she said. “Handling them has become a full-time job in and of itself. After the U.S., the second largest number of people following us is in Brazil. Then India. Then Pakistan.”
However, the livestream has revealed aspects of life in the wild that are uncomfortable for some viewers. The winter storm that just moved through the region prompted a flurry of worried posts. Even more distressing for some has been the behavior of the larger hatchling. It will peck at its smaller sibling and prevent it from eating — behavior that has generated a huge amount of commentary online.
But school officials point out that this natural behavior for eaglets. “It’s very common when there is more than one sibling for one to dominate,” Kozelle said. “This is natural and we don’t interfere. This is a way to educate people about the natural world.”
Still, Kozelle understands why it can be difficult to watch this behavior. “The struggle with the nest and the temperatures– humans identify with that,” she said. “We take care of our children and our homes. It’s easy to get attached.”
The eagles bring thousands of visitors to the campus of Berry College. Kozelle said exact numbers are hard to come by, but estimates that about 5,000 people come for a glimpse of the eagles every year.
The college is pleased with all of the attention. “One of the wonderful takeaways is that it has brought to light the resurgence of eagles,” Kozelle said. “They were endangered and now they are coming back from the brink.”
If you’d like to watch for yourself, the live stream can be found here.