The same two ospreys have been returning to the Boulder County Fairgrounds to nest for more than a decade, and they don’t seem shy of people.
In fact, the pair seems right at home on a nesting platform at the eastern edge of Cattail Pond, despite the fact that it’s near the location where the fireworks are set off on the Fourth of July each year and that the fairgrounds are always abuzz with activities during the summer, from equestrian shows to mutton busting.
This made the hawks perfect candidates to become the next Internet bird celebrities. Staffers from the Boulder County Parks and Open Space department recently installed a webcam that peers directly into the ospreys’ nest.
“This gives us an unprecedented view of the real-time breeding of a really charismatic bird,” said Mac Kobza, a wildlife specialist for the open space department. “I think it’s a great resource for the community.”
Osprey nests — typically built with sticks and lined with bark, sod, vines or even algae — can be enormous, sometimes stretching 6 feet wide and up to 10 feet deep. Local ospreys migrate south during the winter but return to Boulder County around March to nest. They typically stay in the area through the summer.
Kobza says open space staffers made sure that the camera was installed before the birds returned, and he believes that the camera won’t disturb the birds once they’re back in Longmont.
“This is a very adaptive pair of birds,” Kobza said. “Not to say that all osprey are adapted to people, but this pair is. ... They put up with a lot of disturbance.”
Despite the bustle of the fairgrounds and the nearby roads, Kobza said the birds are likely drawn to the area thanks to the pond and the expansive views, which would allow them to see any predators from a great distance.
“They have a ready source of food in the pond,” he said. “The refrigerator is right there.”
Once the open space department got the idea for a webcam, it took some figuring to work out how to set the thing up. The issues included how to power the cam and how to connect the video feed to the Internet. Staffers solved the issue with a solar panel and some wireless transmitters.
“The pole is 500 yards from a building that has an Internet connection,” said Nik Brockman, web specialist for the open space department, “so we had to send the feed wirelessly across the span.”
Brockman said it could be difficult for the department to replicate the experiment at other nests on other properties, since they are mostly more remote.
The video camera appears to be working, said Brockman, but it’s not yet connected to the Internet. When it is, anyone will be able to view the activity in the nest at the Parks and Open Space Department’s website, www.bouldercounty.org/government/dept/pages/pos.aspx.