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Does the Camera Disturb the Hawks?

by Bob Sallinger


Posted on March 16, 2009 at 7:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

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Raptor Cam Camera

Question: Connie observed that the birds sometimes appear to be looking at the camera wondered if the camera might be disturbing them.

Answer: Great question.The first priority is protecting the birds. They are protected under federal law and we want them to be successful! The camera was installed outside of nesting season (In January 2008) to avoid disturbing the birds while there were nesting. The camera is about 15 feet from the actual nest and is attached to a metal post on the fire escape.

Generally, the rule of thumb with raptors is that activities or objects that were occurring in the nesting area at the time the birds chose their nest site will not cause disturbance, whereas activities or objects that are introduced into the nesting area during the nesting season may well cause disturbance. Birds are very sensitive to potential threats when they chose their nest location and spend several weeks checking a site out and constructing the actual nest. If they are not bothered by an activity or an object during this phase, then they are unlikely to be bothered later. What we worry about with nesting raptors, regardless of whether they are in urban or rural environments, is activities are either new or increase in intensity during the nesting season--especially if those activities occur in the airspace near the nest.

The birds do occasionally appear to be looking at the camera while they are incubating the eggs, just as they are constantly looking at many other things in their immediate environment. However, there has been no indication that they have been disturbed by it (for example, displaying or approaching the camera.) It is merely part of the background. The thing that really seems to draw their interest is when other birds fly by---you can frequently see them tracking the flight paths of other birds with their head movements. This makes sense since whatever is flying by could represent either a potential nest predator or supper---far more interesting to the red-tails than the small metal box that houses the camera.

KGW is able to control the camera remotely. The camera can rotate and focus in and out. The movements are relatively infrequent and pretty innocuous. Nobody is allowed out into the nesting area during nesting season. If the camera were to breakdown or the lens became dirty during the nesting season, we would simply have to suspend Raptor Cam and wait until after the birds were done nesting to fix things.