In terms of wildlife research and data collection, the use of webcams and live feed technologies is relatively new but it has already created a massive impact in this field.
Central Alberta is home to several of these live webcam feeds. Currently, there are two cameras focused on nesting owls, one at Kerry Wood Nature Centre and the other at Ellis Bird Farm. Both of these feeds have been designed exclusively in Central Alberta and have become game changers in the way people interact with the species.
“The reason the live feeds are so popular is because they provide a unique perspective that people can have into the lives of these birds (and other animals). Prior to this technology, observations would generally be made using binoculars or telescopes by researchers,” explained Myrna Pearman, a biologist at Ellis Bird Farm.
“Most people have an innate interest in nature, but they don’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of time in nature. This technology has brought remarkable views into people’s own homes through computers. Researchers have come onboard realizing that valuable data can be collected through these cameras and so there has been a two-pronged approach right from the beginning with entertainment and research.”
Many countries around the world utilize this kind of equipment to offer a glimpse into the lives of wildlife. There are many web sites where people can go to access these images – one of the most popular being www.ustream.tv, where people can find a huge variety of animal webcams, both domestic and in the wild.
“What ‘ustream’ does is provide webcam streams and a chat room so people from all around the world can talk about the feeds. There are moderators who keep the chatroom appropriate and who can provide information about the animals on the stream. There are people that log in all around the world,” Pearman said.
“I think webcams are really increasing the level of nature appreciation because people are able to get so close. Not everybody gets involved, but there are a core group that make that extra effort to get that data and send it in,” she added.
This group of people making the extra effort are everyday, non-paid citizens who enjoy watching the feeds for long periods of time and who relay certain information about the animals to researchers. This teamwork cuts down the amount of time researchers have to be specifically watching the cameras, but widens the breadth of the research.
“Two things are amazing about that – you have the webcam technology that enables this data to be collected, and then you have a team of dedicated owl watchers that can pass information to the researchers like ‘citizen scientists’. The researchers can’t always be watching, so they communicate with those who do watch and who are recording the exact times and weather during activities,” Pearman said.
“It gives the general population a way to contribute to current scientific understanding of these species.”
Images and videos from the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Ellis Bird Farm cameras are available on the Ellis Bird Farm web site.