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March 13, 2010

Web cam lets world watch bald eagles nest at Sooner Lake

STILLWATER, Okla. — he bald eagles have nested at Sooner Lake and are back on webcam.

The three eggs in the nest are expected to hatch in late March. The webcam will capture the incubation period, hatching in 10 to 12 weeks that lead up to the eaglets’ first flight, George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center Executive Director Steve Sherrod said.

The Sutton Center has webcast bald eagle nestings for five years – the last three years from Sooner Lake, Sherrod said.

“It was really a challenge this year,” Sherrod said.

The bald eagles worked on four nests before settling on one in a cottonwood tree that hadn’t been wired for Web broadcasting, he said.

“They went there at the last minute,” Sherrod said.

 The Sutton Center, part of the University of Oklahoma’s Oklahoma Biological Survey in the College of Arts and Sciences, received permission from the land owners to install the cameras and support equipment.

Researchers rushed to install cameras and get electricity to the site north of Stillwater. If the nest is disturbed when eggs are present, the bald eagles likely will desert it, Sherrod said.

The rickety, dead cottonwood tree also posed a problem.

The center used a deer ladder and a young man who weighed just 125 pounds to install the camera and attach video and power lines to the tree, he said.

A small trailer with solar panels and a wind generator provides electricity for the cameras, he said.

Rabbits were the next problem. They were gnawing on the bottom of trees, and all the lines running from the tree to the trailer were run through conduit to keep the rabbits from gnawing through the lines, he added.

Atlas Computers of Owasso, OG&E and One Net have partnered with The Sutton Center to provide the webcasts.

All the preparations were completed before the first egg was spotted Feb. 17. The third egg appeared between Feb. 20 and 23. The eggs incubate 33 1/2 days, Sherrod said.

It’s a miracle the Sutton Center can webcast bald eagle nesting at all because America’s symbol disappeared from the prairies in the mid-1980s. Pesticides containing DDT caused bald eagles and other birds to lay thin-shelled eggs that often broke before they hatched.

Between 1984 and 1992, the Sutton Center removed bald eagle eggs from nests in Florida. The eggs were incubated, hatched and the resulting eaglets were raised and released in high-quality habitats in Kansas, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi, Sherrod said.

Adult eagles cannot be relocated because they will fly back to where they were born, he said.

Sherrod said 90 bald eagles were released in Oklahoma, and 275 in all the states.

“Our restoration efforts have worked beyond our wildest imaginations,” he said.

Last year, the bald eagle webcam received 4.2 million hits from 62 countries. The Webcam can be accessed at www.suttoncenter.org.

Many teachers use the cam in part of the classroom instructions.

In Midwest City, Soldier Creek Elementary School special education teacher Sheri Admire incorporated the bald eagle webcam into her lesson plans last year and is tuning in this year as well.

“We are excited it’s up again,” Admire said. “We have a smaller group this year than last year.”

The webcam runs on her laptop computer in the classroom. She uses it to show how technology can reach into the classroom.

Last year, Admire students searched for other live animal cams as well.

Admire’s students have emotional and behavioral problems. Watching the birth of the eaglets and how the mature birds cared for the eaglets changed the way students interacted with each other, she said.

“They became more in touch with their feelings. They stopped fighting with each other and seeking attention. They were more polite and caring toward each other,” she said.

This year, her students wonder when the male bald eagle will start spending more time at the nest, and worry about the female bald eagle being cold and exposed to the weather, she said.

The male bald eagle will play a larger role after the eaglets hatch, Sherrod said. He will bring food to the nest.

“The male will bring in a lot of food. He feeds them everything from shad to coots,” he said.

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