January–February 2023


The Eagle Has Nested

Lori Naumann looks back on 10 years of the EagleCam.

Julie Forster

High up in a cottonwood tree in Ramsey County is an enormous bald eagle’s nest that’s been the setting for a popular show streaming on the internet for a decade. The show is the live feed of the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program’s EagleCam, where the lives of eagle families—the ups and downs, the good and bad—have been recorded and watched and obsessed over by people all over the world. During the 2021–2022 nesting season alone, the EagleCam had 341,828 viewers including some in all 50 states and 127 countries. 

The EagleCam is turned on each November and remains on till August as eggs are laid, incubated, and hatched and chicks fledge—that is, if the eggs hatch and if the chicks make it that long in the face of many threats.

It started with an idea from a DNR staffer who spotted an eagle’s nest near a DNR office and suggested training a security camera on it and streaming the scene over live video. A camera was secured to a tree branch about 50 feet from the nest, and it went live in January 2013. Over the years, two adult female eagles and a series of male partners have produced 22 eggs and 15 chicks that survived to fledge at the site. 

The keeper of the EagleCam is Lori Naumann, information officer for the DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program. She led a team that installed the webcam and has been project manager ever since. We spoke with Naumann about her observations over the years.

Q | When the idea for an EagleCam was first presented to you, what did you think?
The first thing we had to figure out is how we were going to get a camera up there because it’s 100 feet in the air. It just so happened that I was also in charge of issuing permits to power companies for removal of osprey and eagle nests that were in problematic or hazardous places. Those species are protected and so are their nests, and power companies must come to the DNR in order to get a permit to remove a nest when no birds are present. The representative from Xcel Energy called me one day and said, “If there is ever anything we can do to help you in a project, give me a call.” He talked about a bucket truck. Then I got in touch with DNR IT staff, and we secured a camera from the company that provides security for DNR offices. They installed it when we got the bucket truck from Xcel Energy. It was kind of a coordinated effort between all of us.

Q | What was the goal with EagleCam? 
It was to educate the public about eagles and encourage interest in Minnesota wildlife and conservation efforts. Also, since I lead promotion of the nongame wildlife tax checkoff, we thought engaging people with the EagleCam would create opportunities to highlight the mission and work of the Nongame Wildlife Program. Nongame Wildlife was instrumental in the bald eagle’s recovery. We helped other states with their bald eagle populations by providing them with eagle chicks because Minnesota had a healthier population after DDT use pushed bald eagles to the brink of extinction. We thought the webcam would be a great gateway to help people understand and recognize the conservation work done by our program. 

Q | Viewership has grown over time, and now you have an EagleCam newsletter and a Facebook following. Has it been a success?
It has far surpassed our goals, especially during the pandemic. It reached viewers around the world within the first 48 hours of the first chick hatching during the pandemic. It has grown from hardly anyone knowing about it to this newsletter audience of close to 33,000, and we have close to 36,000 Facebook followers. We have classrooms all over the world that watch the EagleCam. We get letters from elementary schools almost every year. Schools have contests naming the chicks. The EagleCam has also brought in quite a bit of revenue for the Nongame Wildlife Program, which relies heavily on donations. 

Q | What do viewers see when they tune in?
In the beginning of the season, the parents are bringing sticks in to make the nest habitable. They make “nestorations.” Then they begin their courtship behavior, which is really interesting to watch, and they start mating. After the mating picks up and it starts happening more frequently, that’s when we go on egg watch. They lay up to three eggs, usually two days apart.

Q | When the chicks hatch, what do they eat?
Eagles are carnivores, and the chicks are eating all meat. At first they eat fish and then the prey get bigger. Parents will start bringing in things like squirrels. They tear the food into small pieces to feed the chicks. The feeding is at least every hour when chicks are really little. Eagle chicks are one of the fastest-growing animals on the planet because they are eating all protein. Then they fledge in about July, but at that point they don’t know how to hunt for themselves. The parents have to show them how to survive. 

Q | In 2014, some viewers urged the DNR to rescue a struggling chick. What was the outcome?
People fall in love with these chicks and they anthropomorphize them. This chick was struggling, and we had up front told people we were not going to intervene in nature, that just because we have cameras in the nest does not mean we will interfere. This is nature and we typically will not intervene, because number one, safety risks to people getting up there, and number two, we know that bald eagle chicks have a high mortality rate—50 percent in their first year. In this case, there was speculation that the chick might have been wrapped in fishing line and that removal of the line might save the chick. For that reason, we made the decision to go up into the nest and get the chick out and bring it to the Raptor Center. 

Q | Did the chick survive?
It did not. The Raptor Center determined that it was stepped on by one of the adults when it was probably small, and it had a severe wing fracture that was not going to heal properly so the chick would not be able to fly as an adult. What the Raptor Center usually does in that case is to euthanize it. I posted what happened, and the public was perfectly accepting. In a different incident last spring, one of the chicks was pushed out of the nest by its sibling. I retrieved the chick and brought it to the Raptor Center and it too was euthanized. The other chick had been striking it. We suspect the adult male may have died of avian influenza, so the adult female was on her own trying to raise these two chicks. She was doing her best to bring in enough food, and when there is competition for resources like that, siblicide is more likely, which is when one sibling kills another.

Q | Is it the same family that comes back to the nest, or is it always occupied by new bald eagles?
The nest is in a location where many resident and migrating bald eagles are present year round. When there is a highly coveted territory, usually the female chooses it. She will choose the nest and she will stay there. And she will accept or not accept a mate. The original female, about four years ago, was pushed out of her territory. Another female wanted that territory and started to take over the nest, and they fought. The original female left. This new female has had three different mates since 2019. 

Q | What improvements have you made to the EagleCam since it began?
We have replaced the camera once, and now the camera has infrared, so viewers can see activity in the nest at night. There is also an external microphone, so people can also hear what is happening. With the infrared camera and better audio, some people watch it all night long.

Q | What is the future of the EagleCam?
The nest gets bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier every year, and the branch can only hold so much weight. Eventually, nature will take its course in this way, too. We know the tree with the nest will eventually fall.  It seems to be in OK shape for now. We will leave the current camera in place. We have a new camera to install in a second nest, but the location has not been decided.