PORT ST. LUCIE, FL (AP) In the city’s ritziest neighborhood, even the birds have Internet connections.
The Ginn Co., working with Audubon of Florida, has spent $150,000 to install “eagle cams” high above a Tesoro neighborhood to give computer users a rare glimpse into the protected world of a bald eagle.
Two high-resolution video cameras — one is powerful enough to read a book at 150 yds. — began beaming live video of an eagle nest Sept. 1 as the adults return to their home for a new season of rebuilding and mating. Internet users can watch the birds 24 hours a day, seven days a week on Audubon’s Web site, which also will track the newborn eaglets after they’ve left the nest.
Although it’s not the first eagle cam installed in Florida, Audubon’s Tim Bachmeyer said it’s the most advanced and may be the only one still working.
“We can operate one of the cameras by remote control, so if we see something interesting happening in a particular spot, we can zoom in or change the angle,” Bachmeyer said. “You’ll be able to look into the eagles’ eyes and see what color they are.”
Along with the eagle cams, Ginn’s contribution will pay for a wildlife scientist to tag newborn eagles with satellite transmitters that can be tracked, via the Internet, as they fly across the state or country over the next three to five years. That’s how long the transmitters operate, said Bachmeyer, noting the migration patterns of St. Lucie County eagles have never been monitored so precisely.
“This is scientific research in its purest sense,” said Al Jones, Ginn’s president of the Southeast region. “It’s going to be exciting for people in the city to watch how these eagles live and where they go.”
Although Ginn executives estimate they lost $28 million in forgone lot sales and other costs when the raptors moved their nest in the midst of construction at Tesoro last year, Jones said executives have tried to convert their loss into a positive.
“These eagles have kind of bought into our program,” said Jones, who plans to broadcast live Web feeds and satellite maps of the eagles on TV screens inside the golf course clubhouse adjacent to the nest. “They sit on our tractors and the golf course. One day we couldn’t move a big pile of pipe because an eagle was sitting on top.”
Most Florida eagles return to their nests in early September to get ready for fall mating and nesting season, Bachmeyer said. The offspring are born in December or January and are shooed from the nest by their parents shortly after they’re able to fly in the spring.
Although humans won’t be able to get closer than 750 ft. from the national symbols of freedom, computer users will have a bird’s-eye view 20 ft. from the nest, courtesy of the Audubon Web site: www.audubonofflorida.org. A link from Ginn’s Web site also will direct eagle enthusiasts to the site.
“We think this will be a great resource for school teachers, nature lovers, anybody,” said Bachmeyer, development director of the Florida chapter of the National Audubon Society. “We did this once before in Orange County, and we had half a million [Internet] hits between October and April.”
A great horned owl chased the eagles from the eastern tip of Tesoro in early 2004. They were spotted later building a nest directly above what was to be the eighth hole of the Tesoro golf course. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne ravaged their nest in September, but the birds returned each time to rebuild, much like their human counterparts below.
Jones said he hopes the satellite transmitters one day will let researchers figure out where eagles seek shelter from hurricanes.
“That’s something I’ve always wondered,” said Jones, who has encountered protected and endangered animals on countless Ginn development projects nationwide. “We do a lot of cutting-edge things in our company, but we’ve never done anything like this. It’s exciting.”