Live-streaming Internet webcams focused on animal subjects generally are
targeted at public audiences, but have the potential to be utilized by college
students for studies on animal behavior and ecology. I describe how a bird
feeder webcam provided a flexible and quality visual interface for students to
record video samples for an ornithology class research project. Details on the
operational aspects of the webcam are provided, and factors to be considered in
evaluating webcams for potential student research are discussed.
Key Words: bird feeders; Cornell Lab of Ornithology; DVR; FeederWatch Cam;
live-streaming; video-clip samples; video screen capture; webcams.
Today’s students are frequent personal users of Internet streaming
sources for viewing live or pre-recorded video content on platforms
such as YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix. Live-streaming webcams
(hereafter, webcams) are one component of today’s online technology
that can provide teachers a means to take their students on cyber field
trips, or to provide inquiry-based activities including research projects.
Webcams that provide viewing of captive
or wild animals are operated by government
and non-government conservation entities,
media groups, educational groups, and private individuals or entities. Masatoshi and
Kawakami (2002) were among the first to
demonstrate that streaming technology could
be successfully used to monitor wildlife
remotely via the Internet. MacNulty et al.
(2008) used a satellite up-link to the Internet
to transmit data in real time from video cam-
eras located within Yellowstone National Park to their lab in Minnesota,
allowing them to remotely monitor the abundance, distribution, and
behavior of large mammals across open areas within the park, but their
video feed was not available for public viewing. Whereas these early
studies explored how live-streaming Internet camera systems could
be used for wildlife research, today’s animal-focused webcams are more
commonly employed to give a public viewing audience an inside look
at animal behaviors and habitats, along with the promotion of the con-
servation and educational goals of the webcam sponsors (see webcams
at www.mangolinkcam.com and www.explore.org).
Although wildlife webcam sponsors’ main goals today are generally not to provide observational opportunities for scientific studies, scientists have used such webcams: for example, to assess the
relationship between environmental factors and aggression in captive flamingos (Peluso et al., 2013), to study aspects of the ecology
of wildlife at African waterholes (Hayward & Hayward, 2012), and
to monitor autumn attendance at a seabird colony site (Harris &
Wanless, 2016). Hayward and Hayward (2012) noted that their
use of public webcams in operation at several wildlife parks provided them an inexpensive method of remote data collection on
animal use at waterholes, and concluded that webcams “provide
novel ways of studying wildlife behaviour when coupled with creative scientific research thinking” (p. 216). Harris and Wanless
(2016) used a public webcam and found it to be an effective means
of monitoring attendance at a Guillemot (Uria aalge) colony site.
The only limitation they mentioned about the
webcam had to do with image quality.
To date, student use of live webcams for conducting research on wildlife is underutilized. Large
numbers of nest-viewing webcams are deployed
for birds such as Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), but
college students have not utilized Osprey webcams for research (Cushing & Washburn, 2014).
In a paper describing how online media such as
live webcams could be used as a new source of
behavioral data, Rault et al. (2013) stated that
“recordings of webcam streams could form the basis of undergraduate
laboratory projects, allowing students to work with the species they
are most interested in” (p. 806).
data collection, video
recordings can be
number of times.
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 80, No. 9, pp. 680–685, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2018 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2018.80.9.680.
TIPS, TRICKS &
Internet Webcams Provide
Opportunities for College Student
Research on Animal Behavior and
Ecology: An Example with Birds
• BRUCE EICHHORST