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A 'Truman Show' For Swallows

Ornithologists have taken voyeurism a step further by installing a video camera in the home of a pair of nesting tree swallows. The seemingly oblivious birds at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology are raising a family in full view of the World Wide Web.

The birds at
nestboxcam.htm are the most public avian participants in the Cornell Nest Box Network.

Thousands of other birds that nest in tree cavities and nest boxes -- including bluebirds, chickadees, kestrels, wrens, swallows and wood ducks-- are under observation by amateur scientists across North America who have joined the National Science Foundation funded project.

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Participating bird observers report their findings to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, where the information is analyzed by scientists and shared with the scientific community and conservation groups, as well as with all participants in the project.

The Ithaca-based laboratory provides a new image every 2 to 5 minutes during daylight hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. EDT.

Sometimes the picture at Nest-Box Cam is a feathery blur as the tree swallow parents tend their brood, which hatched June 7. When the adults leave the nest to search for food, anyone with access to the Internet has a clear view of one of Nature's great shows: a brood of tiny birds growing up in a hurry.

"If things stay on schedule, they will be fledging toward the end of June," says Paul Allen, the Cornell ornithologist who installed the camera. After the season's first brood leaves the nest, tree swallows often try to produce another brood, he adds, and if that happens the minute-by-minute Web drama will continue.

Concerned amateur scientists will be watching the Nest-Box Cam family closely, according to Allen, because some Nest Box Network observers in the Northeast are reporting relatively high nestling mortality in their nest boxes. Tree swallows are aerial feeders and they are particularly hard hit by unseasonably cool weather, which decreases the supply of insects.

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