DUNEDIN — Bird watchers traditionally aren't couch potatoes. Even watching birds casually usually requires, at the very least, that the observer be outside.
Not so with the Dunedin Osprey Cam, a live-streaming webcam trained on an osprey nest along the Pinellas Trail next to the Stirling Links golf course.
The nest is home to two ospreys: Stirling, the male, and Pinella, the female. The two are incubating three eggs, which are scheduled to hatch sometime in mid to late April.
The webcam was the brainchild of Sparky Jones, a retired biology teacher from Fairfax County, Va., who now splits her time between Dunedin and Delaware.
Upon moving to Pinellas County, she said, she fell in love with the osprey. She knew of a nest atop a light pole near the golf course and thought it would be nice to have a webcam on it so she and others could watch the birds from home.
Now in its seventh year, the live feed has gained a lot of attention both locally and internationally. Dan Zucker, whose Dunedin marketing firm designed dunedinospreycam.org, said about 9,000 people watched the live video feed in February, and 40,000 people from 25 countries visited the website.
"As the eggs are laid, it starts to get busier. And when the chicks are there it really goes nuts," Zucker said.
The current camera is made by Axis and has pan, tilt and zoom functionality. It can accommodate 50 people watching at once, and the camera will kick users off after about two minutes to make room for new users who want to watch the feed. Viewers can take turns controlling the camera to follow the birds as they tend to their nest or they can zoom in really close to see the eggs.
Jones and Zucker both said they would like to add sound to the live stream, but the camera and the streaming service they use do not support audio. Zucker said they will probably look into getting another camera — hopefully the last camera, he said — to fully integrate sound.
The nest and webcam also have a large following on Facebook. Jean Currier, an Aiken, S.C., resident who vacations in Madeira Beach two weeks a year and always visits the ospreys, wanted to create a forum in which fans of the nest could discuss events and build camaraderie.
Currier actively monitors the feed and posts to the page videos and screen shots of the nest taken by the webcam as well as daily weather reports for Dunedin. She managed to capture a video of Pinella laying her second egg on March 4.
The community on Facebook ultimately named the two birds: Pinella, for Pinellas County, and Stirling, for Stirling Links golf course. The page now has more than 450 likes.
The Facebook community believes this is Pinella and Stirling's second year at the nest, although Jones said it is really difficult to tell, unless they have been banded, because there are few distinguishable traits from one osprey to the next.
The likelihood is high, though. Barbara Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society, whom Jones called "the Raptor Queen of Pinellas County" and a self-proclaimed "osprey-ologist," said ospreys have high site fidelity, meaning they tend to return to the same spot each year to nest.
Walker was involved in banding efforts, where workers in bucket trucks remove chicks from the nest and attach a tag to the osprey's legs. That is meant to make it easier to identify birds. However, after a tragedy last year in which one of the chicks getting banded died from apparent heart trouble, banding ceased for this year.
Ospreys can live to be 20 years old — though Walker said most ospreys around here don't live that long — and, starting at age 2, lay eggs every year until their death.
"They can live a really long time if they can stay away from all the hazards, but that is not what happens here," she said.
Ospreys compete with eagles in this area for food and they will also often get hit by cars while diving for food in the street, Walker said.
"If there's any bird that can get itself in trouble, it's an osprey," she said. They also do poorly in captivity, she said, so they are rarely effectively rescued.
Webcam viewers can expect to see Pinella and Stirling sticking around the nest until their chicks are old enough to fly and be independent, about 10 to 14 weeks after they hatch, Walker said. Then, the birds will likely leave for the summer.
But they'll be back. Jones said, "Around November, December, you'll start to see them visiting the nest and moving stuff in."