By Pat McShea
Raptor nests become more visually familiar territory every year. Whether you favor Bald Eagles or Peregrine Falcons, strategically-placed cameras in the immediate Pittsburgh area can bring the real-time life and death drama of nesting season to the screen of any internet connected device.
The website of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania is the gateway to cameras monitoring two local Bald Eagle nests, and the website of the National Aviary provides access to the video feed of a Peregrine Falcon nest high on the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. Internet searches under terms such as “bird of prey nest cams” will dramatically widen options for both geographic territory and the variety of raptor species under camera surveillance.
Local nest cam action declines at this time of year as the young birds’ early flying attempts increasingly place them far out of camera range. No such development occurs within a recently restored historic diorama now located at the base of the museum’s Grand Staircase. Here, in a scene taxidermist Joseph Santens constructed from the Red-shouldered Hawks and nest he collected in McKean County in 1911, it’s always feeding time.
What’s the value of this traditional museum diorama compared to the seasonal live action that web cameras so easily provide?
In our digital age the exhibit’s highest value might involve its assemblage of associated materials. Every museum specimen with accurate data about where it came from and when it was collected can be regarded as a three-dimensional voucher of time and place conditions that can be repeatedly re-examined – whole, or in any of its minute chemical components.
The hundred-and-seven-year-old nest scene from northwestern Pennsylvania is a time capsule from a period when the technology of nest cams could not even be imagined.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.