By Nathan Gonzalez, Arizona Game and Fish Department
(images courtesy AGFD)
In an effort to better connect the public with Arizona’s wildlife, the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s (AZGFD) Watchable Wildlife program began utilizing live-streaming cameras to offer visitors a real-time glimpse of wildlife in their natural element.
In 2016 the department offered two live-streaming camera feeds: one that allowed visitors to watch sandhill cranes in southern Arizona, and another trained on a peregrine falcon nest eight stories above downtown Phoenix.
Peregrine falcon nest goes live in downtown Phoenix
Peregrine falcons have nested in the downtown Phoenix area for more than a decade.
In early 2016, a clutch of four eggs was laid, and on Mother’s Day, May 8, the lone viable egg hatched. Suddenly, viewers around the world became engrossed, watching every movement via the Internet as the chick quickly began to grow.
Ordinary viewers – most of whom weren’t interested in wildlife before – began researching peregrine falcons on their own, and soon questions poured in to AZGFD’s social media sites and webpages from followers wanting to know more about peregrine falcons.
Struggle in the nest
A week after hatching, AZGFD biologists noticed the chick’s legs were splayed and it had issues standing and feeding properly. As the chick struggled, viewers around the world voiced concern about its health and multiple viewers began to call, email and plead with AZGFD to intervene.
After much internal deliberation, AZGFD removed the chick from the nest for a full exam and x-rays. It was then fitted with splints to correct its splayed legs and placed back in the nest.
The chick stabilized, but comments and questions to the department continued. To stem the flow, AZGFD held an hour-long Facebook Live chat session with two of the department’s wildlife experts, who answered viewer questions about the overall health of the chick.
The Facebook Live chat session – the first for the department – was wildly successful, reaching 22,686 people, attracting 129 live viewers and the video being watched about 4,000 times. Through the chat session, AZGFD helped to educate the public about the real challenges facing this and all peregrine falcon nests in the wild.
Peregrine chick ventures on the ledge
By late May, the young falcon was large enough to perch on the ledge of the nest eight stories above downtown Phoenix. Worried viewers again placed pressure on AZGFD to intervene.
Some requested that the bird be raised in a wildlife facility or that the department place a net below the ledge to prevent it from falling from the nest. With temperatures forecasted to hit 110-plus degrees, many even begged that a fan or air-conditioning be placed inside the nest.
In nearly every instance, AZGFD staff worked to inform an emotional public that conditions within the nest were not any different from thousands of other nests. The only difference in this case was that a live streaming camera was broadcasting this family’s every move.
On June 4, the peregrine chick fell from the nest but was recovered. It appeared to be alert, was hydrated and underwent x-rays to check for any broken bones. After receiving a positive examination, the chick was returned to the nest.
Unfortunately, due to the trauma of the fall, combined with unseasonably high temperatures, the chick later succumbed to an apparent internal injury that was not revealed during the exam and died.
From the beginning, AZGFD’s goal was to provide the public an appreciation for our wildlife and the many challenges they face on a daily basis. In that regard, the wildlife cameras were a huge success.
However, such success came with drawbacks. Our viewers and local media enthusiastically embraced the drama unfolding before their eyes and went the extra step to become impromptu “experts” on peregrine falcons.
These vocal “experts” then began to second-guess AZGFD wildlife biologists and the department’s approach of nonintervention inside the nest and flooded the department with phone calls, emails and comments on social media. This required the involvement of AZGFD’s Information, Watchable Wildlife and Wildlife Education branches to collaborate on a thorough communications strategy to respond to the unfolding situation.
While there were some vocal public detractors, AZGFD received hundreds of positive remarks about the experience, and school teachers, home schoolers, graduate students and the general public expressed their appreciation for their newfound understanding of Arizona’s wildlife.
Providing the public an opportunity to witness wildlife in their environment remains a priority to the department to help those around the world to better appreciate that which they rarely experience.