We recently hung a bird feeder in front of our large bay window, and my two girls (3 years old and 22 months) have enjoyed watching out for any fowl brave enough to stop for a bite under the watchful eyes of our beagle mix. So far, this has been limited to one plucky cardinal. Observing their excitement at watching the birds got me thinking about what other wildlife viewing opportunities I could create up for them – tricky during this year's seemingly endless winter.
But luckily when the weather gets tough, the tough can go online. There is a menagerie of webcams around the world, broadcasting animals of all kinds in zoos, aquariums, sanctuaries and the wild.
I figure if my kids are going to beg me to watch videos on the computer, at least they can learn some observation skills and gain an appreciation for wildlife. I gave each of the girls paper and a box of crayons, and encouraged them to draw pictures of the animals they were watching. For older kids there are even lesson plans you can use to help encourage your own budding Jane Goodalls.
Here are some sites to help you get started on your own virtual safari.
1. The National Aquarium: These cameras are kind of like those old-school tropical fish screensavers, only with actual fish. The National Aquarium in Baltimore offers an underwater view of its Blacktip Reef, featuring more than 700 inhabitants in 70 species including blacktip reef sharks, stingrays, a 500-pound sea turtle and a rainbow of other fish. Another cam offers a peek at the Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, where your kids can spot Nemo (or one of his clownfish relatives) as well as anemones, sea stars and tangs. See how many fish you can identify.
2. Smithsonian's National Zoo: The home of the piÃ¨ce de résistance of animal voyeurism – The Panda Cam – the Washington, D.C.-based zoo also offers you a chance to watch Asian small-clawed otters, clouded leopards, fishing cats, naked mole rats and orangutans. Most of the feeds are small, fixed and in black and white, which might not hold the attention of the littlest viewers, but the pandas and the lions (now with super-cute cubs) are both in color with larger-sized displays. The panda cam also follows its subjects and zooms in to capture more of the action (and by action we mean close-ups of pandas either sleeping or chowing down on bamboo).
3. Sea World: If your kids are as penguin-obsessed as mine (thank you, “Happy Feet”) they'll love Sea World's AnimalVision cam featuring our favorite flippered birds. When I tuned in there was a crested penguin (think Lovelace from “Happy Feet”) sleeping right in front of the camera blocking the view of his waddling brethren. Luckily, there were some other options on the site, including sea turtles and stingrays.
4. Africam: If you've always dreamed on going on safari in Africa but dread the thought of all the planning, packing and the seemingly endless plane ride with your kids in tow, well here's the next best thing. Africam features six cameras live streaming prime wildlife spots throughout the African bush. If you want to try to spot critters in the daylight, be sure to log on in the morning, as the action is about seven hours ahead of East Coast time. If there's nothing going on, check out the video archives, where you can catch highlights of everything from fighting zebras to rare wild dogs taking down an impala (some of the footage is graphic). There are also forums where you can chat with other viewers and virtual rangers, as well as information pages on the different animals you see.
5. Animal Planet Live: The network devoted to all things furry, feathered and scaled hosts a variety of feeds – from bees to bulldogs to cockroaches – all in color. If you're just looking for a little cute fix, tune into the cameras capturing kittens and puppies at the Washington Animal Rescue League, but if you want something a little more wild, check in with Hog Island in Maine this spring, where wild osprey will return from wintering in South America to raise their young. Finally, conspiracy theorists out there will love Bigfoot cam – hidden deep within an undisclosed location, you can scan the tree line for sightings of Sasquatch from the comfort of your home.
6. Wolf Conservation Center: Located in South Salem, N.Y., this nonprofit environmental education center devoted to promoting wolf conservation hosts four webcams that document the daily lives of several of the center's residents. Check out Zephyr and Alawa, a pair of Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolves, or watch the critically endangered Mexican gray wolves (there are only about 400 remaining in the world) or the red wolves (just 300 surviving worldwide). The center, which hopes the webcams will promote interest in, and the revitalization of, these animals, has partnered with WildEarth, a website that shares live video of wildlife from around the world – from Bald Eagles in Pittsburgh to a popular watering hole in Botswana.
There are new wildlife cams popping up all the time – especially when animals start raising families. Feel free to share your favorites on the Parenthacker's Facebook page.