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The Minnesota DNR's Eagle Cam is a hit reality TV nature show

Nearly 50,000 people get updates on the eagles via email and Facebook, and viewers have tuned in from 180 countries.

Nearly 50,000 people get updates on the eagles via email and Facebook, and viewers have tuned in from 180 countries. Minnesota DNR

If there was a Venn diagram that included circles labeled “reality TV,” “Minnesota government,” and “dead animals,” the very center would be the Minnesota DNR’s Eagle Cam.

Are you in your office? Just look around. Somebody’s watching it.

The Minnesota DNR Eagle Cam is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week live feed of an eagle’s nest tended by one eagle mom. The location of this nest is kept secret -- why will become abundantly clear in a minute -- but know that it’s right across the street from a DNR office.

The Eagle Cam started in 2012. The whole thing was a PR maneuver to get more people to donate to the Nongame Wildlife Fund. Though there’s no official data on how many Eagle Cam viewers there are, 24,000 people have signed up for the email update, and are an equal number of Facebook fans. The Minnesota Eagle Cam has been viewed in all 50 United States, and in 180 different countries.

According to Lori Naumann, who oversees the project, there were few other eagle cams around when the DNR launched in 2012. There was one in Hutchinson and one in Iowa. But the DNR’s chosen eagle mom -- the same eagle mom who is tending the nest today -- laid eggs super early that year. Like, January early.

The eggs froze and didn’t hatch.

Still, people couldn’t get enough.

And they especially can’t get enough right now. This week is Hatch Week. It takes around 35 days for an eagle egg to hatch, and that puts the big day right around Friday, March 30. But there’s been drama in the Eagle Cam household.

First, the main male eagle of the nest -- the one Naumann calls “the dad” -- vanished in November. He was immediately replaced by some riffraff competition, including a really young male.

Anyway, he and the mom eagle did it. Yay! Three eggs!

The problem is that the male eagle is so young and so clueless that his hormones aren’t in sync with the female eagle, and he has no fatherly instinct.

“The male doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to be bringing her food when she’s incubating,” Naumann says. “He’s supposed to be pulling his weight.”

He got a little better as time went on. But it’s been crappy egg weather. Eagles can handle cold. Please. They’re eagles. What they can’t handle is cold and wet. The female hasn’t been spending as much time on the nest, and wet snow isn’t a good insulator.

So the eggs have been sitting there, days away from the hatch deadline, and no protective butt over them half the time.

Facebook cannot handle it.

“Shouldn’t these eggs be hatching sometime this week?” a commenter asked. “So far, nothing. Does this mean that the eggs are not viable and the nest is lost? Sad…”

Other commenters chimed in. No, there’s still hope -- some eagles take 37 to 40 days to incubate. And what happened to the third egg? Has anyone seen the third egg?

Confusion dissolved into panic.

Yeah, Naumann said, the third egg might be gone.

“Dad doesn’t like that egg for whatever reason,” she says. It might just be buried down in the nest somewhere. But in the meantime, Facebook is freaking out. And it wouldn’t be the first time the internet has demanded that Naumann spring into action and save everyone’s favorite characters on the Eagle Show.

One year, she says, the governor’s office got so many calls from people worried about a sickly chick dying in the nest that they straight up called the DNR to go fix it. They ended up caving and going to get it, but had to euthanize it later anyway. It had a broken wing.

People even give Naumann crap even when everything’s fine in Eagle Town. They demand more frequent updates explaining the latest developments -- is the dad injured, is the egg going to hatch, etc. -- and reprimand her for not “doing her job.”

Yet this is nature. Nature is interesting, but it’s not good television all the time. The year after the broken wing debacle, another chick was doing poorly, and the mom eagle just turned her back to the camera for a second and obscured everyone’s view. Before she’d moved, there’d been three chicks.

Afterward, there were two.

“She did it so gracefully,” Naumann says. “She’s my favorite bird in the whole world now.”

She’s not sure what’s going to happen this year. The eggs might hatch. They might not.

“I think we have pretty good odds.”

Thanks to donations to the Nongame Wildlife Fund, there’s more on the horizon: a possible second Eagle Cam next year, and a new Falcon Cam going up next week – likely with eggs already in the nest.