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Monday, April 19, 2021

Bird Cam Frenzy Follows ‘Weird’ New Pets: Boisterous Blackbirds on Camera

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The five blackbirds outside Chicago’s Rosemont Prairie Nature Center made the rounds with groupies and a squawk-squawking audience of ones and zeros. Not only did they catch the attention of Bird Cam buff Julie Pierce (and possibly also of the planet at large), they became must-see celebrities.

Now they’re off the air, resting on the frozen Mississippi River behind a small ski hill in Indiana, they’re not particularly expensive to keep, and they give backers a sort of addictive thrill.

Dozens of nesting ducks and swans on the small Illinois lake (originally called Gary) bred on the site in the late 1990s, and when the families split up with babies to roam the land, the adult birds of roughly the same age gathered at the bird feeders and bird bath, captivating nature photographers and nature lovers. They’re almost never captured on camera, so when Ms. Pierce filmed their activities, it was priceless.

“Once I knew I had five of these birds, I knew this was something special,” she said. She later gave some of the birds to Michigan State University.

Money at least started flowing after Ms. Pierce posted the amazing video, and the new “bird cam” got enough good press to lure sponsors and raise $26,000 in three days to keep it running. Interest in more hunting for the birds, and even advertising, reportedly helped turn the phenomenon into a craze.

Now these boisterous birds, who won’t leave the trees and are hard to catch, can fill space in the aviaries of dozens of people — again, for a fee. Ms. Pierce, who signed a three-year lease on the site in the spring, said she’s now receiving over 100 requests per week. And while she set up the Bird Cam with no fanfare, a prerecorded (and coinkie-filled) “Stick With Me” song comes on by the hour. “Fans are kind of baffled why I have stuck with this for so long,” she said. “But I get such a kick out of watching them, and I really want them all.”

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