Watch a baby crane hatch with Colorado Crane Coalition’s camera |

Watch a baby crane hatch with Colorado Crane Coalition’s camera

A crane feeds on the side of Routt County Road 14 just outside of Steamboat Springs after returning to the Yampa Valley on April 6, 2023. Those wanting to get a close of view of the birds, which return to the Yampa Valley each spring, can check out the the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition's Sandhill Crane Camera, which keeps an eye on the nesting birds 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A steady wind rolls across the landscape, whistling through the spring growth near a nest, as a sandhill crane named Athena scans the horizon for threats and cares for her recently laid egg.

These are the moments that normally take place out of site, but thanks to the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition’s Sandhill Crane Nest Camera, we now can witness the normally secretive rituals of these birds.

“They’re more secretive when they’re nesting,” said Nancy Merrill, president and co-founder of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition. “As far as we know, our camera is the only live streaming camera on a crane nest, and from a scientific point of view, we have learned a lot of things that we didn’t know before.”

The 2023 Nest Camera is active right now and is focused on the nest of Athena and Rocky. The couple has been incubating at least one egg. Merrill said that if everything goes well, that egg is expected to hatch around May 22.

Until then, the camera will give the public a chance to watch the happenings around the nest. In the past, those activities including the incubation process, the birds trading positions on the nest and protecting the egg from predators. Merrill also is hopeful the camera will record the arrival of a new chick later this month.

In 2021, Rocky and Athena laid two eggs, but only one egg hatched on May 18. They raised this chick to fledging. In 2022, Rocky and Athena returned to their nesting area but nested just beyond the range of the Nest Camera. Last year the camera focused on another crane pair, Wilma and Fred, that successfully nested within range of the camera and produced one chick, Pebbles.

This year both pairs returned to the area around April 11 and carried on a lengthy battle over the territory, much of which was seen on camera. Finally on April 23, Rocky and Athena started nesting very close to the spot where they had nested in 2021 and laid their first egg. Wilma and Fred are still being seen in the area but to date have not started nesting.

The Sandhill Crane Nest Camera project was started in 2021 and focuses on a crane nest in the Yampa Valley. The livestream is 24/7 while the cranes are nesting. The coalition invites the public to visit its website, where viewers can access the nest camera, find crane-nesting FAQs and watch highlight videos. Viewers can also make comments and ask questions on the live video, and members of the coalition will respond with answers.

Merrill said that she would like to see the program expand to two cameras but that the coalition would need additional equipment and additional personnel to monitor what is happening. She said the nest camera does require a lot of staff time and volunteer time to keep everything going.

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The current live video feed is made possible through grants provided by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and the WHILD fund. Internet access for live streaming is provided by Zirkel Wireless. Camera installation and setup were completed by Photon Syndicate and discounted equipment was provided by Colorado Electric Supply. The live feed is made possible by generous individual donors who helped upgrade the equipment in 2022 and 2023.

“We definitely want public participation, not only as organized monitors, but just as they were watching, and if they catch something that’s of interest or that raises a question, we want to hear about it,” Merrill said. “We want to continue to expand and enhance the educational component, and then also there is the scientific knowledge that we gain.”

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