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Nest Failure: Virginia Falcon Drama Unfolds Online 

click to enlarge You can watch peregrine falcons Ozzie and Harriet at blog.wildlife.virginia.gov/falcon-cam.

Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries

You can watch peregrine falcons Ozzie and Harriet at blog.wildlife.virginia.gov/falcon-cam.

The cheetah cam at the Metro Richmond Zoo is an obvious ploy to suck away time. It isn’t easy to take your eyes off of mama cat Vaila’s latest cubs. Those five, fuzzy balls of cuteness are enough to postpone the most pressing of tasks.

There’s also an avian option to bring the animal kingdom to your desktop. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries launched a live cam this year that provides a window into the family life of peregrine falcons Ozzie and Harriet.

The birds have had an online presence since 2007, but could be viewed only through still shots that refreshed every three seconds. Now viewers can catch all the exploits unfolding during nesting season at their roost, located on a ledge of the Riverfront Plaza West Tower.

Ozzie, who’s about 16, was released as a partnership between the game department and the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary — part of an effort to replenish the peregrine falcon population.

He was later joined by Harriet, who wasn’t born under human observation. And they hit it off. Their offspring have been spotted as far away as Baltimore, tracked by researchers through bands placed on their legs. On average, banded and released falcons are known to have a lifespan of about 20 years.

But prepare yourself for downers, too. As the department detailed on its blog, the pair’s story recently took a tragic turn. Harriet’s most recent clutch of four eggs died early last week. She ate the yolks of some of the eggs, as is a falcon’s instinct when the embryos are no longer viable. Photos of the morbid act are posted on the game department blog.

“They have had nest failures in the past,” says Sergio Harding, a nongame bird conservation biologist with the department. “It’s a bit of a letdown.”

The odds have gone against Ozzie and Harriet. Since 2003, only 33 of the couple’s 61 eggs have been viable, and 30 chicks have survived to spread their wings for a first flight.

There was similar sad news over at the Metro Richmond Zoo, where Vaila lost two cubs in her litter of seven early last month.

More zoos have been installing animal cams in the last few years, boosting popularity of the furred and feathered stars. Discovery News reports that humans may love watching cute animals because it triggers the production of dopamine, which affects the brain’s pleasure center. Maybe that also explains our addiction to all of those YouTube videos with cats.

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