Move over, panda cam. There's a new live video animal stream on the Internet and it's of rare, endangered baby condors.
Two cameras -- one in Southern California and another in Central California -- began live streaming wild condor nests this week. You can watch the camera pointed at a redwood tree in the Big Sur here, or look below to look below to watch the live stream of a nest near the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County:
Each camera shows a pair of parents caring for a four-month-old chick, and the videos are the first public-facing streams of wild condor nests. A host of conservation and wildlife groups, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ventana Wildlife Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, made the cameras available, and they'll last until the chicks fledge in about two months.
The cameras allow researchers to monitor the sensitive condor population -- there's only about 400 left -- and conservationists hope they'll also pique the interest of a public obsessed with watching live footage of animals.
"It's going to be a really excellent outreach tool to raise awareness," said Joseph Brandt, a supervisory wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The ability to reach an audience with these online cameras is just fantastic."
The condor cams provide a rare glimpse in the life cycle of a wild nest, including parents interacting with each other and attending to their baby. You can catch the condors coming and going, and as the chicks grow up, they like to move around and exercise. The wildlife sounds are also quite soothing.
"They may be ghoulish to look at, but they certainly have a personality that makes up for it," Brandt said. "A lot of the action is pretty comical."
The initial numbers prove promising: on the day the cameras launched, about 13,000 unique visitors watched a total of 3,000 hours of live video of the birds in Ventura County, Brandt said.
Most condors fly freely throughout California, Arizona and Baja California while 190 live in captivity.
According to conservationists, lead poison remains the biggest threat to these scavengers that feast on the carcasses of large mammals, including deer, seals and cows. Lead makes its way into their food supply via dead animals that have been killed by humans using lead ammunition, Brandt said.
The fate of the species seemed much more grim in 1982, when just 23 condors were living, according to Fish and Wildlife. All living wild condors were placed into captivity in an effort to save them from extinction. The agency began releasing captive bred condors into the wild starting in 1992.
Condors, the largest North American land birds, have wingspans of 9.5 feet and weigh up to 25 pounds. Babies hatch after about 50 days of incubation. Parents take turns tending to one egg at a time in nests established in caves on steep cliff faces, remote spots that can make it monumentally difficult to keep track of these creatures.
Condor cams aren't totally new; USFWS began using private nest cameras a few years ago after a remote condor nest "failed" because the baby was injured. And a condor cam became a major plot point in the HBO series "Silicon Valley."