Next Score View the next score

    Online video offers 24-hour view of Wellesley College ravens

    Fabled birds nest at Wellesley, with viewer tuning in

    Wellesley College’s Ravencam is broadcasting the family dynamics of the birds at their nest on a fire escape at a campus building.
    Wellesley College’s Ravencam is broadcasting the family dynamics of the birds at their nest on a fire escape at a campus building.

    The latest reality show set in Greater Boston is not about singles with drinking problems, women with boyfriend problems, or South Boston families with enunciation problems.

    Its focus is a hard-working young couple with a cozy nest and plans to start a family.

    Streamed live, 24 hours a day, Wellesley College’s “Ravencam” is making unlikely stars of the big, black birds, previously best known for midnight visits and uttering a single ominous word.


    Nicholas L. Rodenhouse, a Wellesley biology professor who studies songbirds, was surprised to see ravens on the suburban campus. When he began field research in the 1980s, Rodenhouse said, ravens were rarely seen near human habitation.

    Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
    Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    “You’d hear the ravens croaking,” he said, “and you knew you were in the deep dark forest.”

    Over the past three decades, though, ravens have become more populous across North America and expanded their nesting areas into increasingly urban districts, he said.

    The campus location provides a rare opportunity to observe up-close the behaviors of the pair, nicknamed Pauline and Henry for the college’s founders, Pauline and Henry Durant.

    And if their two eggs hatch on schedule in mid-April, viewers will be able to participate in the popular pastime of scrutinizing the skills of new parents.


    Rodenhouse has already observed behaviors similar to those of many expectant moms and dads.

    Henry spends much of his time guarding his mate and future offspring, Rodenhouse said, while Pauline cajoles him to bring food to her as she sits atop the eggs to keep them warm and safe.

    Not every bird couple functions as such a cohesive unit. Rodenhouse said many species breed with multiple partners to improve their offspring’s chance at survival, but mating for life — that’s so raven.

    Launched Friday, the live stream showed Pauline spending much of Sunday perched atop the eggs, occasionally preening her sleek feathers, standing and moving in a semicircle into a new position, rolling the eggs over with her beak, or reaching up with her talon to scratch her head.

    When he was not out foraging for food, Henry stood sentry, back to the camera, moving only to shift his gaze and scan a different quadrant of sky.


    The Kardashians, they are not.

    ‘They make such a distinctive sort of croaking sound. It’s a much more low and guttural sort of croak than any caw that you would hear from a crow.’

    Still, Pauline and Henry would not be the Internet’s first feathery reality stars. The nonprofit Raptor Resource Project’s live stream of bald eagles in an Iowa nest became an online sensation, attracting more than 200 million visitors. The video feed remains popular, with more than 14,000 simultaneous viewers Sunday afternoon.

    Rodenhouse said he is interested in learning from the ravens, not making them famous, but already he has heard from bird lovers enthusiastic about the Ravencam.

    Lauren Johnson, a sophomore majoring in biology and Spanish, was the first to see ravens on campus last October, after earlier hearing their unique call.

    “They make such a distinctive sort of croaking sound,” said Johnson, 20. “It’s a much more low and guttural sort of croak than any caw that you would hear from a crow.”

    Early last month, Johnson and Rodenhouse noticed that the pair had begun building a nest at the campus’s science center, within a third-floor fire escape enclosed on three sides by glass. With shelter from the elements, and a commanding view of the campus and meadows beyond, the nest, Rodenhouse said, can be compared the nest to “a nice penthouse apartment.”

    If their eggs hatch, Rodenhouse said, the raven family will probably remain on campus well into June, and viewers can watch the omnivorous bird parents feed their hatchlings all manner of treats.

    “It could be baby rabbits or half-torn-up frogs, you name it,” he said. “Heaven knows what’s actually going to be brought back to the nest as they get older.”

    If the eggs do not hatch, Rodenhouse said, Pauline and Henry will leave and start over in another spot, to return to this nest nevermore.

    Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.