'[Nature] live streams are becoming free mental health gold mines'
From her rural Alberta home, she streams footage of local wildlife. ‘These relieved a lot of anxiety for me.'
For Jessica Duquette, the arrival of spring means new traffic at her bird feeders, and on her YouTube page. Duquette is also known as the Canadian Bird Nerd, and live streams the birds and animals that come to the feeders in her backyard, which is on the edge of a nature preserve near the Sheep River, in the foothills of southwestern Alberta.
Duquette has been fascinated with nature since she was a child. She says that as a young girl, she was always rescuing injured birds.
"You would have thought I would have gone to school for ecology or zoology," she jokes. "But I didn't. I went to nursing school."
Unfortunately, a chronic illness that Duquette had lived with since birth began to get worse while she was studying, and by the time she graduated, she was unable to practice nursing. She found herself having to spend a lot of time inside, and wound up discovering the Cornell Labs streams of bird feeders and nest cams.
"Watching these relieved a lot of anxiety for me, and brought me back to my love for birds," she says.
From there, she formed friendships with other online bird fans across the world, many of whom ran amateur bird feeder streams. Eventually, a friend from Ohio helped her set up one of her own. Right now, Duquette has both a set of bird feeders and houses trees, and a ground feeder that attracts a wide variety of animals, including deer and foxes. In addition to live streaming, she also regularly makes highlight packages of the action at her feeders. The cams, she says, feature everything from action and adventure to slapstick comedy.
"There was a mule deer losing its antler," she says. "A young buck stepping on a dish and smacking himself in the face, like stepping on the end of a rake. A buck launching another deer in the air with its antlers." And we should note, they were not invited — these deer simply hop the fence and bring a comedy show to her window.
Duquette says that being in the foothills of Alberta, she gets to showcase a huge variety of Western Canadian birds, but her absolute favourites are still the chickadees, which are found across the country.
"They are very flirty with people," she says. "They are social, fearless, and intelligent. Once I put up a feeder or house out there they are the first to visit. They actually wait till I'm outside, they must hear me from a distance and they come visit me."
For Duquette, running nature cams is both a way to celebrate nature and a source of community. With so many of us stuck inside right now, that's something that we all need.
"I know for myself the therapy of getting to watch birds and animals, in general, relieves a lot of stress and anxiety," she says. "I have heard from others, that are regular chatters on my cams, that it does the same for them. I have one friend down in the US that is terminally ill and watching these cams has made the world of difference in her life."
As of 2021, Duquette says she's seen the live streams reach new audiences across the world.
"I have heard from so many people, from Greece to Italy and Japan and more, how the live streams have filled their days with joy and even connected them with other people from around the world through the chat feature on YouTube." She also gets many email questions from beginners, asking how to set up their own bird live streams, how to make a feeder, or just about general wildlife information.
She adds, "What was also really nice to see was the new study that came forward this year saying that watching birds holds more value than money. Not only does this hold true to me, but I have heard these kind of sentiments from my viewers as well, especially in Europe. This study is so great because it really promotes more individuals to access nature and birds, and seek out the live bird streams on YouTube. Free mental health gold mines at the tips of your fingers!"