Last spring, Philadelphia was abuzz when a couple of young red-tailed hawks took up residence on a ledge of The Franklin Institute. The museum quickly cleared out the conference room that overlooked the nest, set up a webcam just inside the window and began running streaming live video of the birds' daily lives.
For several spring months, the hawks captivated the interest of the city. A blog, Hawkwatch at the Franklin Institute, launched to track the birds' comings and goings. More than 350 "Franklin Hawkaholics" joined a Facebook group dedicated to the birds. And a local television station captured the moment the birds' three eggs began to hatch. In all, the Franklin Institute's webcam was viewed more than 660,000 times before the hawks flew the coop in June.
Why all the commotion? The birds' time in the City of Brotherly Love was not without drama. One young bird, apparently not yet ready to fly, flew out of the nest and was unable to return. As the city watched, the bird was rescued and rehabilitated.
And aside from the drama, the webcam offered a rare, up-close glimpse of birds that, while common to the Northeast, are much more typical to rural landscapes than city centers. The carnivorous hawks seemed to adapt quickly though, finding food in the city's rodent population.
After several months away, the hawks are heading back to Philadelphia. The Franklin Institute resumed its live video this month after the birds -- red-tailed hawks mate for life -- were spotted re-building their perch.
For the time being, the webcam tracks mostly an empty nest. But considering last year's schedule (the eggs were laid by mid-March and hatched in mid-April), the couple is expected to return to the nest full-time soon. And a city will resume its new spring pastime.
Photo: Red-tailed hawk on ledge of The Franklin Institute / By Gene Mancini