[skipwords]One of last year's most popular reality shows is back for another season, returning its leading couple alongside a new cast of rising stars. The producers may have gone out on a limb for this series, but viewers are already flocking back by the thousands.

 

This isn't a typical TV show, though — it's a webcam feed of a bald eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa. The two eagle parents became Internet superstars last year, as millions of people watched them raise three chicks through a blustery Iowa winter and spring. And now they've already laid new eggs for 2012: One on Feb. 17, followed by a second on Feb. 20. (Update: A third egg arrived at 8:06 p.m. local time on Feb. 24.)

 

The nest is located on private land near the Decorah Fish Hatchery, and is monitored via webcam by the nonprofit Raptor Resource Project (which also brought us the Internet's first-ever "birdcam" in 1998). The pair of eagles originally built this nest in 2007, and they were featured in a 2008 episode of the PBS show "Nature."

 

But even though the same two eagles have successfully raised chicks there every year since, it wasn't until 2011 that their fame really took flight. That's when the Decorah webcam began streaming on UStream, eventually drawing in more than 200 million viewers from around the world. And now the eagles' fans are picking up where they left off last summer — tens of thousands are usually tuned in at any given time, especially now that eggs have appeared.

 

Check out the live feed below. It's surprisingly soothing to leave it on in the background, listening to the quiet breeze and occasional songbird chirp or eagle caw (until a loud, unmuteable commercial interrupts, that is).  

 

 

When the first egg hatches, the RRP will name it "D12" — "D" for Decorah, and "12" because it will be the 12th known chick born in this nest. The second and third eggs will be D13 and D14. The group offers this explanation for giving such sterile names:

 

"Traditional names can create an undue tendency to anthropomorphize. While the human emotion that may be attached to the eaglets is understandable, an alpha-numeric system ... may help us distance ourselves to observe the wonder of wildlife and nature at work."
 

Last year, the three eggs were laid on Feb. 23, Feb. 26 and March 2, and they all hatched during a four-day period in early April. It generally takes about 35 days from egg-laying to hatch, according to the RRP blog, although an eaglet may also need an extra day to break through the shell with its egg tooth. If this year's Decorah chicks follow their predecessors' pattern, they'll likely hatch in late March or early April.

 

[Update: Decorah eagles under 'Hatch Watch 2012']

 

Of course, it's never wise to count your eagles before they hatch. The Decorah parents have a good track record, but the RRP recommends cautious optimism. "The eagles hatched all of their eggs in 2009, 2010 and 2011; however, fertilized eggs can fail to develop due to extreme cold, soft shells or microorganisms," the group points out. "We are hopeful they will have another great year, but we won't know until it happens."

 

Ah, drama and suspense — the hallmarks of good TV. Now it just needs some chicks.[/skipwords]

 

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