Kansas Ranch Live Cam Eyes Eagle Eggs

YouTube's 'Farmer Derek' Has New Focus: A Pair of Bald Eagle Eggs About to Hatch

Joel Reichenberger
By  Joel Reichenberger , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
A pair of bald eagles keep a sharp eye out for danger while trading places incubating their two eggs. Dubbed Ellie and Harvey, the two are featured on a live cam set up by YouTube farming personality Farmer Derek. The eggs are expected to hatch later in March. (Screen shot from live cam)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (DTN) -- The due date is March 18, and Kansas farmer and rancher Derek Klingenberg has long been thinking of how he'll handle everything around the big day. No need to attend Lamaze class, pack a go-bag or map the route to the hospital, however. Klingenberg is waiting on a pair of bald eagle eggs to hatch.

Thanks to a live-feed camera he installed (https://www.youtube.com/…), he has dozens of fans from around the world pacing in the waiting room with him.

"I'm definitely excited. These are my eagles, ya know," he said this week.

Klingenberg, who ranches and grows soybeans about 45 minutes north of Wichita, Kansas, near the town of Peabody, launched a social media side hustle 15 years ago when he started posting parody songs to YouTube. His most viral hit came from his trombone skills, refined in the marching band at Kansas State University. A video where he called in the cows on his family ranch has racked up nearly 25 million views to date (https://www.youtube.com/…). Now, as "Farmer Derek," his social media moniker, he regularly adds new content such as original and parody songs and other clips showcasing his goofy sense of humor and rural lifestyle.

He's expanded his web presence, as well, and one area in which he's found steady interest is on-farm live cameras.

Check at any hour now and one can observe cows grazing a field or a feeding station set up to attract deer. There are often other people watching, and at times dozens, looking on and chatting. Pay a small fee and they can even trigger an automatic system that drops corn for the cows or deer.

It's attracted regular fans from around the country and even the world. Payments have been made in more than 35 currencies.

Klingenberg has also had a pair of live cameras on an owl's nest for four years, with mixed results. The first year, the eggs yielded two baby owls. Racoons got to the eggs the second year. A recently hatched owl died in a windstorm another year and now two eggs are preparing to hatch this year.

The eagles, though, are a new addition to the lineup. They're also a new addition to the region, an area where bald eagles were so rarely seen Klingenberg couldn't help but get excited several years ago when he first noticed a nest constructed on a neighbor's property.

EAGLES SPREADING THEIR WINGS

Eagles moving into a new area fits larger trends according to conversation experts.

"We've seen exponential growth in the bald eagle population the last couple of decades," said Trish Miller, a senior research wildlife biologist with Conservation Wildlife Global.

Miller visited the Kansas nest several years ago and met Klingenberg.

"Regions like where Derek is in Kansas and in other places, like Iowa, have seen eagles move into places they may not have been found in the past," she said. "They're nesting away from water and in a farmland setting."

A 2020 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated there to be 316,700 bald eagles in the United States, 4.4 times as many as were estimated in a 2009 study. Alaska plays host to the most, but an estimate by Wildlife Informer puts 137 breeding pairs in the state of Kansas.

"Ellie" and "Harvey," as Klingenberg's live-feed eagles have been dubbed, have been seen on the cameras eating fish and other small game. Eagles settling down in the Midwest will nab everything from pheasants to ducks and even turtles. They can be fierce scavengers, dining on rural roadkill, chickens that linger too long outside the coop or animal carcasses on a farm. They'll make a meal out of almost anything, including landfill scraps and improperly covered compost piles.

"They have a very broad diet and can move into these places and adapt to what's available," Miller said. "It's really an amazing conservation story, to bring these birds back to the levels they were probably at post-settlement of the United States."

Whatever they're looking for, at least one eagle family has found it in southcentral Kansas farmland.

TUNING IN

Klingenberg carefully scouted the location to mount a camera using an aerial quad-copter drone, picking out a target branch that seemed sturdy enough. A borrowed boom truck didn't have an arm long enough for him to mount the equipment on his first attempt, so he had to rent one that reached even higher -- 65 feet -- to install his camera.

Building that setup was a project of its own, one he took on with plenty of tech help from a cousin.

The camera is connected by a cord that's strung through a garden hose because "rodents absolutely will eat it," Klingenberg said. That runs down to "the brains of the operation," a soybean pro box he's outfitted to be an eagle watching command center. Four solar panels provide power for a series of batteries on the inside, mounted on a shelf he built into the box. There are heating and cooling systems that can be remotely operated to keep everything running smoothly and it's all connected to the web by Starlink satellites.

When fans log on, they'll see a nest high in a tree with Ellie and sometimes Harvey standing guard over a pair of big white eggs. Wind rustles the trees and sometimes rain plinks off the camera as the birds hunker down tight.

At one point those fans zoomed in tight to realize Ellie had a band around a talon and that helped them age and trace her. She hatched 11 years ago near Clinton Lake outside Lawrence, Kansas.

The day the first egg was spotted was an exciting one. Klingenberg wasn't actively watching but working in his shop, where one TV is always tuned to the live eagle feed. He initially missed the moment, on Feb. 13, but rewound to see Ellie tense up with her feathers standing on end, then step back and look down at her egg. Three days later a second followed.

Those dates make March 18 the day fans will be eagerly watching for a chick to start hatching.

Klingenberg has plans, too. He wants to go live on camera when the eggs hatch and celebrate the moment with the small community that has come together around his live cameras.

"I'd like to go live, but in my world that can be difficult to schedule," he said. "This is all an adventure for me. I love eagles and I love the science behind them. This has all been so educational and I've met a lot of cool people, too."

Joel Reichenberger can be reached at Joel.Reichenberger@dtn.com

Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @JReichPF

Joel Reichenberger