OwlCam: The Hidden World follows a pair of Barred Owls as they raise three chicks in a nestbox in eastern Massachusetts. All of the footage was obtained through nestbox cameras or super-telephoto lenses, both of which provide intimate looks into the private lives of the adult owls and growing owlets.
The adult Barred Owls, nicknamed June and Ward by the filmmakers / nestbox hosts, nested in the box for at least eight years; the film follows the 2001 season from springtime courtship through the branching and fledging of the chicks.
The footage of Barred Owls is remarkable (although as a disclaimer I might say here that I have a big soft spot for this species). We get to see some amazing milestones in the lives of the chicks: hatching; first meals; their first glimpses of the outside world from the nestbox; branching mishaps and triumphs; and fledging. Adult behavior is also fascinating to watch, from June begging for food while continually incubating the eggs, to the two adults allopreening in one of the first moments June leaves the nestbox after caring for the chicks nonstop for several days. The video quality is very good and the fine editing turns the footage into an interesting story.
While the footage of the birds is compelling, I found the narration to be rather poor. The birds are constantly being anthropomorphized, with continual references to their feelings and motivations. Possibly more maddening, however, are the long pauses between narration at key points in the film. For example, as the first chick hatches, June can be seen eating the eggshell. I would imagine if you don’t expect this behavior or already understand it, it might appear to be gruesome, or even gross. The narrator makes no mention of it. As the chicks begin to branch, they are sometimes identified (they are also given names) by text on the screen, but this is frustratingly inconsistent, so viewers are left to guess who is who at some very exciting moments.
Despite the narration flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the look into the lives of these Barred Owls. If you’re interested in bird behavior in general, and owls in particular, I think you will, too. I give OwlCam: The Hidden World 4 Goldfinches out of 5.
The movie is available for purchase from Amazon.com or as a DVD rental via Netflix. The filmmakers also have a website where you can learn even more about June, Ward, and their adventures through the years. The DVD is available for purchase there, too, and there are some video clips from the film.