Babies and animals always do well on the internet – and a combination of the two has helped create a North Yorkshire video sensation.
Birdwatchers from around the world are focusing their attention on eight newly hatched barn owl chicks living in Thixendale.
The unseasonable owlets, the results of two late broods, became internet sensations after wildlife artist Robert E Fuller began streaming the action from inside their nests on YouTube.
An average of three million people tune in to his channel each month to catch up on the daily progress of these owl chicks – and to watch the films he makes about animals he studies for his paintings.
And this week Robert, whose cameras also capture kestrels, tawny owls and stoats living in or near his Thixendale garden, celebrates a total of 100 million views of his channel since its launch in 2010.
“Filming inside animal nests was something I just did for my own research, to inform my paintings, but then when the pandemic sent so many people indoors, I decided to share the footage online,’” he said.
He puts the popularity of the channel down to a legacy of lockdown anxiety.
“It was a difficult time and I realised how much watching the nests boosted my own morale, so I thought it would help others too. But I had no idea how popular it would be.”
Subscribers to Robert’s channel jumped from 35,000 when he began streaming the owl nests in January 2020, to 60,000 this time last year when the channel won a Silver Play Award, to a hefty 320,000 today.
Now, with eight wriggling owl chicks to see, the artist expects a further surge of interest.
“I would have expected viewing figures to drop once the breeding season came to a close and there were no longer chicks to watch growing up in a nest,” said Robert.
“But these late broods mean people will be able to keep watching and following the lives of these owlets long into autumn.”
The latest broods belong to barn owl couple’s Gylfie and Finn and Willow and Ghost. Named by their followers, these owls captured hearts after the artist filmed their first, tentative courtships.
“We’ve already watched one of the two barn owl pairs, Gylfie and Finn, raise two chicks this year and now they are back again with five more chicks. I expect the warm summer meant they decided to go for it a second time,” he explained.
“Meanwhile the second pair, Willow and Ghost, didn’t even begin to nest until late July, seemingly because the nest they wanted to use was occupied by kestrels until then.”