Katmai National Park's brown bear cams are a mainstay in the livestream world.
Katmai National Park's brown bear cams are a mainstay in the livestream world. (Photo: Christoph Strässler)

The Definitive Ranking of the Best Animal Livestreams

We combed through nearly every one available (more than 50!) to bring you this curated, comprehensive list of animal-kingdom stars

Katmai National Park's brown bear cams are a mainstay in the livestream world.

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We’re on board with meditation, getting out in nature, and maybe even taking an aluminum bat to some electronics as stress relief. But sometimes you need something different, something that can soothe in a matter of seconds wherever you are, especially if you happen to be at your desk and your inbox has turned into a dumpster fire. For that, we suggest wildlife livestreams. At Outside, we’re casual fans of animal cams like Katmai National Park’s bear-watching offerings. In service of you, our valued and probably stressed-out reader, we needed to go deeper.

A note on our process: There are more than 50 streams available just on Explore.org, the most popular and prolific nature-viewing website. We narrowed down our picks to those featuring real live camera footage, not highlight reels that are played 24/7, rerun-style, on seasonally defunct streams when the animals are away. What follows is our official curated ranking of the most exciting wildlife activity streaming right now, with screenshots from our actual viewing experiences as evidence of excellence.


#3. Peregrine Falcons

The Alberta Conservation Association’s peregrine cams promise views of “somewhat violent birds of prey” (their words) at home. More exciting, several of the peregrines have been tending to eggs, and June is hatching season. Still, we docked points for lack of daily activity and the fact that only one bird is present in each stream. Peregrines are majestic creatures, but roosting peregrines are just sitting there. Show us the babies!

#2. Bald Eagles

Articles editor Jonah Ogles awarded high marks to the American Eagle Foundation’s D.C. Arboretum eagle cam, which features a pair of bald eagles currently raising two eaglets. Even better, this eagle cam features two different viewing angles. “That makes it feel much more alive,” Ogles says, “even though all the eagle is doing is sitting there making the face your uncle makes after he makes a lame joke. ‘Huh? Huh?!’”

#1. Penguins

In our academic debate on the merits of various livestream environments, we determined that zoo livestreams are the most dependably entertaining. The reasons are obvious, if a little depressing—the animals can’t roam very far from the shot and you get to watch feeding time. But we could not resist any of the penguin livestreams we encountered, particularly the one from Monterey Bay Aquarium, where feeding time came with an educational talk and research editor Luke Whelan learned that “penguins are projectile defecators.”


#3. Pandas

Pandas will always rank somewhere on any list in our hearts. But they’re pushing it here. San Diego Zoo’s is the rare captivity-based livestream that’s boring, with a camera angle muddied up by passing visitors and a very complicated panda climbing structure. The bear in question often seems to be moving around at least. The same cannot be said of Smithsonian’s National Zoo cam, though we recommend this one for its unimpeded view of its very lazy pandas. “The only way I can tell this is working—because the panda has not moved in several minutes—is that there is running water in the cam,” Ogles says. “Cute panda though.”

#2. Polar Bears

Another zoo cam that doesn’t disappoint, though we admit to giving our favorite stream, in the Netherlands’ Ouwehand Zoo, somewhat of a free pass. If you’re in the United States, you’ll probably be watching a highlight reel during the day since the zoo operates on a very different time zone. We still felt invested seeing the mother and two cubs putz around and tear up a carcass for lunch. Not to mention a very active contingent of Explore.org commenters keep running tabs on the bears’ live activities during the day.

#1. Brown Bears

Katmai National Park’s series of brown bear cams are a definitive classic in the livestreaming canon. These bears have distinct personalities and, when not hibernating (they reemerge in June), are always busy. “These bears are rolling around in the grass, taking a dip in the river, feasting on fresh salmon,” Ogles says. “All of those are things I wish I was doing at this very moment.”

Marine Life

#4. A Lot of Fish

Colorful tropical fish fit for a Windows screensaver, or the mean mug of the giant sea bass? We ended up in a tie between both offerings from the Aquarium of the Pacific. Your best move is to keep both tabs open all day so you don’t miss the occasional educational presentations delivered by a scuba-diving staff member.

#3. Otters

All the otter cams we reviewed had a major flaw: too far away from the otters. Unlike bears and birds of prey, otters are best experienced up close and personal. The Seattle Aquarium’s feed offers the best lighting and two different camera angles, though the activity wanes when the otters are left to their own devices (that is, floating aimlessly). “I’ve been there during feeding, so I’d recommend people watch then, when the otters are psyched on food,” says editorial production fellow Ula Chrobak.

#2. Jellyfish

“Something about a predator without a brain is inherently disturbing,” assistant editor Abigail Barronian fairly pointed out as we watched this hypnotic livestream from Monterey Bay Aquarium. But something about jellyfish is also deeply meditative and worthy of a second monitor for all-day background visuals, which is exactly what assistant social media editor Svati Narula has done in the past. As associate video producer Marie Sullivan put it, “I played some Enya while watching, and let me tell you…”

#1. Walruses

“If a herd of two dozen walruses doesn’t make you smile, you have a heart of stone,” says online managing editor Abigail Wise. These blubbery masses did poke at our cold, dead hearts with their antics, throwing their heads back, wiggling their tusked faces about, basking in the breaking waves. What is truly remarkable about this feed, though, is that it is truly in the wild, out on Alaska’s Round Island—and yet there is always something interesting happening, like playing Where’s Waldo to find the cutest walrus in the group.

Alternative Mammals

#3. Koala

In a bracket of animals we’d most want to watch 24 hours a day, koalas would get a bye. But in reality, they’re only worth a passing mention. The main problem with the San Diego Zoo’s livestream is the two camera angles: One is too far away, and the other is closer but often facing the koala’s back. Here’s another problem: Koalas don’t seem to do anything but sleep. Wise summed it up: “The koala is very cute, but I find him dull.”

#2. Senior Dogs

Dogs are an alternative animal in the livestream world only because they are so domestic, so easily accessible in person. But then there is the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, an organization that has attracted such internet acclaim that watching a room full of the slow-moving residents feels like having a 24-hour window into the lives of celebrities. Besides, as Narula put it, “Have you ever seen so many dogs sleeping at once?”

#1. Orangutan

If there was ever a time to compare this activity to The Truman Show, watching our seemingly self-aware ape friend at the San Diego Zoo would be it. Close-up shots let us watch the orangutan doze off after donning a burlap sack in what looked remarkably like an Obi-Wan Kenobi costume. “The most riveting nap I’ve ever watched,” said Sullivan as she took multiple screenshots. Our hero later woke up and, like Truman Burbank before him, peered beyond his enclosure and pondered those who were watching him. (Well, that’s what it looked like.)

All the Rest

#3. Bats

Fruit bats, filmed in the dark, were a controversial pick among the group. But with their glowing eyes and bug-hunting activity, they looked just like hungry, winged little foxes. At least to some of us. “As I type this, one is very close to the cam and scratching himself and I love him,” said Wise, officially proving herself to be the least coldhearted of all Outside staffers.

#2. Alligators

“Alligators are boring when they aren’t attacking something,” Sullivan says, which explains why other predators like sharks and lions didn’t make our list. However, the lazy alligators and spoonbills of St. Augustine, Florida, were fascinating to watch for a few moments. “But how are they sleeping through all that duck/bird noise?” Sullivan continued, pointing out the other compelling element of this livestream: ceaseless Florida white noise. Crank it on your headphones all day.

#1. Honey Bees

We refrained from including the University of South Carolina’s controversial roach cam (but please do visit and appreciate that someone came up with such a concept, if you can stomach it). Always-frantic honeybees, however, are a delight when their fuzzy little bodies are filmed up close. This wooden platform “landing zone” is always active and reminded us to get back to work already.

Lead Photo: Christoph Strässler