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Nest Cams

by Mike Scully

This article first appeared in the April 2006 issue of the San Antonio Audubon Society newsletter.

Bluebird nest camIt is simply amazing the degree to which recent technological advances have revolutionized the study of birds in particular and our own lives in general. Migrating birds can now be tagged and tracked by satellite. Digital images from the field can be quickly sent around the world. Exact locations of sightings can be transmitted using GPS technology. Indeed, we can contact each other instantly with news of such finds through our handy cell phones.

In recent years, as an outgrowth of technology originally designed for security cameras, numerous “nest cam” sites have appeared on the internet, typically offering recent images or actual live coverage of the nests of various birds. A brief perusal of the internet will bring up sites covering species as large as the White-tailed Eagle and as small as the Eurasian Blue Tit. One aspect of this technology many of us may not be aware of is the low cost and quality of the tiny cameras now available. For well under $200 it is now possible to send live color footage and sound from inside a nest box or from a bird feeder to a TV set inside your home.
When describing such visually-oriented projects, a picture is worth a thousand words. Not coincidentally, there is a recently-launched addendum to a local school website wherein footage recorded last year from exactly such a nest cam, in this case placed inside the nest of a pair of Purple Martins, may be observed. See: <www.nisd.net/jay/martins>.

While a number of mini-cameras can be pressed into use, purpose-built nest box cameras have been available for some time in England, which is blessed with a plethora of native cavity-nesting species. Even in England however, camera technology has been advancing in leaps and bounds such that previous equipment, including that much used on currently-active websites, is now obsolete. Color cameras that also record audio are now available, as well as cameras having their own low-intensity, infra-red (IR) light source for capturing images in the dark.

Here in the U.S., surprisingly few retail outlets have yet offered nest cam set-ups, although many electronics and security-oriented businesses offer surveillance cameras which can be adapted to fit the task. Three outlets currently offering bird’s nest cams are the Purple Martin Conservation Association <www.pmca.org>, S&K Manufacturing <www.sk-mfg.com>, and American Artifacts <www.americanartifacts.com>. The first two outlets offer nest cams geared towards their own lines of martin housing, although the PMCA does offer a bluebird version of their nesting gourd. Adapting any of these cameras to a wooden nesting box of any dimensions requires minimal carpentry skills. Then too, nest cams can also be mounted in the open adjacent to open nests.

cameraThe basic requirement for a nest cam of course is the camera, typically powered by a 12 volt AC/DC adaptor. Batteries designed to operate these systems are available, but the power consumption of a mini-cam is quite large, hence access to a power outlet is advisable. Color cameras work very well with the bright white interiors of purple martin gourds and housing; IR cameras are recommended for wooden nest box applications as well as for recording footage at night.
Hard-wiring the camera to a single TV set via a coaxial cable is the cheapest and simplest solution but does requires that the nest be within reach of the 100- to 200-feet length of supplied cable. Cable extensions are available but, given the low signal strength output of these tiny cameras, image quality can suffer as a result. Weatherproof microwave transmitter/receivers with a claimed range of 700 feet can be had, but the convenience of wireless transmission comes at an additional $300 cost.

For those truly committed, 120 GB digital recorders ($370) can record many hours of nest footage and motion detectors can be incorporated to record only when the parents are present ($300). Perhaps the ultimate “my-nest-cam-is-better-than-yours” accessory, though, are those devices which record, have a motion-sensor option AND provide your own live website so you can watch ‘em from anywhere, all for only $1,200 (plus camera of course)—see <www.supercircuits.com>.

Or you can spend just $80 at S&K, and move that old TV next to the window where the cable comes in.


 

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