It turns out the owls are pretty much exactly what they seem
September 23, 2011 3:34 PM   Subscribe

I need to know how to set up a wireless, night-vision enabled, motion detecting camera for the purposes of spying.

(...On owls in a nest box.)

I'm going to be building a nest box for barn owls, and I'd like to add on a sort of back room to house a small wireless camera. I've never hooked one up before and I have lots of questions. Thanks for answering any of them you can.

The camera
Any advice on the kind of camera to purchase? It needs to have night vision, obviously, and I'd prefer something that could be motion activated so that it's only in use when necessary. Smaller and cheaper are obviously better, too. I've no experience with these, so please tell me anything I need to know.

Housing the camera
I'm going to be making the box according to the plans in this PDF. My idea is to add a separate "room" in the back of the box to house the camera, with a hole cut in the wall. This is, of course, to keep the birds from disturbing the camera more than necessary. Any thoughts on placement? Do I need to worry about having it too close to the birds? (Not for safety, but because the picture will be unclear?)

The box will be constructed of plywood. I'll caulk around the seams for waterproofing. I'd thought about encasing the camera in a ziploc bag for additional waterproofing, but am worried that it might just trap condensation. Advice?

Other hardware
Once the camera is set up, how do I receive the signal? How far will the signal transmit? Do I need to buy any other hardware?

I'd like to be able to record the footage, and would ultimately also like to stream it if possible. I have no idea to go about doing either. Please talk to me like a dummy.

The nest box will be mounted on a pole attached to the eaves of the house, and I'll have access to it on the roof in order to change batteries and the like.

I'm sure there are other things I'm not thinking of. Please tell me what they are.
posted by mudpuppie to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't directly answer your question, but I have friends who have setup trail cameras where they hunt. They're night-vision, motion-activated. As far as I understand, they record the data to some sort of media you can fairly easily pull off the unit. If you end up going that route, I'll ask them for any advice and pass it on.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 3:41 PM on September 23, 2011

They're called "Digital Scouting Cameras".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:48 PM on September 23, 2011

I'd try to align the camera so you can see into both sections of the house, probably just opposite the room divider. And I'd mount it right at the top of the wall, angled down, to prevent blockage.
posted by carsonb at 3:54 PM on September 23, 2011

Cabela's calls them trail cameras (link should take you to the 'infrared' category). I think you might do better seeking out a waterproof camera than Ziplocking whatever you end up with.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:57 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The scouting cameras/trail cameras look like what I need, EXCEPT that the media is stored on an SD card, if I'm reading the descriptions right. I worry about disturbing the nest, which is why a wireless camera seemed the way to go.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:10 PM on September 23, 2011

If you use a big enough SD, you can wait until the breeding season is over to harvest your pictures. 64GB will hold a lot of images!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:14 PM on September 23, 2011

Best answer: this FAQ about a barn owl cam will probably be useful
posted by rockindata at 4:24 PM on September 23, 2011

There's plenty of folks out there that have used Arduino to build all kinds of rigs that will sense one thing and respond with another. For example: the tweeting cat door

The above uses RFID to trigger a camera. But if you look around there's rigs that use IR motion detection to do similar things.
You might be able to construct a rig that suits your needs by cannibalizing bits of these kinds of instructables.

Also, as far as I know all CCD based cameras do record IR (night vision) and for regular cameras there's a filter in the way that prevents IR from hitting the sensor. What this means is that you could buy some wireless web camera that can provide a feed to your PC, crack it open, remove the IR filter, and voila... you've got a wireless nightvision web cam. I've seen instructions for removing IR filters from camera online before.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:30 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you can get the camera within wifi range of a base station, you could use that SD-card camera and stick an eye-fi card in it.
posted by adamrice at 4:35 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to make sure the camera you're using can focus on something as close as the owls are going to be. A lot of cameras want your subject to be back a few feet.

Night vision cameras are kind of a misnomer - most of them use infra-red lights. Infra-red LEDs are cheap and draw minimal current. The good news is that most cheap digital cameras are better at "seeing" IR than they are visible light. The bad news is that they sometimes put a filter on them to block the IR. To test this, take a friends picture while they point a TV remote at you and hold down a button. (Try a few times because the remotes send messages in pulses and if you're camera is fast enough, you might get a 0 between two 1's.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:40 PM on September 23, 2011

Best answer: I asked a vaguely similar question and while the camera answers won't help (mine is a wired camera), maybe the the getting-the-pictures-off-the-camera-and-onto-your-computer answers will help in your situation.
posted by dogmom at 4:48 PM on September 23, 2011

Best answer: Here's one owlcam setup. Some more info from another owlcam (scroll down) including a camera recommendation. This guy doesn't have info posted about his set-up but I bet if you email him, he'd give you his notes!

Here's a whole forum about birdcams (as well as other animalcams) - I didn't search through the topics but I'm sure there are threads about the equipment set-up.
posted by barnone at 5:49 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ah - here's a site on NestCams!

And HandyCam is for cameras for wildlife, and they have a whole section on cameras for bird boxes.
posted by barnone at 5:58 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pete at Starr Ranch is a good guy, a veteran barn owl advocate, and would answer any questions you have regarding cameras and nestboxes.

Your plans look great, but I would add a porch/perch across the front next to the access hole, especially since you're putting this in your yard. The internal divider and double chamber inside protects the youngest babies, but older barn owlets who are just strong enough to climb or hop up to the exterior door are likely to fall from this kind of box. This is especially true if there isn't enough room at the door for everyone at once.

I see that the developer of the box has a lot of relevant experience, and he mentions safety reasons for omitting the perch, but you can find a lot of lively debate among owl box people on either side of this argument (including dissenting advice from Stacey O'Brien, whose book he mentions). Having no perch doesn't prevent owlets from being outside and visible to predators, it just makes it more likely that they will fall to the ground.

How close are any trees to your proposed location? It's a good idea to place your box far enough away that predators can't drop or leap down from branches.

How close is the box going to be to open windows, doors, or outdoor living areas? It's going to be loud and stinky.

I would be careful to position the camera so that it won't be downrange from any owlbums -- barn owlets will fire off liquid feces toward the perimeter of the nesting area. It's easier to clean off an acrylic window than a lens.

Yay, owlboxes!
posted by Sallyfur at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2011

Oh, and some materials advice -- I hope you will use the friendly non-outgassing plywood instead of the other, more poisony kind, and if you're using caulk instead of woodworking glue in your camera housing, use aquarium caulk instead of bathtub stuff.
posted by Sallyfur at 9:45 AM on September 25, 2011

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