So, you’ve been watching Springwatch and want your own bird box with camera so that you can follow the story of the hatching, growing and fledging of your very own family of garden birds? What are your options?
First, there are some choices to be made as summarised in the following table:
|Power – how will the camera in your box be powered?|
|(A) Mains power. Will require a cable to a mains socket.||(B) Battery power. You’ll need a camera that runs for a reasonable time, and a battery location that makes it easy to change.||(C) USB power. You’ll need a USB cable from a computer if you are going for this option, but the power and picture can use the same cable and it is lower voltage (5V).|
|Where will you view the box from?|
|(D) Television. The traditional way. The signal will go in via scart, RCA antenna or HDMI connection||(E) Computer.Potentially more versatile than TV, and you could use USB cable for both the power and picture.||(F) Tablet or phone. Maybe you really want to view the camera from anywhere in the world? This option is a little trickier to set up, but nowadays no more expensive than the others.|
|How will you get the picture from the box to your viewing location?||(G) Cable. Some kind of cable to get the picture to your TV.||(H) USB cable. You could use this option if you are using a computer and it could also take the power to your camera.||(I) Wifi or (J) wireless. You could ditch a cable and use your own wifi network (I) or buy a camera with it’s own transmitter and receiver that works with it’s own wireless connection (J).|
Probably the key issue is if you need to run a cable from inside a building to the outside, how will you get it through awall or doorframe or similar? If mains powered (A), how will you make sure that it is safe?
Another question is, are you looking to buy a complete box and camera product, or do you want to make your own box and buy a separate camera? There are more options for the latter, but may be more difficult to get running.
The final consideration is of course cost. I’m making an assumption here that you are looking for something under £100.
Now for some options , I’m going to do this by reference to specific products to try to help you know what you are getting, but I should say that I have not used most of these so am not making any recommendations (read the reviews is a good tip). Also of course, other manufacturers and retailers provide similar etc. etc.
With all of these, the examples I’m giving generally come in a kit with the bird box, however you can usually find the camera separately and build your own box, however the financial benefits of doing this are dubious.
Off the shelf box and camera to watch on your TV
If you get one of these, get one that has a single combined cable that carries both the low-voltage power and picture back to your TV.
Same camera, different price? Shop around!
- Easy to install, just one hole to for the cable to pass through.
- Almost everyone has a TV?
- You can easily record footage on a DVD recorder.
- Limited to one TV viewing.
- Check whether you are going to get a picture at night. This example has no additional illumination so you won’t see much at night.
Off the shelf USB camera to watch on your computer
This is a good option to watch on a single computer or laptop, and is cheap. You can buy a bird box with a webcam and a long lead, you just need to trail the lead back inside to your computer, plug it in and start some webcam software. This might be a good cheap option for a school that perhaps has a computer that can be left on for children to view at any time. Your only real problem is how to get the cable from the inside of the building to the camera, maybe drill a hole in a door frame, feed cable through then seal with silicone?
If you buy a camera like this, check whether the camera has LEDs for illumination (the two examples do). The inside of the box is dark…
- Easy to install.
- Only a single USB cable required. If the cable is to short, just buy a USB extension cable with a repeater
and some Self Amalgamating Tapeto seal the joint.
- Easily capture pictures on your computer.
- Can only connect to a single computer.
- You need to find a way to get the cable into the building where the computer is.
Wireless (not wifi) camera
This option has a wireless connection between the camera and a receiver to connect to your TV. Note that this does not use or require a wireless network like the one you may have at home.
The first option gives you mains or battery power options, which is handy. But I have no idea how long the battery lasts or the practicality of changing it during the nesting season. Presumably the night vision would be a power drain if battery powered.
The second example needs a 12V supply, so you will need a cable from a mains adapter.
The third and fourth examples are of the many camera-only options that you have for this category of camera.
- Potentially less cabling, or none if battery powered option works for long enough.
- If you’ve got a cable for the power then you probably may as well ditch the unreliability of the wireless-ness of this and just go for one of the options with a single/twin cable carrying power and signal.
IP camera (to use with ethernet cable or wifi)
OK, so I built a bespoke birdbox and fitted an IP camera in it. The camera is mains powered (it’s mounted on a shed) and the camera connects to my wifi network so I can view it at home on PC, tablet, phone etc. Also, with some fiddling of wifi router and software I can put the camera on the internet. Sounds great doesn’t it? Unfortunately I can’t seem to find a package with box and camera together, so you would have to make your own box, but the cameras are cheap enough.
- Can view from multiple devices (PC, laptop, tablet, phone) at the same time and with fiddling from anywhere in the world.