What is this?
Unofficially, it's a project that was only supposed to take a weekend, and has turned into a two month obsession. Officially, it is a birdhouse that Nick and his daughter Annika built that has a night-vision video camera and temperature sensor inside. In March, we mounted it to our garage in plain view from our windows. Since then, it has become the home to a family of birds, which we spy on and use as a lesson in nature as well as entertainment.
How does it work?
To build the cedar birdhouse itself, we followed the basic guidance from the book
Woodworking for Wildlife from
the Minnesota DNR. It
showed us the size of box birds in our regions prefer,
as well as how large the hole should be so that we
don't invite predators or non-native species of birds.
We gave it a sloped roof and then made it watertight
using foam strip (the sort you use to mount a truck
topper to a truck bed) and nail-on weather stripping.
We tested it out in the shower a few times by putting
tissue inside, and ensuring that not even a drop
penetrated the house.
The infrared camera and temperature sensor are powered by our Raspberry Pi computer. This inexpensive computer was designed to be used in classrooms and to provide low-cost computers for use in the developing world, but it also is great for little projects like this. We lit up the box inconspicuously using an Infrared LED which emits light that we can't see, but is visible to our camera. It's the same light that is on the end of of your television remote. In fact, if you point the remote into the birdhouse with the camera running and press a button, you will see it light up!
Finally, Nick wrote a program that reads the temperature sensor inside the box, pulls outside temperature, wind speed, and conditions from the Weather Underground site, and then sends them to this website along with the streaming video.
Where did the idea come from?
Annika and Nick spend a few minutes before bed each night on PenguinWatch.org helping to count and categorize penguins. Annika is wild about penguins, and will tell you everything you could ever want to know (and likely a bit more) if you give her the chance. This organization has installed cameras in Antarctica to capture pictures of the life-cycles of penguins all over the continent. You can then log in, pull up a random picture, count the penguins, chicks, eggs, and other creatures, and then that data is used to monitor how their environment and behaviors are changing over time. We thought it would be fun to have a camera watching some birds of our own, and since we are nowhere near Antarctica, backyard birds will have to do.
If you have questions, feel free to send us an email!