MaidHouse

How It Works

The blue tit cam wasn't very expensive in itself and isn't that complicated. Here is how it started life in February 2012 and how it all works along with what is used to get the pictures from the blue tits to you.

What you need

  • Blue tit nesting box - home made if you like
  • Web cam - cheap one from ebay will do
  • A computer connected to the internet
  • Software to grab the web cam images and upload
  • A website to upload the images to

The nest box

In February 2012 we visited Center Parcs Sherwood Forest. One of the activities my son chose was making a habitat box. He chose to make a blue tit nest box and here you can see it being built. It is a simple wood construction (pine I think). You can leave the top front section off making it suitable for larger birds.  But with the top section in and only the hole giving access (as we have it), it is only suitable for tits to nest. Nothing bigger can gain access.

Adding the web cam

I had a cheap and cheerful web cam lying around. It only cost around £5 from 7dayshop.com. Numerous similar webcams are available from Ebay. Our webcam has a large spring-loaded clip and 6 white LEDs mounted around the lens to light the subject in low light conditions. It has a USB connector on the end of a 1m lead.

Back at home, we partly screwed in a couple of screws in the top of the inside of the nest box (circled in top left corner in photo above) and cut a corner of the wood off so the cable would exit the nest box neatly. The web cam then clipped on to the screws nicely (see photo below) and we could position it to face the bottom of the nest box, which was where any nest built would be.

 

Putting the nest box up

We put the nest box up facing north on an outbuilding and pretty much forgot about it. North is the one direction we were told to avoid but we didn't have any other option. We had heard that it can take some time for birds to be comfy enough to enter and make their home, so did not expect quick results, especially because it was 20 March 2012 by the time the nest box went up.

Web cam software

The web cam had a USB connector which connects to a PC. I downloaded and installed Yawcam web cam software. This is free and easy to set up and does a great job. It sends images to my server (on which you are reading this now) using FTP and saves images to the PC's hard disc. I set it up to save an image every minute on the local PC. And to save the latest 10 images on my server and those are what you can see on the main blue tit web cam page. I also used Yawcam's scheduling to only save and upload images from the web cam when it was light enough to get some useful images from it. No point in storing or uploading completely black images.

The web pages

This is where me being a web developer helps. :)  I have set up a basic content managed website using my favourite CMS - CMS Made Simple. This is the site you are using now. It was based on a mobile-friendly framework called Initializr Responsive Template. It should work reasonably well on mobile/tablet devices which have smaller screens.

Modifications

It wouldn't be a proper project if it didn't go wrong somewhere.

The web cam had white LEDs which were on all the time. I switched the cam on soon after we noticed blue tits entering the box but I noticed that they did not return to the box when the web cam was on. They were, however, happy to go back in when the web cam (and therefore lights) were off.

The LEDs were putting them off - not surprising I suppose, a bit like having football stadium floodlights in your bedroom!

The photo shows the nest box nearing dusk and you can clearly see the LEDs on inside.

Action was required. I grabbed a pair of cutting pliers and opened the nest box up. I quickly managed to get inside the web cam (managing not to drop the 2 tiny screws) and was luckily able to cut one leg of each of the 6 LEDs. I put it all back together and thankfully the blue tits returned, unaware their nest box had been touched (I was careful not to touch any of the moss which they were using as the start of their nest). The whole operation took about 5 minutes.

Now the web cam could be left on all the time without disturbing the birds.

The image grabbing process

The web cam is connected to the PC which is on all the time. Every minute the Yawcam software grabs an image from the web cam and saves it to the PC hard disc. It uploads the same image to the website and renames the other 9, deleting the oldest one. So, the website always displays the last 10 minutes of action.

At times I check out what has been saved locally and upload some of the good shots. You can see these in the diary.

The web cam software also displays a preview - this is the live video from the web cam. At times I check this out and if it is looking interesting I grab the video with another piece of great software - streaming video recording software called CamStudio. These are then put on youtube and again featured in the diary.

The end result? A happy pair of blue tits having their daily life broadcast to the world! Total cost (excluding the computer) - about £ 20.