Introducting… Birdcam

I haven’t posted for over a month. The reason for that is: it is spring. My bird related activities are taking up more of my time as it’s a peak time for birds to migrate, flirt and find a mate. I’ve been doing a lot of birding, which I will write about another time. Another preoccupation is what I am ridiculously calling Birdcam.

Intel WebcamI have been trying to attract birds to the backyard. My enjoyment of birds is matched by my enjoyment of photography, and as such, I have put together a rudimentary webcam/bird feeder setup. Aka Birdcam.

It started off pretty terrible. You could make out vague shapes and only just. Not to mention that the feeder was new and birds were scarce. This was birdcam v0.1b. It consisted of a 10 year old Intel webcam plonked on the ground and a 6ft usb cable poked through the gap in a window, connected to a laptop. The camera was about 10 feet away and was only capable of something like 340px by 140px.

Logitech WebcamI visited a dollar store and picked up 3 USB cables of 6ft each, though this pushed the boundaries of the USB 16ft limit… and when I tried tethering the cables together? the webcam died. Birdcam v0.2b was a slight improvement.

A visit to Bestbuy resulted in a bit of a bargain on an HD webcam I liked the look of. I set it up and the picture was decent. It was now possible to ID birds with obvious shapes or colours (eg. Cardinal, grackle). I also got a slight bonus with this webcam…

I went back to my three USB extension cables, just to see if it would work.. and it did. I was now able to get 6ft closer, and had a better camera. This, together with making a temporary platform for the camera to sit on led to what I am calling Birdcam v1.0 and it has taken some reasonable images.

Squirrels have now been dissuaded from gorging on the food by the application of grease on the pole. This seems to suffice, but if they return, I will add a baffle made from the top portion of a large pop bottle.

American Goldfinch

Female Northern Cardinal in mid-flight

I have continued to work on improvements. The camera is now enclosed in plastic to protect it from moisture. It is now on a sturdy tripod. I also cut off the side of a square flower pot and then laid it sideways, ontop of the camera to offer some housing against wind and heavy rain.

Birdcam v1.0

Birdcam in yard

I have an idea of where I want to go with this, but have spent enough on feeders, a webcam and seed in the last week that I’m taking a break first. Somewhere buried away, I have a DV camera which should offer better picture quality and colour reproduction. On the downside, it would need external power and much better moisture protection. I may experiment.

As for the feeding area, I would like to expand the offerings by providing a feeding table (for birds that do not use hanging feeders) and a water supply to attract more visitors. One of the friendliest birds in North America is the Black-Capped Chickadee. I would love to see more of them, but they seem a little scarce in this neighbourhood. They are some of the easiest birds to condition to hand-feed.

hand feeding chickadee

3 thoughts on “Introducting… Birdcam

  1. graham hall

    Well done stu definitly a chip off the old block,a love of wildlife and the country side has been with me since i was a kid and never leaves you,keep up the good work.

  2. Nabila

    Wow! I didn’t know you put so much work into this! It’s pretty cool… can’t wait to see some pics of birds I’ve never seen/heard of ever! Also, question: How do you know if the bird is male/female?

    1. Stu Hall Post author

      Short answer: Sometimes, but not always, you can tell by the colour.

      Long answer: It really depends on the bird. Often, females have less bright plumage. For example, the female cardinal is much less red than the male:
      This divergence most often occurs in birds where the male is under-pressure to appear genetically more appealing through appearance to potential female mates. Male Red-winged Blackbirds are black with bright red/yellow feathers on their wings. They use these to intimidate other males and to claim a wide area of territory that is good for food, water and shelter. The female, returning from migration later than the male, will select a mate on the basis of who has the most attractive territory. The bonus for the male is that he will usually have several mates.
      Some of the heaviest pressure on male appearance is amongst the birds of paradise:

      Sometimes it’s very difficult to tell. European Starling males have a blue tinge at the base of the beak, females have a pink tinge. At range, you’d hardly know.

      Some females may appear the same as males, but might behave differently (eg. less aggressive). Sometimes you might just not be able to tell without being an expert and examining it… ermm.. up close 🙂


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