By Mark Kneen
This article will be one of three giving a brief outline on how to build a camera birdbox complete with a colour video camera linked back to a PC or TV. This enables you to watch live action inside the nest and also take stills 24 hours a day. There are several ways of doing this including purchasing ready to go kits and there is also plenty of information on the web so I won’t go into infinite detail but hopefully give you the basics of what you need to consider. Any reasonably competent person with basic DIY skills should be able to build a decent camera nestbox. However, if you do have any questions, just email me via the Contact Form and I’ll be more than happy to try and help.
Buy or Build?
First of all, why not just go and buy a ready built box with camera fitted? Well, a number of reasons stopped me. They tend to be quite expensive for what you get, you have no control over the quality of the camera which will general be not that great with these kits and you will probably have to buy extension leads and various other bits and pieces. If you do decide to buy rather than build, I’d suggest going to a site like gardenature.co.uk or handykam.com rather than your local garden centre as they have a wide range of options that will enable you buy exactly what you need for your particular garden.
Target the Right Bird!
Then you need think about what sort of birds you would like to attract. It is clearly best to aim for something you see regularly in your garden!
- Most nest boxes are simply designed and have a hole in the front. This should be a different size depending on the type of bird you’re trying to attract.
- Blue tits, coal tits and marsh tits like a box with a small hole, approximately 25mm across.
- Great tits, nuthatches, house sparrows and tree sparrows like a box with a slightly bigger hole, approximately 32mm across.
- Robins, wrens and pied wagtails: these species prefer open-fronted boxes but these can be vulnerable to attack by cats so make sure you put them somewhere safe.
- House martins: You can buy or make fake nest bowls to attract these summer visitors.
- Treecreepers: specially designed boxes replicate natural nesting sites behind loose bark. The boxes are a narrow, tapered shape with a small hole at the top of one side.
- Starlings: boxes for starlings need to be long with a hole near the roof. Place them high on walls as starlings sometimes nest in roofs or in the walls of dilapidated buildings.
- Sparrows: gregarious birds such as sparrows nest close to each other in communal boxes, sometimes called terraces. This box has three compartments with a hole just under the lid at each side and in the centre. They may also nest naturally in the roofs of your house.
Birds that go for the standard ‘hole in the front’ box are good birds to aim for as they are present in most UK gardens, the nest box is fairly straightforward to build whilst providing enough protection for the camera and electronics.
OK, having decided this one is going to be a blue tit box there are some decisions to be made. Firstly, the birdbox ideally needs to face North or North East (in the northern hemisphere). This is so it will not be in full sun during the hottest part of the day. It needs to be at least 2 metres off the ground and preferably close to trees/bushes so the young have a fighting chance to avoid cats etc when they leave. Also, you need to think carefully about how the video feed will end up back at your TV or PC. There are wireless transmitters and receivers available which appear very attractive at first because you don’t have to run wires or drill holes. However, the transmitter will still need a power source and unless you spend a lot of money you are highly likely to be disappointed with the results – unless your receiver and transmitter are very close and in line of sight.
Once you have the location determined it’s on with building the box. You can use either outdoor/marine ply or timber. Ply needs to be at least 9mm thick, preferrably 15mm. This ensures adequate insulation and also protection from woodpeckers if you have them. Woodpeckers are quite partial to Blue Tit chicks and can hammer their way through a poorly defended bird box in no time. A piece of timber, planed or unplaned is also fine as used here.
With Bird Boxes, Size Matters
The floor area of the box needs to be about 15cm square and the bottom of the entrance hole needs to be at least 12.5cm from the floor to provide security from cats and other predators – woodpeckers again!. Remember, a hole diameter of 25 mm will allow blue tits, coal tits and marsh tits to enter the box. Use 28 mm for great tits and 32 mm for house sparrows, tree sparrows and nuthatches.
Roof style is up to you, I chose a pitched roof but this is a little trickier as you have to consider sealing the apex join. A simple sloping roof is perfectly adequate and can be hinged for easy access for cleaning etc. Just remember which ever way you choose, it needs to be relatively easy to get access to the inside both for cleaning and making any adjustmenst to the camera – but NOT when there are eggs or chicks inside! The space above the entrance hole also needs to be large enough to fit your camera. Clearly this will depend on your camera choice but it is possible to buy inexpensive board cameras that are very small with perfectly adequate image quality and good low light capabilities – more on that in part 2.
The easiest way to drill the entrance hole is to buy an appropriate size flat drill bit. There is no need to get top quality, you won’t be using it every day. Ebay is probably as good as anywhere to try but at least check some online prices, I found my local DIY store wanted an arm and a leg. I also used the same bit to drill the light holes to improve the video image. These can be covered with translucent/white perspex. This box actually has clear 3mm perspex that has been sanded. I used a thin film of silicone bathroom sealant to weather seal the perspex panels. As it turned out the camera I used didn’t need so much light for a good picture. If I was doing it again I’d only put the light holes in the roof of the box.
Another important weather consideration is to drill a small hole in each corner of the floor to ensure adequate drainage in case water does get in.
OK, you should have the makings of a decent box. In part 2 I’ll be looking at the various bits of kit you will need to fit a camera and feed video back to your TV or PC.
Please add any questions or comments below.