Introduction: Installing an Infrared Spy Camera Inside a Birdhouse
UPDATE 4/10/14: We've got 3 eggs now!
UPDATE 4/8/14: My dad emailed me this picture this morning of the first egg laid!
UPDATE 3/30/14: The bluebirds have taken over one of the houses. The bluebirds are much bigger than the chickadees and ran them off and started building a nest.
UPDATE 3/12/14: I was over at my dad's house and the Carolina Chickadee was back at it hard at work building the nest. There's a cold front moving through so it is windy and cooler today and the bluebirds aren't around to chase her away. We wonder what's going to happen when they show back up tomorrow or the next day. Will they leave her alone or chase her out of the birdhouse again? The bluebirds are bigger than the chickadees. Will keep you updated. In the meantime here is a video of the nest building. No sound because I was recording with my phone...
UPDATE 3/8/14: My dad emailed me some pictures this morning of a Carolina Chickadee building a nest in one of the birdhouses. The funny thing is that bluebirds have been all over both boxes the past few weeks kind of scoping it out so he was surprised to see the chickadee sneak in there early this morning. A few hours later the chickadee started moving out! She literally pulled the moss she was using to build the nest out of the box and into a nearby crepe myrtle while the bluebirds stood around chirping at her. My dad said it was the bluebird mafia. lol
Step 1: Installing an Infrared Spy Camera Inside a Birdhouse
My dad bought a little wireless spy camera for one of his bluebird houses and enlisted my help installing it. The problem is that even though the wireless camera was only about 30 feet away from the wireless receiver, the image was very staticky and also very grainy since it was dark inside the birdhouse. It was also difficult to install the camera because the birdhouse was stapled together so you couldn't take it apart without tearing it up. We also had to run a wire to the birdhouse to power the camera since changing the battery everyday was not feasible. I decided that since we had to run a wire to the birdhouse anyway, why not just go ahead and use a wired camera with infrared lights so we could see the inside of the birdhouse day or night.
I researched and found this mini wired IR spy camera that got good reviews on various websites. I also found this bluebird house that was put together with screws instead of nails or staples. It is made of true 3/4" cedar so it is very solidly built. It also has a little steeper pitched roof than some others so the camera can be recessed at the top so the birds won't be whacking their heads on it. Another thing I liked about it is that while there are two screws that hold the roof down, there is also another screw that pulls the roof tight against the back of the birdhouse effectively sealing any cracks where water could possibly seep in and ruin the camera.
Note: The cameras did not come with a power supply but any 6V to 12V DC 300mA to 1A wall adapter will work fine. I had a few lying around but if you need to buy one then buy a cheap 12V DC wall adapter like this.
In my experience nothing beats twisted pair wire (Cat 5 aka computer ethernet cable) for running data or video over long distances. I bought a box of black Cat 5e ethernet cable so it would be somewhat more camouflaged than traditional blue-colored Cat 5 when running it along the top of my dad's fence. I also had to run it across a 10-foot span between the house and fence so I dug a shallow trench and pulled the wire through some 1/2" flexible irrigation tubing to give it a little more protection.
I bought these RCA and DC power adapters that are used for CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television) installations so I could attach the ethernet cable to the cameras without having to splice, crimp or solder any connections. If the camera fails then it is just a matter of buying another cheap camera and swapping it out. If any of the connections weather or fail then you can just cut back a few inches of the cable and reattach the connectors.
Installing the camera was the easy part:
1) Remove the three wood screws holding the roof on.
2) Remove the camera bracket from the camera by removing the two little screws on either side.
3) Flip the roof over and attach the camera bracket with a short screw.
4) Reattach the camera to the bracket with the little screws. Tighten them but not too tight so you can reach in and adjust the camera later.
5) Pull the camera's RCA and DC connector pigtail through the little gap between the roof and side of the birdhouse.
6) Reattach the roof to the birdhouse with the three wood screws.
After this step you will want to take the birdhouse to your TV and plug the camera into the TV's inputs so you can adjust the angle of the camera and focus the lens. I placed a business card inside the bottom of the birdhouse and turned the lens until the lettering was in sharp focus.
Mount the birdhouse to a tree or post. Strip the end of the Cat 5 exposing the 8 wires inside and attach the RCA and DC adapters and plug them into the camera pigtail. You can use whatever color-coding system you want but I used:
Orange: Video +
Orange/White: Video -
Brown: Audio +
Brown/White: Audio -
Blue: 12V +
Blue/White: 12V -
The camera audio is mono so if you are plugging it into a stereo input on your TV then you can splice the audio into the Green and Green/White wires as well or you can do as I did and just use an RCA Y-splitter when connecting to the TV so sound will come out both the left and right speakers.
I had intended to run the audio and video to just the TV but decided at the last minute to look for a small, cheap monitor so my dad could monitor the birdhouse while watching TV. If there is any action on the little monitor then he can pull it up on the big screen. The camera has a 4:3 aspect ratio image (non-widescreen) so I happened to find this cheap, little 4:3 rearview camera monitor that had two video inputs for just $17. It keeps the AV1 input on continuously unless it gets a signal from the second input, AV2, then it switches to that input automatically just as a rearview camera monitor should work. I decided to install two birdhouses and use a switch to turn the AV2 input on and off so he could switch between the two birdhouses on demand. I bought this project box from Radio Shack and installed a tiny single-pole toggle switch and ran the positive wire of the AV2 input through that.
My dad uses a Harmony remote so I programmed it with two new video inputs named "AV1" and "AV2" to coincide with the little monitor so if he sees something going on inside one of the birdhouses on the little monitor then he can tap either "AV1" or "AV2" on the remote and it will pull up the corresponding birdhouse on his big 50" TV. As you can see from the picture we have a good, clear view of the inside of the birdhouse. Now we just have to wait for them to start nesting in a couple of weeks. The only problem is that since this project turned out so well...
...my wife had me out in our own backyard the next day digging ditches and pulling wire for our own spy camera birdhouse! lol I'll update with photos and videos of nest building, eggs and chicks as soon as it happens :) Have a Happy Spring!