Make a WiFi Camera Bird Box - Cheepy Cheap!

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Introduction: Make a WiFi Camera Bird Box - Cheepy Cheap!

About: Black sheep engineer, Chartered, and very silly. Currently living in the UK. I have been fortunate to have lived, studied and worked in Hong Kong, Norway and California. I believe physical models help people…

Build your own WiFi-Camera-enabled Bird Box, cheaply, and quickly. Perfect for an After-School/Club/Scouts project or a weekend DIY build. Watch birds build nests, raise young, and before long - the young fly leave the nest!

Although camera kits do exist for bird boxes, they have a few limitations - they are usually wired (i.e. not WiFi) and if they are, they are at least 2-3x more expensive than this - and don't 'scale up' effectively: You have to have one camera to one next box, it'll cost a fortune, if you wanted to observe multiple boxes. (With that said, if you do still want to install permanent 1:1 camera:box, then this is still much cheaper! (see Appendix 1)).

This 'bird cam variation' uses 3ml Syringe Tubes to create nifty little rainproof 'spy holes' to insert a WiFi endoscope in/out of, with minimal disruption to the nesting birds. The pictures and video can be viewed on any smartphone.

Endoscopes are used to inspect drains, under floors, doing car repairs - you name it. Consequently, they are made at higher volume than bird cams, and hence are cheaper (and arguably much more compact). Indeed, once the season is over / when not in use, you still have a useful device. So I think this is an effective way to get started, and if you really become obsessed, sure - upgrade to the fancy kit ;o)

PS - Images are not from me. I'm just at the start of the season, and will update when I get pics...


Safety - Please note, I have shown pictures of my toddler using a drill, glue, etc. He is supervised, but you remain responsible for evaluating the risks to the child/ren in your care. I cannot accept any responsibility.

Supplies

Essentials:

Bird Box (x4 bargain): https://amzn.to/3cbFc30
(Can get larger bulk quantities for Schools, but 4 seems a good starter pack!)

WiFi Endoscope: https://amzn.to/2VgWupq
(One endoscope can be taken round multiple boxes, where accessible).

Drill: https://amzn.to/2VfQAEJ (in case interested).

3ml Syringes: https://amzn.to/3bXPkfH (suggested size).

10mm Drill Bit: https://amzn.to/37WzKxj (suggested size).

Mini FIles: https://amzn.to/2VhyK4u


Cost Comparison:
WiFi Bird Boxes c.£80+
This Build: Box c.£3.5 each, WiFi Cam c.£25-£30, Syringes c.£0.25 each. Total: c.£35.

Step 1: Upgrading the Bargain Box

The Box shown is a fair price (around £3.5/box). It's hard to argue with this, when you consider you'd have to buy screws, hinges, paint, nails, and drill and assemble. So I really think that this is a good starter project - especially for schools, where many kids want to have a go, you can buy a large quantity to install in a number of locations.

However, if you really want to make one from scratch, this looks good:
https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-famil...

I 'upgraded' this bird box with some dowel on the front, so birds could perch and check it out. I'm not sure how much this improves the chances of nesting, but it'd seem plausible to want to not fly into a hole without looking, right? We shall see...


Teachers Note: The hole size also influences what species will nest, so good around and enlarge/reduce if you want to experiment further as part of STEM projects, etc.
Update: Following a helpful comment below, if you are in N.America you may wish to not put this peg in, if you don't want to attract certain invasive species. Obviously it'd your call though - kinda fun to try it and see!

Step 2: Preparing the Syringe (Camera Mount)

I used a 3ml syringe, which has a 10mm OD and 8mm ID.

The camera has an OD of 7.75mm so fits nicely into the tube. It's coincidence, but works a treat.

Cut in two, around the '2.5ml' region - or - [10mm + the thickness of your bird box wood walls].

If you find it a bit tight, give it a stretch with some pliers.

Step 3: Centre the Camera Mount

I 'hovered' the camera in the approximate middle to check the alignment. This turned out to be 4.5mm from the back of the (roof) of the bird box, and naturally dead-centre.

Taking a 10mm drill bit, I drilled the hole. Note: first I drilled perpendicular to the roof, and then once 'established', I manoeuvred the drill to be vertical from the floor of the bird box.

Lastly, I gave the drill a slight 'wiggle' to allow a not too tight fit.

I inserted the Syringe piece from underneath, as shown.

Step 4: Align the Camera

I removed the 'collar' of the camera (this is a screw fitting for other attachments, not needed here), to give easy passage in the tube. If it is tight, use a small file, or a bit of studding to free up the hole.

Step 5: First Video Test

Follow the instructions on the endoscope to get images, as above.

---

Safe to say, rotating the camera to get a good angle is easy.

But do pay attention to the angle (x and y axis), and gently twist the syringe into the best position.

Don't glue it yet, but get happy with the set-up.

Step 6: Rain Proof Bung

I realised if I made a 'viewing port', I'd need to create a reliable water-tight bung, that was still easy to remove. This might sound easy, but I can assure you from my time as an engineer at Dyson, that rubber seals are not trivial. So why 'reinvent the wheel' when there was a great one in the Syringe. Indeed, this was the initial inspiration, and as it fit the endoscope - it seemed to lucky to just ignore, so I wrote up the Instructable!!

Anyway, using a scalpel or pliers, cut the plunger in half, and re-insert the seal end into the syringe to stop water dripping on your chicks when not viewing with the camera.

Step 7: Lights, Camera - ACTION!

So with my rubber ducky mounted on some blocks to what I anticipated to be the next height, I checked the camera function, focus, etc. I was very impressed, and as you can see the focal point is good.

Step 8: Glue in Place

Now you have the syringe 'camera mount' all set, carefully remove the camera.

Take some superglue and fix in place. If you have a lot of space that needs 'filling', use some woodglue, or even Sugru, as shown. Indeed, a pack of Sugru is rather expensive for one project, but I reckon one single pack of it would have done easily 10 seals here.

Adhesives:

Sugru (optional): https://amzn.to/2T4MEEe

Wood Glue (optional): https://amzn.to/2Vg2ajq

Mini Super Glue (bargain!): https://amzn.to/2Vg2ajq (recommended to get).

Double Bubble Epoxy (not essential): https://amzn.to/2Vg2ajq

Step 9: Chimney

I bit of an optional extra, but I like that this drilled-out twig looks nice, but is a secondary barrier to the elements.

Follow steps as shown, and be aware to cut slight angles, to match the slope of the roof, and also to keep rain off the top of the chimney/stick.

Step 10: Mass Production!

For c.£4 per box, one can get going with making quite a few of these!

My son and I were very pleased with these, and we'll look froward to installing these around the garden/trees/shed/etc. to see what works best.

Wish us luck!

Step 11: Say Cheese!

OK - so forgive the earnestness here, but I'll be back with some real images in due course.

I'm not a fan of posting if I have not tested fully, but given this design is based on existing RSPB bird boxes, it really has no reason to perform less well than other successful alternatives. Safe to say one must take care not to disturb the birds once established, and if you're unsure, then perhaps installing the WiFi cam permanently might not be a bad idea.

Not only is the Endoscope WiFi Cam cheaper, but even if you use it 1:1 ratio, it will allow you to learn the best viewing angles for each species, etc. I will post more as I learn more =D

Step 12: Appendix 1: Installing WiFi Cam Permanently

Although I've suggested keeping this setup as a high ratio of [experimental] bird boxes, and 1 camera, you can of course install the system 1 cam : 1 box, as a permanent setup.

To do this you'd need to place the WiFi transmitter in a waterproof enclosure. Sometimes called an 'IP rated' enclosure, these are commonly sold for all manner of electronics that need to survive the elements outdoors.

Luckily the endoscope cable (i.e. not unit) is waterproof, so this can be left exposed. However, the electronic 'box' and the USB connection should be placed inside. Care should be taken to ensure that the USB power supply wire is kept dry at the side being plugged in.

When working with main electricity (even when 'safe' at the USB side) care should be taken to ensure the installation is safe. If in doubt, consult an electrician or other qualified person.

For example:
Enclosure: https://amzn.to/32n9viw
USB Charger: https://amzn.to/2PjDnar


NOTE OF CARE:
I'm not a bird expert, but it's fair to imagine that birds don't appreciate you leaving the lights on while they are trying to sleep any more than you or I do... So if you do install permanently, please remember to switch off the lights perhaps 1 hour before sunset, so their little-birdy-circadian-rhythms are not messed-up! Aww.

You can buy a timer switch if you are the forgetful type! Timer: https://amzn.to/3a67H07

Step 13: Appendix 2: Horizontal & Vertical Viewing/Filming Holes

I realised I had some Syringe Tube left over. I was going to chuck this in the trash, when I realise that it might well be put to good use to create more viewing holes...

...I set about installing them at different heights, vertically, but also horizontally too.

Step 14: Appendix 3: Making a Natural Light 'Window'.

I've seen a few camera bird boxes, and it seems that one issue is that if the camera has poor low-light management, then the images are dim/poor quality.

Having just been playing around with vacuum forming in HDPE, from recycled Milk Jugs, I realised I could make a nice 'opaque' window from this. I used a heat gun for quickness, as the form was simple. Steps as shown.

Step 15: Appendix 4: Window Back-Viewing

I should say upfront, I'm very sceptical about the various advertised bird boxes that claim to be able to stick with suction-cups to windows, and be able to be viewed from inside.

Firstly, I think the suction cups will not cope with changes in moisture, heat, cold, etc. - and will likely fall off, which would be a real shame if there were eggs/young killed in the process.

Secondly, I suspect that if mounted to a 'busy' window, this will freak out the birds. I didn't see any convincing reviews or videos of people with actual birds nesting. My hunch is that it needs to be covered up most of the time - hence I chose a window I have in my shed, which the blind is usually down. Do hopefully this will work. We shall see....

Step 16: Thanks - and Please Share!

If you have any tips, pictures - please post below.

If you have a school or are a teacher, do ask if anything is unclear - I intend to do this at my local nursery/afterschool facility, so hence trying to keep costs down.

More like this at: http://www.judepullen.com/
and https://twitter.com/Jude_Pullen

Lastly, please vote if you liked this! Thanks =D

After School Challenge

First Prize in the
After School Challenge

2 People Made This Project!

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33 Comments

0
MarkB1970
MarkB1970

6 weeks ago

This is an awesome project and one my son and I are super keen to set up. We’re thinking of installing the camera permanently, so wondering what you experience has been of using the additional window for light instead of the lights from the endoscope - does the natural light allow for a bright enough image, and does the window allow birds to nest (I’m wondering how they cope with light when looking for a little space to bring up their new family? Very much looking forward to hearing from you.
Thanks again!

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Reply 6 weeks ago

Hello - great that you're trying the project! I found that one of the key things here is not to have cats able to jump in to the 'flight path' of the approach to the Box. As for the WiFi setup, I have wondered if you could even use a solar panel, but I think it makes more sense to not run the device all the time, as the LEDs are quite warm over hours I suspect. The side window was bright enough for images, but in truth that one had not been nested in, so perhaps it's too 'weird' for them - but this is part of the fun of the experiment!

0
MarkB1970
MarkB1970

Reply 6 weeks ago

Thank you Jude, and can you tell me if the lights needed to be on a fairly bright setting to made the subjects clear enough, or is a dimmer light level ok?
I’m wondering if putting the light on (ie not having it running all the time) will disturb the fledglings or their parent, what’s your experience of the boxes you tried that were nested in, were the birds affected by the sudden light when the unit was switched on?
Many thanks,
Mark

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Reply 6 weeks ago

Hi again, so personally, I rather liked that this was battery powered, and hence was not possible to run 24/7. I am no expert on circadian rhythms of birds, but I think it'd be unkind to run at night, right? (You'd be annoyed!!). Haha!

That said, I googled if Birds can see IR, and apparently not, so if you were keen to would convert to IR Camera (Raspberry Pi has this for example). Hope this helps...

0
MarkB1970
MarkB1970

Reply 6 weeks ago

Oh, and one wifi related question - how far away from the unit can you stand with you phone to pick up a good signal? And does putting the unit inside the waterproof box you suggest reduce the range of the wifi signal?
Many thanks,
Mark

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Reply 6 weeks ago

I found we can walk some distance away - like 10m easily. Our garden is not very large, so I can't say I've tested much more that that. But I saw this as a way to 'check in' on the birds rather than create a 24/7 setup. Hope this helps? =)

0
MarkB1970
MarkB1970

Reply 6 weeks ago

That’s very helpful, thanks Jude 👍

0
stal1
stal1

Question 11 months ago on Step 16

Hey could you recommend a wifi camera for tis project please?

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Answer 10 months ago

It should be in the guide above. Is this not what you mean?

0
charlessenf-gm
charlessenf-gm

Question 2 years ago

Love the concept. Thanks for sharing. Would like to do something similar with a couple of the bird houses we've scattered about - BUT, I do not have a Cell Phone! I have Internet and a router and Wi-Fi, Chromecast and (Win7 / Win10 laptop(s) and would like to find a WIRELESS Borescope thing that I could connect to as I do my HP Wireless printer.

So, Is there such a thing? Or "an app for that?"

One other question on the chance that you've done more research than I accomplished last night: Is your device one that uses a fiber optic cable?

Anyone?

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Answer 2 years ago

Hi. Thanks for the kind words. Glad you like it =)
Sadly, I personally didn't find 'an App for that', as even most Emulators don't likely work with something like this (or unless you're a coder are tricky). X-Code et al.
I think you're asking for a WPS function on this scope, but it seems unlikely as this is a next level of 'smarts', but I could be wrong, but nothing in the description that suggests otherwise.
~
If I were in your shoes, assuming you're game for $40 to make this, you can honestly pick up an unlocked second hard Android phone for probably $50 on Amazon or eBay. the DEPSTECH software needs nothing fancy to fun it.

So I'd consider that perhaps? You don't even need a SIM card. Hope that's helpful.

0
CaptHurls
CaptHurls

2 years ago

Love what you've done -- but had an idea on how it could be taken a bit further. You wouldn't need to send in a camera probe to get results or ever disturb the birds.

But how about a very inexpensive micro-board with camera and a solar panel on the roof? It could wake up every so often take a photo. And then once a day it could upload all the photos over wifi.

Micro: ESP32-cam
Solar arrays to support battery type
battery under protective housing

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Reply 2 years ago

Hi Capt!
Thanks for the message. I'll fess-up and say I'm no coder (no shock, huh!), so this project was part borne out of my lack of ability, but also an awareness that there are many people who'd want to use cameras but also are not 'techy'. It's pretty much plug-n-play!
That said, it is certainly on my radar to do a PIR sensor update (but it'll be more expensive but essential for situations like monitoring Hedgehogs, etc. - which need a 'trigger'), so I'll put it to be folks I'm working with to look at the ESP32. So, thanks for that =)
J

0
stupidityisanart
stupidityisanart

2 years ago

Some sort of opaque window in the roof would work well to provide light recording but allow the birds darkness to sleep.

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Reply 2 years ago

I put mine on the side, and I'm hoping it's enough, but I worried that it'd leak on the top, as it's harder to do a seal that way. But I'm open to suggestions. And indeed, if birds dislike skylights, and prefer sidelights. Complex animals, huh! xD

IMG_3693.JPGIMG_3623.JPG
0
ScarletStar
ScarletStar

2 years ago

Spying on hapless birds? :o
Can't a bird have a bit of privacy? 😒

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Reply 2 years ago

This cartoon did come to mind as I was doing it, I have to admit! xD

gl.jpg
0
JoeP36
JoeP36

2 years ago

I love this project since I've built a few birdhouses in my days as a Boy Scout & now.
I have one suggestion/tip. Make the back panel longer than the house itself. The extra wood extending beyond the bottom of the house makes for easier and more secure mounting. A house hanging from a nail will eventually fall.

You can also have the panel extend above as well, but you have to modify your hinged roof.
Another option is a hinged front that swings out from the top.

0
Hey Jude
Hey Jude

Reply 2 years ago

I think I got lucky with this particular birdbox - as cheap as it is, it has a brass 'keyhole', and I mounted it on a 2inch screw, so I'm hoping that'd do it. But taking your point seriously, I do think a backboard is a good suggestion, and given the storms of late, I'm inclined to reinforce actually, before anything sets up nest. Nice idea with the 'side flip' roof...will have a think at how to do this for V2.0! Thanks.

0
jcokas
jcokas

2 years ago

This is a fantastic concept and project! The next step would be to modify it with a motion sensor that could detect when a bird enters or exits the box and give it a stand-alone power source. I'm thinking of an application where a the scope stays attached to a single box and off in a tree and one might walk within wifi range and simply use the phone's app to see what's going on. This is beyond my talents but it's cool to think about.