Arduino Wildlife Night Camera




We live up against an open space preserve, and I wanted to build a camera with infrared imaging capabilities and motion detection that could capture some of the wildlife I know is out there, but doesn't get seen during the day. I'm also a newbie to electronics and programming, so it was as much about figuring out how to build it and code it as it was to get something that worked. This is the second version I built the first was built from an old cell phone and a servo as a trigger. It kind of worked, but cell phone CCDs have an IR filter on them. I tried to peel the filter off and destroyed my ccd, so that was that. This one does most of what I want, but it's also a stepping stone to version 3. I'm also into the fast and lowbrow construction methods. This means a plastic tupperware type container and glue gun for holding things in place. Not pretty or neat, but easier to build without lots of fine tools.

Current features (with details, limitations or constraints)

  • TTL serial camera ( has built in IR LEDs and motion detector in a nice housing, but only up to 640x480 image size)
  • Motion detection (not PIR but visual motion detection which means it captures more than critters like branches)
  • Saves files to micro SD Card (very slow - takes 30 seconds to capture 1 640x480, 320x240 much faster, 160x120 fastest but low quality)
  • Has LCD screen for displaying status (so I don't have to be hooked up to a computer to know what is happening)
  • Powered on from extension cord (because as configured uses too much power for a battery pack)

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Step 1: Parts

To build this camera you will need the following items. Items in brackets are what I used for this project. I included prices for the ones that are more individual priced items for this project. Assume you can get your own enclosure.

  • Arduino (Uno) $25
  • Camera compatible with Arduino (ideally with IR LEDs and motion detection built in. Adafruit's TTL weatherproof serial camera) $55
  • SD Card (Adafruit breakout board with micro SD) $7.50
  • LCD matrix for displaying status (2x16 Adafruit) $10
  • button to turn off backlight on LCD at night (can't recall where I got this)
  • An enclosure (I'm a fan of tupperware type things with seal tight lids
  • Hot glue gun
  • jumpers, electrical tape, a breadboard, hot glue gun, drill bits, misc tools and supplies

Step 2: Assembly

I didn't take a lot of pictures along the way so I'll just describe the basic elements and construction. This is based on other builds out there, so it's pretty easy to setup the components using the following guides

I did a bunch of configuring inside a couple plastic enclosures to make it accessible to get at the SD card, but also mostly watertight. Not pretty at all, but works. Lots of wires because of all the components. Had to customize a few wires to meet my needs (e.g. resistor wire, button wires, etc.)

Step 3: Code

The code I built for arduino is based on hacking together a number of other items. Specifically, I used the LCD Matrix Code, the SD Breakout Code, and the Camera example from Adafruit "MotionCapture" All were modified to work together the way I wanted. I also added some code for the button to switch off the backlight of the camera. I also wrote another program to delete the files off the SD Card. Since you capture a lot, I wanted a way to delete in batches. Initial uses of codes that I found didn't work for a variety of reasons so I cobbled together one that looked for filenames that matched mine (of the format IMAGE000.JPG) and deleted them in sequence. Right now I can't quite get it to stop deleting when it runs out, but I'm working on that.

Attached are the Arduino files and txt versions

Step 4: Take Pictures

I've had this running the last bunch of nights outside my house. Just feet from my back fence. I set it up at night and leave it until the morning. As you can see lots of action in the neighborhood. I do get a ton of other pictures of nothing in particular (falling leaves, blurry birds) and the good ones are less frequent than the mostly blank ones. the bobcat this morning was the best so far.

Good luck!

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    15 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I'm not going to build this. I only came here to see if you actually got that cool picture of a bobcat with your camera. I am very jealous.

    If I set up a camera like this, I'd get cows, deer, coyotes, more cows, maybe an owl, etc., but I'd be amazed if I got a bobcat. Absolute best I'd hope for would be a fox.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 months ago

    Deer, coyotes? I'd be amazed if I got that. I'd be seeing rats, neighbors cats and maybe a hedgehog :(


    Reply 3 months ago

    I guess it's a mater of what you're used to. If be pretty excited about a hedgehog because, if they're around here, I've never seen one.

    I hear coyotes yipping or howling all the darn time and have to maintain my defenses to keep my garden from being decimated by deer. I hear owls almost every night, but I'd still be excited to see one of them because the only time I've seen one was when I startled a deer, who plowed into a tree, startling an owl.

    I am sometimes anazed by the variety of small mammals I find destroying vegetables in my garden: sqirrels, incredibly tiny rabbits, mice, voles, pack rats, one guy who I think was a shrew, moles, possums, raccoons, and probably a few others I've forgotten. I think the coyotes sometimes snack on my figs, but I don't consider them garden pests or all that small.

    I also get trout, heron, and the occasional turtle in thee small creek passing behind my house. It's pretty darn cool, but some of these animals I almost never see, even though I know they're here, like the owls and coyotes that I've seen once each and the foxes I've only seen twice, unless you count road kill.

    I should really set up a motion-capture camera.


    3 years ago

    Nice idea to put together Arduino and the camera. I did try it to make a sensor for a dSLR camera for wild life, using a PIR, Arduino is in sleep mode and is not power hungry, when PIR feels something, it will simply wake up Arduino and it will send the signals to the dSLR camera. (here you can have a look: ). Do you know how fast your camera will wake up and is ready to take a picture? Thanks!

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    That looks great. I need to figure out how 1) the camera can be put to sleep, and then 2) measure the wake up time on the camera (if I can get it to sleep), and then potentially incorporate a sleep mode.

    It looks like you built your own library just for sleep mode management. Nice.

    As of right now I've got it running on an extension cord from my house, so power was not a big concern, but that will change if I go to a battery.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Yes, you need to find those 2 answers.
    I did not write my own sleep library, I used this one:
    By the way, if you need to use a real time clock on your camera, I recommend using DS3231 modules from ebay, DS3231 can be programmed to provide 2 interrupts on various times, dates etc (check this one: and look for "ALARM_TYPES_t"), these interrupts can wake from sleep your Arduino (just in case you need such regular activity) and will save power. (good for time lapse pictures)


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for the follow-up suggestions.


    3 years ago

    Great project. I have two suggestions. The First is to use a PIR to turn on the camera, that then checks to see wether to take a picture. This could help save power. The second is to use a smaller arduino to do the controlling, to lower the cost.

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Great idea. I am currently working on a second version with a PIR and an ArduCam for higher resolution and buffering to speed up transfer and storage. Questions for you,

    How would I turn on power to the camera? Isn't the trigger to take a picture the power on? Or is power always on?

    Can an arduino micro handle all these elements (sdcard, PIR, camera)? I have not worked with them much.


    Reply 3 years ago

    From what i have read about the camera it is always on and always
    looking for motion, once it finds motion it snaps a picture, tells the Arduino it has a picture to send and sends it over Serial to the
    Arduino. where it is sent to the SD card. I'm not sure the boot time of
    the camera, but it would be more energy efficient to have the Cameras power hooked to a relay or a transister that can be switched on by the Arduino. Then when the PIR detects motion, the Arduino Turns on the Camera which takes a picture. Then when there is no motion sensed by the PIR, it turns the camera off to save power. this would only work if the camera is able to take pictures within 2-3 seconds of powering up. I hope this made sense.


    Reply 3 years ago

    I'll look into this for sure. Thanks. I should have mentioned that I'm working with the Arducam uno board as well (or trying to). Apparently this board has a "hibernate with RTC mode" for low power consumption, but I can't find documentation yet to figure out how to access this mode.


    3 years ago

    This looks like an excellent holiday project! How much did it cost altogether?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Good question. I'll update the parts with some pricing...


    3 years ago

    captured pictures are just awesome .great work.