discussion / Camera Traps  / 21 May 2021

24-hour monitoring of birds' nests

We're working with the Alagoas Antwren, a Critically Endangered species from the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. We've monitored the population over the past three years and they are down to around 10 individual birds, at a high risk of extinction in the next couple of years. We have been using Bushnell camera traps to monitor nests, but encounter two problems with that method. First, we only get information on predation events after they have happened, so there is no chance for any other than passive protection from predators. The most common predators are small marsupials and snakes, that climb up to the nests which are in the understorey about 2 m above the ground. We are working on various nest protection methods but it would be nice to have a system where we could observe what's going on at the nest from a distance. Second, the camera traps are sometimes not triggered by small predators such as snakes, whose body temperature is close to that of the environment and with smooth slow movements. So we are losing important information.


What we want to do is develop a camera system that we can use to monitor nests 24/7, with continuous video recording and a cable that we can use to view the images from a safe distance without disturbing the birds (30-40 m away). It could be wifi instead of a cable, but I assume that would have a higher energy demand. We're engaging with a security camera company to try to develop something, but it's clearly quite different from what they normally do. Our budget is also very reduced because of the pandemic, so we are having to do what we can with limited funds. I wonder there is anyone in this network who's developed a similar system or who would be interested in doing so?


Our requirements for such a system include:

 - a small (dimensions no more than 3-4 cm), unobtrusive camera we can place 1-2 m from nests without the birds abandoning their eggs (spy camera?)

 - ability to focus within 1 m or even less (closer than the standard camera traps we've used)

 - video recording in HD so we can identify prey items brought to nest, count scales to identify snakes

 - ability to record multiple days of 24-hour video (should be fine with a 128 GB memory card; we're also looking at a video recorder NVR/DVR in a sealed box)

 - self-contained battery-powered system that we can install in remote locations (we can use a big 12V battery recharged via solar panels; battery would ideally also be 30-40 m from the nest so we can change it without disturbance)

 - fully waterproof and insectproof to withstand tropical rainforest conditions

 - cable of 30-40 m to where a laptop and battery can be connected without approaching nest again

 - infrared illumination to record nocturnal predators without being visible to the birds

 - no need for movement detection to trigger recording, but perhaps event detection on the video could be useful for image review

 - affordability


Thanks for any help or advice you can offer!

Hi there!

I'm not an expert on this sort of set-up, but this sounds a bit similar to the video monitoring (not 100% sure if it's round-the-clock on video or only during daylight hours) of condor nests being done in the western United States. Their cameras are larger than what you're looking for, and livestream the video back to base. The environment is also very different, so obviously the rainforest and weather-proofing will pose some very different challenges for you. I'm also not sure if they monitor through cameras 24/7 or only during daylight hours.

But it may be worth looking into what their set-up is like and how it's maintained. You can find the recovery program's main page here, and we wrote about their cameras here on WILDLABS - the details of the setup are about halfway through. 

You may also want to reach out to Cornell Labs of Ornithology - they were included in that condor article up above, and spoke about how more affordable HD cameras made camera monitoring possible. So they may have some suggestions on equipment!

Hope this helps a little! We'll put this question out on our Twitter to see if anyone else has suggestions, as well.


Dear Ellie,


Many thanks for your replies and for putting the question out on twitter. From the condor links, it looks like "Charles Eldermire, the Bird Cams Project Leader at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology" will be a key contact. I will get in touch with him, and will also check out the Harpy Eagle paper.


Thank you!


Hi Ben.

It's quite a list of requirements. Designing a system from scratch with those features would be extremely difficult and take a long time. But perhaps there are some shortcuts that can be taken. I've PM'd you and would be interested to hear more details. No promises, but there might be some solutions that could hit a decent amount of your requirements.