How to install a camera inside a bird box

Two of the most frequently asked questions of site visitors are (1) 'What make of camera do you use in your bird box?' and (2) 'How do I go about fitting a camera inside a nest box?' The installation information on this web page is for a miniature board camera (model 3046LA) from Henry's CCTV Centre, but similar, pre-wired kits are also available from Maplin Electronics, RF Concepts and others. See links at the bottom of this page. Whatever you buy, make sure that your camera board has a built in microphone. Sound is almost as important as the picture!

Henry's have contacted me about their 117A camera. The 117A is a new model 'mini camera'. It has built in infra red light emitting diodes for night time vision and there's also a colour version 117CTA. These 'mini cameras' are much easier to install than a 'board camera' but the resolution of the black & white 117A is lower (380 lines compared with the 3046LA at 420 lines). See this page of their website for further details.

A camera suitable for use in a nest box

This board camera, shown with a 10p coin for size comparison, is easily concealed in the roof space of a bird box. The camera is only 35mm square, produces black & white images, has low light sensitivity, (but no infra red LEDs), a built in microphone, high resolution (420 lines), adjustable lens focus and is powered from a 12 volt transformer supply.

A miniature board camera - only 35mm square

Click on any of the pictures below for an enlarged view

Camera with on board microphone (top right of picture)
A terminal block connects the board to a fly lead and 6 pin plug
... and the 6 pin plug connects to the 16m of cable
... that terminates at a SCART connector or phono plugs

The camera board

connects to a block

then the 16m of cable

and ends at a SCART

The camera board used in this project is model 3046LA from Henry's in London. I also bought their 12 volt power pack and 16 metre cable kit. The camera circuit board has a plug in connector with 4 colour coded leads (pictures 1and 2 above) so it's only a matter of minutes before you can have the whole thing up and running. A multi block electrical terminal (picture 2 above) was the only additional purchase.

The supplied SCART adaptor connects to a domestic television, video recorder or DVD recorder. Or ..... you can connect directly (yellow phono connector) to the 'Video In' on your computer's capture card / TV card. For audio input you will then need a converter from (e.g. Maplin Electronics, or a computer dealer etc.) This adapts the white audio phono plug to a miniature stereo jack plug for your computer's audio card.

Click on any of the pictures below for an enlarged view

A 12 volt transformer powers the camera
A false ceiling protects the camera from inquisitive and aggressive birds!
Top view of the suspended ceiling
Check the focus (see below) then refix the roof

12 volt converter

false ceiling (underside)

false ceiling

almost done!

It would be worth plugging the whole thing together and testing it before installing the circuit board in your nest box. Focusing can be adjusted later. I made a false ceiling for the nest box allowing the lens to poke through the underside (picture 2 above). Birds have been known to attack the camera circuitry, particularly if they see their reflection in the camera's lens, so, be warned! The red ringed section in picture 3 is my own enhancement, a single, high power infra red LED (light emitting diode) with in-line resistor. The LED enables me to view the inhabitants of the box even in total darkness. By fixing the LED horizontally I avoided a 'white-out' effect that's sometimes reported with infra red cameras where the LEDs are directed at the floor. As the light is infra red it's invisible to the birds and causes them no distress. Important note:- My infra red LED uses 100ma and the camera also uses 100ma. Make sure that your transformer is rated high enough to run a camera and a high power LED without overloading it.

If you're a practical person and have a basic knowledge of electronics it's not too difficult to provide additional infra red lighting to boost the image quality of a black and white camera under low light conditions. These are the items I used - YH70M high power LED from Maplin Electronics and a 150 ohm 3 watt wire wound resistor W150R, also from Maplins. The 150 ohm resistor is for cameras that use a 12 volt supply such as my Henry's one. It would need to be a different value if the camera you use has, for example a 6 volts or 9 volts supply. A 3 watt resistor is much higher rating, in theory, than you need, but I found that smaller ones ran incredibly hot. The positive lead of the LED is the longer of the two and goes to the 12v (often red) lead from the power supply. See picture 3 in the sequence above. This technique will only be relevant for black and white cameras not colour ones, as those are not sensitive to infra red.

If the information in the paragraph above appears daunting (or meaningless!) then Henry's has a 117A camera with 6 infra red LEDs pre-installed. It comes with a mounting bracket and produces 380 lines of resolution. Conversely, the 3046LA uses a Sony image sensor, has a higher resolution of 420 lines, but no infra red 'night vision' LEDs and you need to secure it in the roof space, preferably above a false ceiling. See pictures above. You may be quite happy without adding any additional lighting to the 3046LA, as evidenced by this e-mail I received - The image, as you suggested in your mail, was brilliant under normal daylight conditions, so as yet we have not added any LED lighting. Today was very dull and cloudy and still the image was crystal clear. Note:- the 3046LA camera will not produce images in totally dark conditions without supplementary infra red lighting. I've outlined the basic features. The decision is yours!

Click on any of the pictures below for an enlarged view

Check the focus before refixing the roof
Make your own close focus chart with varying sixes of text
A short fly lead connects the camera to the main wiring
Weatherproof any exposed connections

check focus

focusing chart

6 pin plug & socket

weatherproof tape

Before re-fixing the roof and the bird box it's worth adjusting the focus to get as sharp a picture as possible. Try and obtain sharp focus at approximately 3 cm or so from the nest box floor. This allows for the build up of the nest and the chicks in the nest. You can make your own close focus chart - see above. The text on line 3 is only 3mm high.

Run the cable from your house to the bird box and connect the 6 pin miniature DIN plug and socket (picture 3 above). If any connectors are exposed to the elements, wrap them in self amalgamating tape to prevent water ingress at a later stage (picture 4) This tape is also used by satellite installation engineers and is readily available from some DIY stores and Maplin Electronics. (Yes, them again!) Re-connect the transformer and sit back and wait for the birds to start making their preliminary inspections, possibly as early as February. It's worth keeping the power connected to the camera continually to avoid condensation problems on the circuit board and mist on the camera lens. Don't forget to turn up the sound at feeding time and make sure that you treat your ever hungry brood to some mealworms. They're a real life saver. Good luck!

| The first pictures from the new camera - Bird Box Diary 2005 |

Camera suppliers:- | | | More Henry's cameras |
| RF Concepts | | Maplin Electronics do a search for board camera |

Pre built systems are available from Handykam Birdcam & Box Watch

Relevant links within this web site
| How to build a bird box | | Nest box diary |
| Sparrow terrace - cutting plans for a bird box for up to 3 pairs of house sparrows |
| Attract wildlife by feeding the bird and appropriate planting |

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