by Robyn Bailey, NestWatch Project Leader
There are many tools that NestWatchers can use to inspect difficult nests: the birdhouse cam, the selfie stick, and the low-tech mirror-on-a-pole. But if you have many boxes, no electricity, and a small budget, the in-box camera may not work for you. And a selfie stick or mirror-pole is no help at all when the nest is underground or in a narrow crevice. What’s a NestWatcher to do when a tricky nest presents itself?
Inspection Cameras For The Win
An inspection camera (also called a borescope, endoscope, or—my favorite—snake cam) is a very helpful tool for checking tall nest boxes, but it also works well for underground burrows, nests in natural cavities, and nests in inaccessible places (e.g., your dryer vent). This summer, the NestWatch team put one to the test in Ithaca, New York and in Kenya. Dr. Marketa Zarybnicka, a visiting researcher, has also used this system to monitor Boreal Owl nests in the Czech Republic.
Dr. Zarybnicka told us, “The inspection camera approach is a great method for nest box checking, allowing you to substitute the time-consuming ladder approach. I also believe it can be successfully incorporated into citizen science projects like NestWatch. However, it is necessary to consider which kind of inspection camera to use depending upon availability, price, and your scientific goals.”
We recommend choosing a model with a dimmable LED light at the end, for a variety of lighting situations (including dark nest box interiors). Additional options include the ability to capture images and video using one-handed operation (in this case, don’t go too heavy or you’ll have trouble with handshake blurring your images). The length of the cable is another consideration; the lengthier the cable, the more you will need additional stabilizers to reach a tall nest (see photo caption for “How It Works” for an example). Prices range from $15 for a lightweight version that plugs into a mobile device, up to $160 for a handheld battery-operated unit (no mobile device required).
Tips For Success
- Follow the usual nest check rules, keeping nest checks under a minute. Similarly, don’t check nests that are near their fledge date, or if you suspect incubation has just begun (particularly for owls). See the NestWatch Code of Conduct for a refresher on appropriate nest check behavior.
- Practice on an inanimate object first, as it can take some time to figure out what you’re seeing. Images sometimes appear sideways or upside down from what you’re expecting. You’ll get the hang of it after a few tries.
- Take extra batteries with you (or a portable phone charger) for long field days.