So You Want To Install A Nest Cam?

Whether you are a long-time citizen scientist or brand new to birds, nest cams can enhance your enjoyment of bird watching. With nest box cameras, you can witness interesting behaviors that cannot be seen outside of the nest box while learning about the cycle of life unfolding in your back yard.

But first, you need a nest. If you don’t already have a nest box, find out which birds you can host in your region and habitat using our Right Bird, Right House tool, and get free construction plans and placement tips.

Choose A Setup

Now that you’ve measured and noted your range, imagine what view would be ideal for you. Write down the features that are most important to you (i.e., full color, night vision, HD, sound, etc.), then consider the constraints of your site using the questions below:

  • Are there any problems with accessing the site?
  • If you plan to broadcast online, is there wired Internet?
  • How much do you want to spend?

Once those questions are answered, it makes choosing equipment much more straightforward. Now let’s look at some options.

The USB Webcam

USB webcams are the least expensive and easiest cameras to set up for nests nearby a computer.

  • Draws power from the computer port
  • Best for nests within 15′
  • Can reach more distant nests using extension cords and USB hubs
  • extensions can produce delays in the signal
  • USB hubs reduce delays but require power of their own

The Analog Camera

Analog cameras require a little more set-up time, but are a good middle-of-the-road choice for watching more distant nests.

  • draws power from an A/V cable that plugs into your TV
  • best for nests within 200′
  • can be viewed on a computer using a USB adapter
  • available in wireless versions, but a power cord is still necessary (only the image is transmitted wirelessly, not the power)

The Network (IP) Camera

Network (IP) cameras produce great video, even in dark nest boxes, and are the best choice for online streaming.

  • best for nests within 325′
  • cams are usually larger and may not fit inside small birdhouses
  • cam connects directly to a router and can be viewed by any computer on the same network (including smart phones and tablets)
  • a PoE cable (power over ethernet) can transmit power and signal over the same cable
  • available in wireless versions (range of about 100′ line of sight)
  • can reach more distant nests, up to several miles, by adding an access point to the router, which will also require a power source

Other Considerations

Image quality varies by camera model, time of day, and even location of the nest box.

  • look for infrared night vision to allow nighttime viewing (birds, like people, cannot see or feel infrared light and are not bothered by it)
  • nest box cams will generally be darker than a cam mounted in the open; this can affect color
  • look for a cam without a power indicator light, or the ability to disable the light so that it’s not visible to the birds
  • look for a cam with a built-in microphone so you can hear what’s going on

Click through the screens to see examples of different cam views.

How far away is the nest?

One of the most important things to consider before making your camera purchase is how far from your viewing area your nest box is. There are limitations on the distance any camera can easily transmit images without additional equipment, and even wireless cameras still need a power source. Measure the distance from the nest box to the input (i.e., computer, TV, router, etc.) to learn what your “range” is.


After choosing a camera, it’s time to mount it. First, check that the cam is working before you install it in the box! Most cameras can be mounted to the underside of the nest box roof with a few screws. If the cam is too large for the box, an “attic” or false roof can be constructed to house the camera. The power and video cables for the camera can be secured to the outside of the box with small clips or staples.

Running Wires

Remember, all cams need a power source, including wireless ones. This can either be a battery (not recommended), electrical outlet, power-over-ethernet (power and video are transmitted in one cable), or solar. For added protection, cables can be channeled through conduit if they are to be buried underground.

Positioning A Wireless Router (If You Need To)

If you’re using a wireless IP cam, position your wireless router near a window closest to the camera. For wired IP cams, router position is not important as long as the cable can reach it. Refer to the instruction manual for specific steps necessary to set up your camera for viewing.

Before you start

The right time to install a camera is before the birds start nesting, because you never want to visit a nest for more than a minute or two (see the NestWatch Code of Conduct). Too much disturbance could cause birds to abandon their nest. For this reason, avoid cameras that require you to frequently change batteries and swap memory cards. Note: it is illegal for you to touch or otherwise physically disturb an active nest or its contents.

Watch And Report

While watching nesting birds gives us humans a fun and educational way to interact with birds, nest box cams also are an opportunity to contribute to science. How? Your observations become valuable scientific data when you report your nesting activity to NestWatch, our nest-monitoring citizen science project. Monitoring your nests for science is as easy as watching TV!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology