A Close-Up Look
At The Nest Box
|The Front of the Box|
This is the second nest box. It was constructed in the fall of 2014 and replaced the original box from 2007. The interior cameras were installed then, but it took until fall of 2015 to get the rest of the setup arranged so that I could view the owls and begin streaming on YouTube in the spring of 2016.
Our screech owl family is fairly small. Adults are just 7 or 8 inches tall when standing straight up and weigh only 5 or 6 ounces. They have a mighty wingspan though - about 20 inches. Let’s look around their house.
|The Side, Showing Cameras,|
Wiring and a Privacy Screen
|The Back of the Box|
The outside dimensions of the box are approximately 16 ¾ inches wide and 10 ½ inches deep. The box is 25 inches tall in the front and 28 ½ inches tall in the back. That’s without the roof on. It is made from 1 x 6 cedar fence pickets, which are really about 5 ¼ inches wide and 9/16 inch thick. You can see in the photos that it is three boards wide and two boards deep. Around the outside, there are 1 inch strips covering the seams where one board adjoins the next, for protection from wind and water.
The entryway opening is 4 inches diameter. It is two boards thick to give the owl a more comfortable perching surface.
The Roof Lifts Off
|The Inside of the Roof|
The roof lifts off for access inside. It is four boards wide so it has overhang on the
sides as well as front to back. The roof boards are nailed to the narrow edge of a pair of 1 x 2s that extend over the top of the box front and back. A gate latch on each side fastens to an eye screw on the side of the box to hold the roof on tight. The roof is covered with flashing on the outside for protection from water. The inside of the roof has a coat of paraffin wax to discourage bees from nesting.
How Is It Framed?
The box starts with a pair of oak 1 x 2 inch box frames at the top and bottom. All the cedar boards are fastened to them using a pneumatic nail gun. In the photo on the left below the box is lying on its back and you can see the bottom of the box. The oak frame around the inside of the box is visible along with the underside of the floor boards.
|The box is lying on it's back. |
See the oak frame and the bottom of the floor.
|The nail gun marks where the cedar boards|
attach to the oak frame.
The photo on the left shows a side of the box, near the top. The upper oak frame is behind that wall. Notice the horizontal line of marks from the nail gun on the boards.
How Does The Box Hang In The Tree?
|The wire rope from the inside rod to the pulleys|
The upper frame holds the weight of the box (around 30 lbs.) as it hangs in the tree. The frame has a hole drilled through each side. A copper tube is fitted through the holes and a threaded rod runs inside the tube. Then a wire rope is fastened onto the rod ends and attached to a block and tackle pulley system to raise and lower the box in the tree.
The pulley system starts high in the tree with a sturdy hanging strap I got from Rope Tree Swings . The two inch wide strap has a loop sewn in each end. I used a carabiner style clip to hold them together and hang the pulleys. The wide strap will prevent damage to the tree such as you might get from a rope or cable digging into the bark. A good quality rope to raise and lower the box is important. I used a sturdy ¼ inch firm double braid polyester rope that I bought from the Knotty Girlz at Columbia Basin Knot Company . That rope is UV resistant and doesn’t stretch – just the qualities I needed.
To prevent the box from swinging too much in the breeze, it is anchored to the ground. Look at the first two photos again. See the big eye bolts at each bottom corner? More of the Knotty Girlz rope ties each eye bolt to its own corkscrew-style ground anchor.
|The camera access door is open. See two|
cameras on the left wall and the "ski slope".
The box is one big open space inside. There are two doors in the front – one to access the cameras and one to access the main floor area – but they both open into the same space.
The door to the camera area is open in this photo. You can see that the floor is about 2 ½ inches from the bottom of the box. That’s because the floor sits on top of the oak 1 x 2 frame.
|A Close-Up Of The "Ski Slope"|
I pulled the leaves away so you can get a better view of the “ski slope”. It’s a piece of flashing painted brown and fastened to the wall about 8 inches above the floor, and to the floor about 5 inches from the wall. It makes a steep curve and is my effort to create distance and perspective. An egg can roll up against it as a gentle barrier. The owls won’t want to stand on the diagonal surface so they will stay in the other two-thirds of the floor area. I’ve been using a similar barrier since the beginning, but it gets steeper each year as I raise the camera.
|The Main Door Is Open. |
View of Leaves and Inside Perch
In this photo looking through the main door, you see the usable floor area covered in leaves and the inside perch. That perch is a 1 inch oak dowel and is centered 7 ¾ inches above the floor. It was parallel to the wall behind it but now it’s more of a diagonal. The front of the perch fastens near the door opening and there are only a couple of inches of wall there, so the front end of the perch is centered about 1 1/2 inches out from the wall. It used to be that close at the back too, but now the back edge is centered about 3 ¼ inches from the side wall. More room for the rear end of an owl facing the camera!
What About The Cameras?
The cameras are High Def miniatures from Richard Yost at Birdhouse Spy Cam . They are tiny and have built-in microphones and infrared led lights to light up the dark.
Originally I thought I could just mount the cameras inside the box, but the owls quickly disabused me of that notion. Vigorous wing flapping hit them and changed the viewing angles. So the two cameras that provide interior views are fastened inside of PVC elbows (for weather protection) that are painted brown and mounted from the outside on a side wall that is two boards thick with holes cut through to the interior. Here’s what it looks like from the outside and the inside.
|The PVC Elbows Holding The Cameras|
Placing the Cameras
Location, location, location! Finding the best position for your cameras can be tricky. I’ve spent a lot of time holding the cameras at various heights and tilts and staring at a monitor screen to find the best coverage.
The Inside Cameras
The upper camera was pretty easy. It is centered 16 ¼ inches from the floor and looks out toward the perch with a slight downward tilt.
The lower camera has been much more difficult to place well. Why? First, it needs to cover the maximum floor space of about 10 x 10 inches. It’s hard to get the floor at the front edge of the camera view. Second, the camera has to cover about 8 inches of height for that whole floor space, or you won’t see things like the owls’ heads. If you look at old videos, you can see how I’ve adjusted the lower camera view each year. In 2016, it was pretty low, just 4 or 5 inches off the floor, and to get heads, I lost the view of the front part of the floor space.
Each year since, I’ve raised the camera a few inches, trying to reach that magic combination of height and tilt. Summer 2018 I made the 3rd adjustment. Now it is positioned so the lens is about 10 ½ inches from the floor and tilted downward. We should be able to see eggs or babies at the bottom of the ski slope. And we should be able to see heads too when they’re standing up. I hope.
The Outside Cameras
There are two outside cameras. One is mounted in the nest box tree and faces the box. In the live stream, it is the upper right view. The doorway, porch (if attached) and trunk of the nest box tree are visible. This camera sits inside a PVC cap for weather protection, but I need to add a wider overhang on the top. I’ve had trouble with water getting onto the lens. I’m going to cut a section of a plastic water bottle, paint it brown and glue or caulk it to the PVC cap to extend the overhang for the camera.
The other outside camera is mounted on the front of the nest box and looks outward. It is the lower right view in the stream. We see part of what the owls see from the doorway, see them fly in and out, and at night see their eyes in the tree. This camera is visible in the first photo. It is mounted near the doorway, at an angle. It gets some weather protection under the roof eve, but I added a piece of water bottle plastic painted brown and fastened above the camera for extra protection.
What About Lighting?
The box is quite dark inside even in the middle of the day, so the inside cameras’ infrared lighting is always operating. Sometimes the late morning sun is strong enough to light the inside and we can see a bit of color, but usually we get infrared black and white.
Only the camera picks up the infrared light. Humans and owls don’t see it. If I look at the outside cameras at night, the leds glow red. I’m not sure the owls even see the red glow, and ornithologists say they don’t see infrared light.
I’m also going to put up additional infrared lighting in the tree to provide more light for the two outside cameras at night.
New for 2018, I’ve added some low voltage, small led white lights in the ceiling area of the box. I plan to turn them on occasionally to provide a color view inside when something interesting happens.
How Does the Camera Signal Get to YouTube?
Each of the cameras and additional lights have wiring. The wires hang down from the box or tree and go into a conduit that runs between the tree and the house.Yes, I dug a trench between the tree and the house to bury the conduit and protect the wires. Then I drilled a hole in through the house wall to push the wiring inside.
The cameras connect to a 4-channel home security system DVR. It has power, video and audio connections for each camera. The security system DVR splits up the feeds and allows a view of individual cameras or all four at once. It also records all the video. You may have watched as I go back and pull out clips to compile into a video.
The DVR has two video output connections and one is HDMI. I use it to connect to an ElGato video capture card. The ElGato grabs the video from the DVR and brings the digital image into my computer.
The next step is crucial and took me a long time to learn. (Thanks again to Adam, who appeared in chat at just the right moment to tell me how to solve my problem.) I was uploading my ElGato output directly to YouTube. The problem was that the connection kept dropping off. Adam knew that connecting directly to YouTube is a bad idea. He recommended that I download Open Broadcast Software (OBS) and let it connect to YouTube. OBS will maintain the connection for you. Ah, stability! What a relief!
I use PowerDirector15 video editing software to create the videos you watch. It has more capabilities than I know how to use yet.
A Few Other Items
You’ll notice a few silver discs on the front and back. They are to provide extra ventilation in the box. On the inside cameras, you can see the 1 inch openings of the vents on the front and back walls.
The box gets an annual coat of water seal to protect it.
And finally, what are those green and brown wing things on each side of the box? They are privacy screens. They obscure the view of the surrounding area so viewers enjoy the owls, not the neighbors.
This Concludes Our Tour
We hope you enjoyed it!