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Saturday, September 23 2017 @ 02:25 AM CDT

Wildlife Subjects - Animals, Birds, Fish, Pets???

Previous: More History - Next: Site Considerations

Racoon near home - Copyright 2007, Richard C. Pitt

What can I say about subjects except that they’re as diverse as the number of animals, vegetables, bugs and other creatures on the planet. I have video of slugs crawling to and from the stream in my garden at night – they were not my chosen subjects but they found their way in front of the camera from time to time. I also have video of everything from my cats to squirrels, raccoons, stellar jays, juncos, band-tailed pigeons, chickadees and all sorts of other urban critters bathing in my pond and stream. Even the fish in the pond are entertaining at times.

Spiders have spun their web in front of our eagle cameras, and at times have garnered their own following.

Other people have put cameras on their puppies and other pets. And of course there are the truly wild live cameras in places such as sea-lion sunning rocks, wolf dens, bear dens, and the eagle nests that started it all.


I’m going to stay pretty much away from pets and other indoor subjects. The process of getting video to the internet is the same but in most cases the requirements are minimal. Any camera that you can hook to a computer will work. Light and power are not an issue. Cables are short and no special weatherproofing is generally required. Sound from many cameras is not much of an issue and separate microphones are easily added if it is.

About the only thing I’ll say is, “beware of inadvertent on-camera/microphone reality TV.” If the world is watching your den where the pups are playing you should probably ensure that the kids don’t get in there and that visitors know the microphone is on – and that the room is pretty sound-proof so things like (copyright) music and television sound-tracks and (private) conversations from the rest of the house and the outdoors don’t leak in. See the privacy section for more.


There are two major categories of wildlife I’ll deal with here: urban and “real”

The difference may not be all that obvious to some but I’ll use the eagle to show a species that has two distinct sets of examples.

The wild eagle typically nests at least a mile from any other eagle nest. They are very territorial, and are extremely shy of man. If you disturb their nest, they’ll likely build another instead of returning to the disturbed one.

The urban eagle will nest opportunistically – many times well within the 1 mile radius of other eagles. I’ve seen examples of 3 nests within a few hundred yards of each other. They’ll return to nests you’ve put a camera near, and even use nests that have been artificially raised or altered/repaired. We have one instance where the nest is only about 30’ up in a tree beside a house and literally on the edge of a fairly busy rural road.

The bottom line is that (aside from the fact that in this case eagles are protected so you need special permission to go near their nests in any case) it is much easier to put a camera near an urban eagle than a wild one.

The same applies to bears, coyotes, and all the other critters that sometimes live near man. They behave differently from their truly wild counterparts and present different challenges to camera installation.

Urban Wildlife other than birds

A squirrel in the house - Copyright 2007 - Richard C. PittRats, cockroaches, mice – typical urban wildlife?

How about squirrels, raccoons, skunks, coyotes and others that might be typical of your urban area but not mine? Around the Vancouver area we’re looking at things like beavers, muskrats, bats and many others.

The point is that almost anyone can put a camera where the rats and cockroaches roam – or attract them, but it takes a bit of skill and daring to get a camera successfully installed near a skunk den – so it would probably be pretty unique. Just finding such a place is not likely to be easy unless the critters have found you and your home – and then you might just like to get the local wildlife removal expert in instead of a camera. Of course I'm not going to suggest you encourage their entry into your own home like this little lady to the right. We've discouraged her since this was taken.

So if you want your camera to be watched by more than just you and maybe your friends, you probably now need to find something pretty different from what is already available.

There are other concerns – namely that some species are protected from human interference in some jurisdictions. You should check with your local wildlife people before you go poking around in bear dens and eagle nests and whatever local equivalent you might have to such species. See Site Considerations below.

Urban Birds/Bats

Under my “plant room” we have a starling nest. The birds have successfully raised at least 2 crops of young each year for the past couple of seasons and are likely to do so again this year. In the hedges surrounding our backyard are several other nests that the squirrels have not yet found but I’ve never gone looking to see what is nesting in them. Ed, before he left Pitt Meadows last year, had a Flicker (woodpecker cousin) nest in an old cherry tree in his backyard that he put a camera on. I also have a “bat house” that I have not yet put up. There are bats in the area as I’ve seen them flitting overhead in the late evenings when I’m out in the yard in summer.

Here in the Northern latitudes your opportunity to put a camera on a nest pretty much needs to be taken before the birds (or bats) get back in the spring. This varies from area to area but most species spend at least some time away from their typical nesting grounds. If you’ve spotted an established nest site when the leaves are off the trees, chances are that nest will be used again the next year. If it is somewhere around your house, like swallows near the top of a roof peak or as mine, starlings in a crack, you probably know the birds from previous years. In some instances (like David Hancock’s backyard where he has wood ducks come every year) you might put up purpose-built bird-houses with cameras already installed and just hope for the best.

In trees, you have to take into consideration where leaves are likely to sprout. A bit of judicious pruning may be in order but be careful not to do too much because if the nest is too exposed many birds won’t come back – they’ll build a new nest where the exposure is less.

In cracks, holes and crevices you have to deal with light and the lack thereof. See the Lighting section for some hints.

If you can’t get to the nest location before the birds do you may have to put the camera some distance from the nest. This is what happened with Ed’s Flicker nest. The birds were already in the hole in the tree before he decided to put up the camera so he ended up mounting it on a metal rod a couple of feet from the nest entrance. He used a very small, weatherproof “helmet” camera and a thin metal pole, so the birds didn’t seem to mind it (see the section on cameras).

At Goldstream Park, Bob and Darren rigged up a camera in the attic of the Ecology Center so it looked up at the bats hanging in the rafters. The camera platform was on wheels with a rope tied to each end of the cart so they could pull it back and forth to wherever the bats decided to roost. They had several other cameras spread around the facility that came to a switch where they could select which one was connected to the outbound link and the VCR, depending on the season.

Real Wildlife

Some people spend their lives working to take even still pictures of some wildlife. There is a whole set of techniques and equipment that are necessary to deal with remote and truly wild wildlife. You’ll catch a glimpse of some of this in the sections on dealing with distance, but I’ll leave some of the other things for a follow up to this book.

The major thing to understand is that in many cases there are wildlife regulations involved that are far more stringently monitored than in urban areas. The other thing to understand is that you mostly have to be really lucky to be able to set up a camera that has much activity on it on a daily basis, let alone weekly or monthly. See the section on Production for some ideas on how to deal with this. The territories of most wildlife are pretty large, so finding a habitat that is frequented is the hard part, and most photographers guard their sites jealously.

If you are a seasoned wildlife photographer reading this book to get some insight into how to hook up your favorite spot to the internet, or even just to get long-term video of reasonable quality rather than just stills, then the following sections are for you. They’ll get you started but you should check out the major sections on similar topics.

Again, “real” wildlife is wary of anything that changes in their habitat. They can be habitual, so you may find spots where they will return with some reasonable frequency, but they also tend to have fairly large territories so getting any consistently interesting video is far more difficult than with urban wildlife. Finding the dens and nests can be the tricky part initially, but installing equipment in a non-invasive manner is far more difficult and challenging. Planning is your best tool.

Tag: animals fish pets birds racoons skunks spiders slugs chickadees urban wildlife puppies kittens sea-lions wolf bear eagle squirrel

[mete:desc Live wildlife video; what can I say about subjects except that they’re as diverse as the number of animals, vegetables, bugs and other creatures on the planet.]

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