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Saturday, September 23 2017 @ 02:24 AM CDT

Site Considerations

Previous: Camera Subjects - Next: Cameras Overview

We’ll get into the technical considerations of a site in each of the sections on light, internet and power, but the major site considerations are to do with the critters and people.

Interacting with the subjects’ environment

The first thing is – don’t just assume the critters will come back after you’ve put your great ugly camera near their home. We’ve noted several eagle nests that people have had cameras installed in that the eagles have not come back to for example. In most cases this was because the installation was done at a time when the birds were in the area and they saw the activity. In others it was because the installation was very obvious/intrusive, not camouflaged in any way. The original Hornby nest camera is only about 14” from the nest edge but it is made to look as if it is part of the tree. The birds have pecked at their reflection in the front glass, but otherwise ignore it.

Smell also can be a problem. Avoid handling equipment when you are wearing perfumes or bug spray or have been handling diesel or gasoline, etc. This means when you’re preparing it as well as when you’re installing it. Cables can have their own distinctive smell when they’re new. You might leave things outside in the weather for a while to let such smells wash off and dissipate.

Shiny things are also a problem. We tend to paint white housings and cover chrome, etc. Sticking pieces of bark on an item is good too.

Timing, as noted in the first paragraph, is everything. Don’t do things when the critters are around. Do them well in advance, and pick your time near when they’ve left for the season, rather than trying to squeak in before they come back. If your equipment is in place for some time then it will be less likely to smell of man and will have time to lose its luster.


Check with your wildlife officials, local, regional and federal if you’re thinking about doing anything with a subject that even might be protected in some way. Some municipalities and cities prohibit putting out food for birds for instance. If you don’t know who to talk to, find a local wildlife rescue and ask them (and donate to them too) as they’ll know who else you might need to ask and may themselves have helpful information.


Unless you’re installing a camera out in an area where literally nobody but you goes, and nobody lives nearby, and nobody passes by in boats or cars, you’re potentially going to run into privacy issues, especially if your camera is remotely controllable for pan/tilt/zoom.

We know of one camera that was installed to watch eagles but ended up being used to watch the residents of apartments nearby.

Needless to say the local residents were not eager to have this repeated when we looked at taking over the position. We had to reassure them the camera housing was blocked from viewing anything but the nest itself, even though the camera could pan and tilt and zoom much farther afield. That camera is still not in, but the lesson has been learned.

Some of the industrial PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) cameras have “blackout” or “masking” abilities where sections of their travel can be masked electronically so that no video shows when the lens points in specific directions. This is fine if there are 2 levels of authority on the settings of the camera and the highest is held by someone other than the camera operators – which is not typically the case in an amateur setting. It is also not obvious to someone looking at the camera and seeing where the lens is pointing. Far better to put real masking of some sort so there simply is no way the camera can see in “bad” directions. Use black tape on the plastic housing or some sort of enclosure or surround at the site.

Cameras are one thing, but microphones are completely another. It is effectively impossible to stop sound from coming to them from specific directions out in the wild. It is not much, if any, easier in an urban area and potentially much more damaging.

Your local authorities may require signs be placed to warn of open microphones or cameras that can see specific areas. Ask, and obey.

No matter, you should test your setup by walking around it and talking in a normal or maybe slightly loud voice and having someone listen to the setup remotely to see if the sound is either noticeable or intelligible. If it is, consider turning the gain down or re-positioning the microphone to eliminate the problem.

ESLI Surveillance has a page ( showing information on U.S. States with privacy restrictions. I don’t have any direct information on how recent this page is, but it will give you an idea of what you’re up against. Here’s another page ( including information on Canada’s PIPEDA and other legal aspects of cameras in public/private places. Note that this includes sound as well as video! Other information can be had by putting “hidden camera law” or other similar words into your favorite search engine. Most of the articles are slanted toward surveillance for legal purposes – but the law regards your critter camera/microphone in the same light.

The Site Survey

Before you put up a camera, you should do a site survey. This is really a formalized list of the aspects of the site and potential camera placements so that you can decide if it is practical, or even possible, to reliably do a wildlife camera where you want it.


The first thing to establish is - are you allowed to put a camera at this site?

Is this site private property? If so, is it your (or your family's) property? If not, who do you need to seek permission from?

If it is public property, is it administered by municipal, regional, provincial/state, national government body (parks, recreation, etc.) 

If the critter you're interested in is not "regulated" is there another critter that uses this area that is? (you want to video a racoon but the area is used as a breeding ground for some endangered species for example) - who do you need to seek permission from?

Privacy Considerations

If you're going to put a camera somewhere that people frequent, what do you have to do to protect their privacy? Are you allowed to do it at all? Must you restrict the view of the camera in some way? (provide a "blind" to prevent a Pan/Tilt/Zoom camera from seeing into windows for example) What about sound? Can you use a microphone at all? Is there some continuous nearby sound (waterfall?) that will mask speach from any distance away?


Is there nearby "safe" (ground-fault protected) power nearby? Nearby typically means the maximum length of a purchased outdoor extension cord - typically 100 feet or 30 meters. 


Is there access to high-speed outbound internet nearby? If the access is by WiFi, what is the liklihood of local interference by others using WiFi?

Camera Placement

Is there a convenient (and sturdy) place to put a camera near to where the critter is likely to be? If you have to build something, can it be done in such a fashion as to blend in with the surrounding area without distracting or disturbing any critters?

Will you have to use a special lens for distant viewing? Should you use a PTZ camera to allow for critters at different spots in the view?

Microphone Placement

Should you have a microphone at all? Will you be able to put a microphone close enough to the action to use very low gain to minimize the potential to pick up extraneous (human-caused) noises such as cars/trucks, airplanes, lawn mowers, etc.

How can you minimize privacy concerns? Can you use a "shotgun" or directional microphone, or sound absorbing material to limit outside noise?

Once you have answered these and any other questions that arise, you should be able to design how you're going to set up your system - you'll have an idea of what kind of camera you can use, whether you can get away with a big one that you already have, or must purchase a small one, etc. 

Tag: smell camouflage timing season perfume bug spray government wildlife privacy masking ptz microphone sound surveillance

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