Here’s a quick question for all of you chicken keepers. Do you know what your chickens were doing around midnight? I do and I have the pictures to prove it. No, I’m not spending my evenings in the coop trying to catch my birds in action. I’m leaving that job to the BirdCam 2.0, my new favorite piece of chicken keeping equipment. If you have ever wondered what your chickens are up to while you are away, it may become your favorite piece of chicken keeping equipment.
Before the first day-old baby chicks arrived here at 1840 Farm, I had read that having chickens was akin to having aquarium fish. Chicken keepers spoke of how much fun it was to watch them as they went about their poultry behaviors. No matter what I had read, I couldn’t have possibly imagined how much personality chickens have and how much they love to show it off. To spend time in our chicken coop is to have a front row seat at the latest installment of 1840 Farm Poultry Masterpiece Theatre.
I can now count myself among the chicken keepers who love to see what the birds are up to. Walking into the house from the car, I find myself stopping by the coop to look in at them. I live in New England, and stopping to see or do anything in the cold and snow that our winter brings is a real compliment to its entertainment value. The chickens never disappoint. Even if they are just relaxing in the coop, they are happy to snap to attention and begin the latest act in their ongoing performance.
The antics of our seven hens led me to start researching the possibility of adding a webcam to our little coop. The subject of a webcam was flitting around our farm this winter. As in, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to see what our chickens are doing when we’re not there?” I had to admit that I was interested to see what the girls were up to when they were left to their own devices. So, I did what any poultry farmer would do. I went to the Internet. I found several people who had retrofitted webcam systems for their coops. The systems I found were very complex and very expensive. I’m pretty handy when it comes to technology, but this was more of a project than I was looking for.
I contacted Wingscapes regarding evaluating one of their BirdCams for use in a chicken coop with the goal of sharing my findings with the readers at Community Chickens. I knew that I was not the only reader of Mother Earth News or Grit Magazine who considers herself serious about her birds. I was also fairly certain that I am not the only subscriber to the Community Chickens newsletter who would love to see exactly what her flock was up to when she wasn’t in its coop. Wingscapes agreed to send the BirdCam 2.0 for an evaluation. Now all that was left for me to do was wait for the package to arrive.
Ironically, the BirdCam arrived at 1840 Farm on the same day that we discovered our first egg in the coop. Chicken speaking, it was a banner day. It was almost too much excitement to handle. After our egg celebration had concluded, I set about investigating my newest piece of chicken equipment.
First, a little background information about the BirdCam 2.0, manufactured by Wingscapes. The company produces two versions, the BirdCam 2.0 and the Audubon BirdCam. The Audubon BirdCam takes motion-activated photographs and videos with sound of wild birds in their natural habitats. The BirdCam 2.0 records photographs or videos with sound and includes a flash for use in low light conditions along with a time lapse setting. This review concerns the BirdCam 2.0.
The BirdCam also uses a passive infrared sensor to detect bird movement and determine when to capture photos or videos of birds in action. It detects bird movement at a maximum distance of 8 feet. If no movement is detected, no photo or video will be captured. This feature worked flawlessly in our coop. I collected more than 1,000 files during my evaluation and did not encounter any that were triggered mistakenly. All of the files I viewed included our birds in action.
Upon opening the BirdCam’s package, I discovered several useful accessories. First, I found a users guide that covered the setup and operation of the camera. I also found the product registration card and learned that Wingscapes offers a complimentary memory card to be used with the BirdCam in exchange for receiving the completed registration information. Two stretch cords for affixing the camera to a permanent mounting location were also included. A retractable tape measure for fine-tuning the camera’s focus ring settings proved to be quite useful during the setup. A USB cable can be used to transfer files stored in the internal memory directly to your computer. Wingscapes also includes a TV-out cable which can be used to view your photos and videos directly on your television.
The straightforward users guide offers clear, step-by-step instructions for setting up the camera, choosing a mounting location, and making adjustments to settings to produce the highest-quality photos and video. I carefully followed the steps within the guide. I’ll admit I don’t usually do this (sometimes to my own detriment), but in the interest of writing this review, I did. By doing so, I was able to set up and mount my camera without any difficulty.
The first step in the setup was installing the batteries. The BirdCam requires four D-cell batteries. According to the users guide, new batteries last an average of four weeks if the camera remains on continuously. I used the camera in my coop for four weeks and did not need to change the batteries. The camera’s power can be switched off without removing the camera from its mount. Whenever I removed the memory card to download photos or videos, I simply turned off the camera to preserve the battery. While the power is on, an electronic display on the front of the camera displays the remaining battery percentage. The BirdCam can also be powered by an optional external 12 Volt power supply.
The BirdCam 2.0 has a built-in memory of 32 MB, and it can also use an SD memory card with a capacity of up to 4 GB for storing its files. According to the guide, the number of files stored on an optional SD memory card can’t exceed 9,999. My 512 MB memory card held upwards of 200 files taken at high resolution without ever reaching full capacity. Photos are stored as JPEGs, videos as AVIs.
Installing the BirdCam was a little tricky, but this was because of the restrictions of my chicken coop and not a limitation of the camera. Everywhere I looked, there seemed to be an obstruction between a sturdy mounting location for the camera and the main part of the coop. I used the provided stretch cords to secure the camera and found they worked adequately. I temporarily moved a hanging waterer to provide the camera with an unobstructed view of the entire floor of the coop.
The BirdCam 2.0 has a class II laser aiming guide to help determine the proper positioning of the camera. I used this function when trying to select the best spot to install the camera in our coop. I was impressed by how accurate the laser was at predicting the middle of the range of focus for the camera. When I moved the camera, I turned on the laser and found that I was able to change its placement … thus ensuring that I would capture photos and videos of my chickens in the coop. Each time, I found that the BirdCam was taking well-centered photos before I even exited the coop.
The BirdCam 2.0 is also equipped with a light-sensitive photocell to measure the amount of available light before taking photos or video. If the photocell detects a low light environment and the flash setting has been set to automatic, then the flash will be used to illuminate the frame. I had difficulty setting up the camera for the confines of my coop when it came to the flash feature. The best placement for the camera was in the corner of the coop facing in toward the nest boxes. This meant that the camera was in the darkest spot in the coop. The photocell was determining that the flash needed to be used, but the resulting flash was overpowering the images of the chickens, which were in a well-lit portion of the coop.
At night, a red heat lamp and exterior barn light provided a bit of illumination inside the coop, but the flash was still triggering. During the weekend, I turned the nighttime heat lamp off because of warmer temperatures and found that the flash was still over-illuminating the images. For use in our coop, the flash needed to be turned off. After making that change, the lighting of the photos during both the daytime and nighttime hours was exactly what I was hoping for. The overexposure issue I experienced may have been due to the size of my coop, which has interior dimensions of 6 feet by 8 feet. When the weather is warmer, I hope to position the camera in a different location and report on my findings.
The BirdCam is designed to withstand outdoor conditions. Wingscapes terms it “weatherproof” and safe to be used in any environment. I asked Wingscapes if prolonged exposure to humidity could damage the BirdCam. The Customer Service member I spoke with explained that the BirdCam is designed to withstand outdoor weather conditions such as rain, snow or direct sun. However, it isn’t designed to be waterproof, so it shouldn’t be submersed in water.
My camera remained in my coop for an entire month. The coop temperature ranged from 22 degrees Fahrenheit to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and several days experienced mild to high humidity. At the end of the four weeks, the camera seemed to be in its original condition, and still functioned perfectly. It seemed unaffected by the coop conditions.
During the four-week evaluation, a significant amount of coop dust had accumulated on the exterior of the camera. I intentionally chose not to clean the camera during the evaluation. I wondered if the coop dust would adversely affect the quality of the photos and videos. Surprisingly, it didn’t. Upon opening the two weatherproof latches, I found the interior to be dust-free. The latches had done exactly what they were designed for: to protect the interior of the BirdCam from damaging effects of the coop environment.
After four weeks with the BirdCam 2.0 in my coop, I can recommend it to everybody who has ever wondered what their chickens do when they’re away from the coop. It provided a wonderful view of our hens going about the business of their day. I was impressed with the quality of the construction of the camera and the quality of the photos and videos it recorded.
I have found that chickens can be tricky subjects to photograph. Between the challenges and restrictions of being inside a coop and their quick, unpredictable movements, I sometimes struggle to take a good photograph of our flock. The BirdCam 2.0 seemed to be unfazed by these challenges.
Oddly enough, our flock was as interested in the camera as we were in the photos and videos taken of them. Each time the BirdCam was on, they made their way over to the camera and looked inquisitively into its lens. They seemed captivated by the sound of the camera operating and the burst of light coming from the flash when it was triggered.
I have no doubt that we will continue to enjoy using the BirdCam 2.0 here at 1840 Farm. We have enjoyed our glimpse into our hens’ world, but it has left us asking ourselves a question: Who exactly is doing the watching? Am I watching my chickens or are they watching me watch them? After one month, the answer is still unclear. I’m glad that I’ll have the BirdCam 2.0 in my coop to help me figure out the answer.