I like to see hummingbirds. They seem completely incredible to me, like little hyper Swiss Watches, buzzing around the garden. I’ve seen a few of them in our yard, but I’ve been meaning to encourage them showing up more, so I recently installed a feeder. While the syrup level has gone down, I have never caught one actually feeding.
Of course, the way to solve this problem (as is true of all problems) is to apply technology! So, I quickly hacked together a little prototype camera that I could hang on my window and stare out at feeder. I’ve been thinking of doing this all week, and gotten proofing. In the end, I wasn’t getting anywhere, so this morning I decided on what I thought was the simplest possible prototype. I took one of my old Raspberry Pi’s, a DLINK powered USB hub to power it, and a Raspberry Pi camera, and taped them all in the cardboard box for an old laptop hard drive. My original idea was simply to duct tape it to the window facing the bird feeder, but a quick trial of this wasn’t promising: the duct tape kept relaxing, and the box was slowly drifting down. So, instead I got some wire and made a little hanger that would attach to two paperclips that I jammed in each side. It isn’t the greatest way to go, but it works.
I hung it from the top of the blinds in the kitchen, aimed it only very coarsely, and took my first picture by logging in and running raspistill. The aim isn’t very good, I only got the feeder at the edge, but this is just a prototype: if I start getting pictures of hummingbirds, I will refine the design/aim, and probably mount the camera outside so I can be a bit closer.
Of course all you see are the drought stricken side of my hill, but if I get any pictures of birds, I’ll be posting them soon.
Addendum: I wandered outside as a quick test of the camera. While I am bigger than a hummingbird, I didn’t have any problem tripping the camera. I am concerned that the small, fast motion of a hummingbird may not be sufficient to trip the camera, but we shall see.
A couple of additional words on the software. I use the “motion-mmal” program, a port of the popular “motion” program that is widely used on Linux with conventional webcams, but has been extended to use the Raspberry Pi camera, which are both high quality and inexpensive. The way I have this configured is that it does motion detection on a downresolution version of the video feed, and when it detects motion, it dumps the frame with the biggest difference to a local disk. Eventually, I may try to get it to capture video, and/or upload it automatically to google drive like I have done before for my cat camera. More later.
Addendum2: Huzzah! Within an hour of setting this camera up, I got my first picture! I guess it works. I’ll have to get it aimed a bit better and see how often I can catch birds, and maybe try to set it up to do motion capture too, not just stills.