For the Birds Radio Program: Keeping Track of Birds with a Bird Cam

Original Air Date: Jan. 28, 2008

Laura works from before sunrise until after sunset. How can see figure out what birds have been visiting her feeders?

Duration: 3′48″


Now that I’m at a new apartment in a new place, I’m eager to add birds to my yard list. And this year I’ve got a new incentive—I’m also working on my BIGBY list. That’s the Big Green Big Year count, on which we count birds we see within walking or biking distance of home or work, enjoying birds while conserving energy.

I spend my weekday daylight hours at work now, so Monday through Friday I never get to see much at my feeders. But naturally I’m curious about what birds are showing up, and so every morning before I leave I set up my BirdCam—an automatic camera with a motion detector, manufactured by Wingscapes—to keep track of all the activity that day. When I get home, I always take Photon for a walk before I do anything else, but the moment we get into the apartment I run up and bring in the BirdCam and check out what photos were taken that day.

I set out my feeders on January 3, the day I moved into my apartment, but didn’t notice a single bird until Sunday, January sixth, when suddenly Tufted Titmice and chickadees discovered it, along with one Red-breasted Nuthatch. While I was at work the next day, my BirdCam took pictures of these, a White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jays, and some gorgeous adult male Dark-eyed Juncos. That week, the birds were still using other feeders more regularly than mine, so according to the BirdCam photos, which record the day and time for each picture, birds were arriving late in the morning and leaving in mid-afternoon. That week, the BirdCam was taking only about 10 or 20 photos a day. But over the next couple of weeks, as the birds have put my feeder on their regular feeding routes and even decided it may be their best and most reliable source of food, they’ve become more regular, arriving at first light, leaving not long before sunset, and being present much of the day, so now the BirdCam is taking well over 200 photos a day.

My first squirrel showed up on January 20. So far I have only one, and it appears just once a day, but apparently sits there pigging out for over a half hour each time. The ability of squirrels to climb and jump is always impressive—in this case, my balcony is supported by long wood posts, so it’s probably not too tricky for the squirrel. My regular bird visitors now include goldfinches, Common Redpolls, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpecker, and American Tree Sparrow. Virtually all of the photos I come home to each day are good enough to identify the birds. Some are gorgeous. Some show interesting behaviors, like one showing a little altercation between a White-breasted Nuthatch and a junco. My favorite photo so far is of a Downy Woodpecker facing down away from the camera with a junco just beyond it—the photo looks like the junco’s head is on the downy’s body. I made a double-take when I saw it. Just in case you want to mystify your friends with a photo of what looks like a strange black-and-white bird, that photo is now on my blog, linked from