David Papp Blog

#BirdCam: How does it work?

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I will take you through the 5 steps to get pictures of the nest over to a public webserver on the Internet.


  • The Yard Shed
  • The Garage
  • The House
  • The Internet
  • The WebServer

The Yard Shed

This is where it all begins! Mother nature is generating unique content for us to try and capture the moment to enjoy.

Many years ago at the beginning of this millenia, I obtained a very inexpensive webcam ($60) on eBay that I have used for a variety of applications. The model I chose was an Axis 2100 for the reason that it supported the ability to schedule taking sequential pictures (time lapse) between certain times and automatically upload these picture files to a network server.

The dilemma for me was creating reliable connectivity back to our house where our Internet connection is located. Due to the heavy amount of foliage and elevation changes on our property, my preference was a “wired” solution vs a “wireless” solution. A wireless solution would have introduced issues with installing external antennas and dealing with interference and reliability.

Being that a wired solution was chosen to connect back to our home network, this involved running a network cable through the bush from the shed up to the nearest building which is our garage. The total cable length of cat5 ended up being 297 feet (90.5 meters) which is very close to maximum length.

Outside the Shed

Power extension cables were also run which we use for other things in the yard. The cat5 cable was run through a loose section of conduit we had lying around to help prevent it from being crushed.

The Garage

The cat5 cable from the yard shed was terminated into a DLink DHP302 powerline adapter (ethernet over power). The power from our garage is a subpanel off our main house panel, therefore I was able to get a signal to work through the powerline adapters.

Essentially it is like extending the ethernet cat5 cable from one location to the other, using your electrical cables that are run. It does this by using frequencies higher than the 60Hz range used by north american power.

Networking from Garage

The House

In the house near my main ethernet switch is a matching DLink DHP302 powerline adapter. This helps provide a connection to the extended network outside (yard shed via garage) to our home network.

Once connected to the main home network, this allows a connection to my home server and to the Internet.

My home fileserver is FreeBSD (a flavour of unix). Anything can work that supports an FTP server (where the Axis camera deposits the pictures every minute) and rsync (more on this in “The Internet”) would do the trick. You could use a Mac or Windows box as well. Note that this machines needs to be on all the time for the pictures to be “collected”.

The Internet

Due to the unreliability of the Internet, I decided to have images go to my home server as an intermediate instead of directly to the public webserver. I wanted to minimize the possibility of losing photos.

To syncronize the directory of images between my home server and the webserver on the Internet, I used a fantastic program called “rsync”. This program allows the ability essentially “mirror” a file directory between 2 different servers. Thus only requiring to transfer any new photos that were captured by the webcam. I run this “rsync” utility every minute which helps keep things near realtime for viewing images on the public website.

The Web Server

The idea was to keep it a light and simple website consisting of a single page. No menu or no navigation required. The images appear in a subdirectory of the website so it was very easy using a quick PHP script to always display the most recent image.

The images being uploaded by the webcam are named with the date and time as part of the filename, and in a manner that is easily sortable. This is a feature of the Axis 2100 when uploading sequential images on a schedule.

Everything up to this point was accomplished within a single afternoon as time was of the essence. My kids discovered the nest on Saturday, on Sunday a light bulb began to flicker in my mind’s eye, and then on holiday Monday I put in my quick implementation.

Tuesday morning, back to work, I had a meeting with my staff showing them this great opportunity we have which was uber time sensitive. By mid afternoon they had created version 1.0 of the website such that it was somewhat appealing and had many of the social networking hooks.

It has since been a work in progress as we receive feedback from people visiting the website. It has exploded since going live Tuesday. Wednesday evening I was contacted by several news agencies and Thursday a segment appeared for the 6 o’clock news.

We are implementing new features such as picture favorites, photo archive, time lapsed videos, and much more.

This has been (and continues to be as of writing this) a great experiment to incorporate nature, technology, and social media.


7 thoughts on “#BirdCam: How does it work?”

  1. Thanks for doing such a great job of showing us this view of a Robin’s life.You’ve reached us in the East Coast 🙂

  2. I didn’t realize that this bird cam project involved many things to be set up! Still, given the info from the blog post, at least I have an idea of what I would need to do, if ever I get the chance to try something like this. I figure it would be good if we tried it with the animals endemic to our area as a way of making people appreciate the diversity of life.

  3. This is such a creative investment to do and try out. Ill do this whenever I get free time and spare money.

  4. Thank you for the interesting and amusing little tour through your experiment. At every point there are new things to discover. Seems like you’re having fun with the project.

  5. Awesome! I don’t think I’ll be setting up my own bird cam anytime soon, but it sounds like a really interesting project to try in the future, specially when I have children old enough to enjoy this kind of things. Thanks a lot for the info, David, once again a very informative and detailed article.

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