Web cammers - a little help? (Birders also)

A friend of mine has had a screech owl family take up residence in a very accesible tree in her back yard. I thought it would be cool to advise her to put a web cam on the nest 24/7, but I know nothing about them.

So, what are the hardware/software requirements, what might it cost, does she need a hosting service, etc.

(You might also point me to some cool web cam sites so I can check them out.)

As to the last part of the OP: Googling “Peregrine Falcon” and “web cam” brings up a bunch of sites, including this one:


OOOooh! Ooooh! I found a bald eagle web cam, and this one is sorta near me:



Please? Anyone?

OK; a rough outline; you need:
-A camera of some kind
-A method of collecting and processing the image
-A method of making the image accessible to internet users

For the camera, several options are available:
Ordinary webcams
Pro: they are cheap
Con: they are usually USB and this limits the length of the cable to something like 5 metres without extra hardware; might work for a nest cam that is located on the outside wall of your house. It is possible to get adaptors that plug to the ends of an ethernet (cat5) cable and these offer extended range (I have a pair that claims 100 metres)

You’ll have to weatherproof an ordinary webcam; maybe enclose it in a clear-fronted project box from RS Electronics or something.
Wireless mini cameras
Pro: fairly inexpensive; small; weatherproof versions available
Con: The output from the receiver is composite video of the sort that your TV can display; in order to get this into a form that you can put on the internet, you’ll have to get a video capture card. You still need a power supply for the camera, so this means either replacing batteries (and risking disturbance of the nest) or running a cable (not too tricky, but DC voltage doesn’t travel well)

These cameras are widely available; on eBay, for example, but you should check that the model being offered broadcasts within an unlicensed frequency band; a lot of the imports being offered in the UK are 1.2GHz and are illegal to use here (I think 1.2GHz is OK in the USA)

Network webcams
Pro: A robust solution, may be possible to make them accessible directly from the internet.
Con: Expensive, can be a bit tricky to set up.

These devices are available in wired and wireless versions and they may include their own mini webserver - you ppoint your browser at the IP address of the camera and you see the picture - it might even be possible to set up port forwarding on a broadband router so that people can get straight to the camera.

OK, now, there are a couple of options for getting the image from the camera to the internet:

Uploading the image to a website - this is probably the best option for an amateur or home setup; your computer will grab the image periodically and upload it to a specified location on your website; I set something like this up for a local radio station a while back, using a bit of freeware called YAWCam - it handles all of the scheduling and the upload process too. You’ll need to set up a web page to embed the image into (the advantage being that you can have a bit of script that automatically refreshes the browser so the image updates without user intervention) - if you like, you can crib the code from mine: http://www.gurman.co.uk/camframe.htm - but you’ll need to edit out the references to Chase FM etc (and I’d prefer you didn’t use my border images).
Another advantage of uploading the image to a web site is that you can stop doing it and it will simply continue to display the last uploaded picture; serving the image directly from your machine (which we’ll look at in a minute) won’t.
You’ll need to get some web space and make sure it’s one which allows you to upload via FTP (ideally not just on their dialup connection and also ideally without restrictive bandwidth limitations, as you’ll be uploading frequently)

Serving the image directly from your PC
Some webcam software incorporates a mini web server, so that people viewing the picture are actually accessing it on your machine - this might wor well if you have an old machine that you can dedicate to the task, but there are potentially quite a few drawbacks to serving the image yourself:
Security - you’re letting people access your machine remotely and the webcam software (or something else on your machine) might have security flaws that would enable someone to do something bad to it.
Bandwidth and processing power - when someone looks at the image, they’ll be using a bit of your internet access bandwidth and some of the processing time on your PC; when a dozen people look at the image, it will be worse (you can limit users, but then lots of people might just not see the picture).
Accessibility - when you turn off your machine, they won’t be able to access the picture at all.

The way I would do a birdbox cam is:
Wireless or wired mini video camera
TV capture card
YAWCam uploading to a cheap website

Good advice for me too! We have birds nesting in our mailbox, and I’d like to put them up next year. I’ve bookmarked the thread.

(The box is an ordinary round-top one on a brick pillar with a peaked roof over it. The birds are under the eaves on top of the brick.)

Thanks for a great response!