Networked Solar Birdhouses Deep in the Woods

[Oitzu] in Germany wrote in to let us know about a series of short but very informative blog posts in which he describes building a series of solar-powered, networked birdhouses with the purpose of spying on the life that goes on within them. He made just one at first, then expanded to a small network of them. They work wonderfully, and [Oitzu]’s documentation will be a big help to anyone looking to implement any of the same elements – which include a Raspberry Pi in one unit as a main gateway, multiple remote units in other birdhouses taking pictures and sending those to the Pi over an nRF24L01+ based radio network, and having the Pi manage uploading those images using access to the mobile network. All with solar power.

Original nesting box with pi noir camera
Original Raspberry Pi based unit with Pi Noir camera

Hardware that needs to keep itself running in the middle of the woods has a different set of problems to solve than hardware that hangs out no further away than your back yard. Happily, [Oitzu] walks us through the whole process. In Part 1 he outlines a plan for multiple networked birdhouses, each able to report on their inhabitants but without needing a Raspberry Pi in each one. Part 2 describes the camera system. Part 3 details the communications between the units, and the overall hardware design. Part 4 covers the PCB (his first one!) and enclosures, and finally Part 5 is all about the results. The boxes have been happily running in the middle of the forest with very few problems. The Raspberry Pi (equipped with a UMTS stick – an economical mobile network data gateway) caches images from the remotes, and uploads them whenever it can obtain a mobile signal – which it can usually do fairly promptly unless there is bad weather.

The birdhouses are currently empty, so there is nothing to do but wait for now. The final blog post has links to the image galleries of each birdhouse for when they become occupied. It’s hoped that Boreal Owls will make an appearance.

Supplying power to hardware that lives headless in the middle of the woods is a problem, and [Oitzu] took an approach similar to this solar-powered, tweeting bird feeder: that is to say, a large solar panel and a hefty rechargeable battery. But with some of the recent projects like this battery backup and power management solution for the Raspberry Pi making progress, maybe options for easier and better control over headless hardware in the woods will grow.

6 thoughts on “Networked Solar Birdhouses Deep in the Woods

  1. We had a finch nest that we planned to put a USB endoscope into, but a crow found the nest and that was the end of that. Oh well that is nature for you, and you can’t interfere otherwise you aren’t doing science any more, it was a hard lesson for my daughter to learn.

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