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Broxton Barn Owl Group needed remote live video
24hrs a day from inside three owl boxes

This page is currently under development - please check back regularly

The Challenge : Background : System : Pictures : Summary


The Broxton Barn Owl Group are a group of local volunteers dedicated to the conservation of the area's Barn Owls.Barn Owl

As part of their ongoing efforts to protect the local Barn Owl population and it's environment, the group strives to identify and better understand the diverse factors that influence the species' survival.

One important aspect of the Barn Owl's behaviour that has to date been lacking in empirical evidence is its food chain - establishing what the owl's are (or are not) feeding on and what, if any, bearing this has on their numbers and overall prosperity.

Recognising this omission they realised that, if they could identify the various prey species that the parents were feeding their offspring,

this data could then be analysed to help establish what effect the various environmental factors might be having on the owl's food chain (and in turn the owl's themselves).

Since the best place to see what their chicks were being fed was in the nest, stage 1 of the project, the idea of being able to view and record pictures from the inside of a Barn Owl's nesting box, was born. (Hopefully stage 2 will be measuring, transmitting and recording data about other variables e.g. the weight of the prey, ambient temperatures etc).

When they contacted us in late 2006 this was the brief we were given and, in light of their entirely voluntary status (and the fact this would be something of a learning experience for both of us), we agreed that we would undertake the project on a partly commercial and partly sponsorship basis.



The three nesting boxes selected for the project had been erected by the BBOG some years previously. Each was in separate fields with the most distant almost a mile away from the nearest building and sat atop 15 foot wooden poles.

Owl Cam Box
An owl nesting box (antenna visible on the left)

Any equipment had to be fitted into existing plywood nesting boxes (where owls had nested in the past) and could not in any way interfere with the owl's natural behaviour.

Images would need to of sufficient quality that they could be used to identify the owl's prey and needed to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in all weather conditions.

What's more, since approaching or disturbing nesting Barn Owls is subject to strict legal controls (Sch. 1 and Sch. 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981), operational reliability of the system was of paramount importance - once installed the equipment probably couldn't be touched again until the owl's had departed in the winter.

More details coming soon


The first (and most important) part of the project was to do the preliminary groundwork: establish the Owl Group's specific requirements, identify the various constraints, research the possible technological solutions and outline the most suitable method of implementing the whole system.

Two key factors were:

  1. The images from each of the three boxes would need to able be simultaneously viewed and recorded from a central location so, given the remote situation of the boxes (across numerous farmer's fields), a wireless link was chosen as the most likely solution for getting the images back to base.
  2. Due to the design of the nest boxes the interior is always dark - even in bright sunlight the amount of illumination available is negligible and we needed 24hr viewing so, since artificially illuminating nesting Barn Owls is restricted by law, Infra Red capable cameras were required to 'see in the dark'.

Once we had this outline of the key technologies required and the likely work involved we could produce a 'guesstimate' costing for the project: the BBOG managed, through a mixture of fundraising and sponsorship, to raise a modest budget so the challenge then was to put it to the best possible use.


More details coming soon



Based on our outline of the various key components of the system we tested a number of different types of cameras (CCD & CMOS), Infra Red illuminators (800 nm to 950 nm), WiFi transmitters, antennae, power supplies and software etc to try to identify which would be the most suitable for our purposes.


To identify & evaluate the potential locations within the nest box for mounting the video camera and IR illuminator we used Google SketchUp (a very usable and flexible free CAD program) which allowed us to create visualisations of the fields of view, potential obstructions etc which we discussed with the BBOG to establish their preferences.


After investigating a large number of different Internet Protocol (IP) video cameras we drew up a shortlist for testing and evaluation and eventually we selected the 225FD from Axis Communications.

More details coming soon

WiFi Bridge (Link)

The first task was to carry out a detailed wireless site-survey to establish if a wi-fi link was going to be a feasible solution. Since 802.11b/g wireless networks operate at 2.4Ghz they require line-of-site between transmitters so we needed to get an 'owls eye view' from each pole and we had to bear in miond that any solution would have to conform to the legal restrictions on transmitted power (EIRP) as well as considering the aesthetics of the antenna installations.

More details coming soon


More details coming soon


More details coming soon


The isolated siting of the boxes meant that mains power was unavailable so the equipment would have to run from a 'portable' power source.  Since all of the components could run at 12v DC we decided that 12v 'Sealed Lead Acid' batteries were the most practical answer - sited near the base of the pole the supply would be cabled to the equipment at the top.

After researching specifications, technologies & numerous theoretical power calculations we settled on AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) VRLA (Valve Regulated Lead Acid) 12v 105Ah items which offered an acceptable compromise:

  1. they should provide acceptable operating duration (approximately 5 - 6hrs per charge);
  2. at 46kg each they could be handled by one person;
  3. they are relatively affordable (especially ex telecoms items rotated from standby power systems);
  4. with suitable chargers they should have a reasonable life-span

Viewing, Recording, Controlling & Distributing

More details coming soon

Having selected the various components, as a last step in the planning stage before committing to the purchase of all the equipment, we made a reduced scale 'mock up' of the system to check its overall operation and get an idea of what might be the most straightforward method of putting all the elements together.



Since going 'live' in March 07 the system has, overall, produced pretty good results - we have good quality video from three remote owl boxes - although we are still experimenting & learning all the time.

The batteries have been providing between 4 and 6 days of power, although they are being drained below their design minimum voltages which will likely have a detrimental effect on their longevity but we'll have to wait and see.


More details coming soon


Unfortunately we've not seen any nesting Barn Owls yet, but we've at least got a baby pigeon and mum (I've been told they're Stock Doves) in Box 1. Unfortunately the camera in this box seems to have moved slightly in its mountings at some point over the summer, hence the skewed image - something to investigate over the winter:

Cam 1 Image

Box 1 - Pigeon & Chick

And also in Box 3:

Cam 3 Pic

Box 3 - Pigeon Chick

Owls! Box number 2 actually has a couple of owls 'in residence' at the moment. Apparently they're Little Owls (we've nicknamed them Fred & Wilma) but unfortunately they're not nesting - they just sit in the box during the day, usually one at a time - but they are owls!

Box 2 - Little Owl

Box 2 - Little Owl (Fred or Wilma?)

We intend to have more (and larger) pictures on the web soon as well as video from the boxes so please keep checking back.



This project has undoubtedly been a challenge: it was quite different from anything we'd previously undertaken, a combination of IP cameras and wireless networking, and it's been a real learning experience (both for ourselves and the Broxton Barn Owl Group).

Although there's been no owls nesting in these boxes this year it's been an ideal opportunity to test the equipment, experiment with configurations and evaluate different ideas.  There have been hitches, glitches, mistakes and problems - for example some frustratingly intermittent wireless communication issues from one particular box that we're investigating.

In hindsight there are, as always, some things we'll do differently next time and the tight budgetary constraints meant that compromises had to be made in certain areas: but then nobody (outside NASA) ever has a blank cheque :-)

Overall we're very proud of the system we've created and the Broxton Barn Owl Group are happy with the results so far - but the project doesn't end here, indeed phase 1's only just started.

During the last 6 months we've learnt an awful lot about power consumption, camera angles, lamp placements, image recording, wireless propagation etc so over the winter we'll be able to make adjustments and modifications to further improve the system as well as consider possibilities for part 2 of the project.

Next year we'll be ready to view (hopefully) three nesting Barn Owls and then the serious work of the Broxton Barn Owl Group can get underway (Barn Owls please take note!).


More details coming soon


The following are some handy links where you can find more information about Owls and other elements of our project:


This page is being developed by Ivor - any comments or suggestions please send them to me

Perhaps you've a project in mind (however unusual)
or you just want general advice on some aspect?
Then please call 01829 771600 or
you can e-mail us at info@elliscomtech.com


© Ellis Combined Technologies 2007
Last modified 25/09/07
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