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Raspberry Pi nest cameras – an affordable tool for remote behavioural and conservation monitoring of bird nests

Citation

Hereward, Hannah et al. (2022), Raspberry Pi nest cameras – an affordable tool for remote behavioural and conservation monitoring of bird nests, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.9w0vt4bfb

Abstract

1. Bespoke (custom-built) Raspberry Pi cameras are increasingly popular research tools in the fields of behavioural ecology and conservation, because of their comparative flexibility in programmable settings, ability to be paired with other sensors, and because they are typically cheaper than commercially built models.

2. Here we describe a novel, Raspberry Pi-based camera system that is fully portable and yet weatherproof – especially to humidity and salt spray. The camera was paired with a passive infra-red sensor, to create a movement-triggered camera capable of recording videos over a 24-hr period. We describe an example deployment involving “retro-fitting” these cameras into artificial nest boxes on Praia Islet, Azores archipelago, Portugal, to monitor the behaviours and interspecific interactions of two sympatric species of breeding storm-petrel (Monteiro’s storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi and Madeiran storm-petrel Hydrobates castro) during their chick-rearing periods.

3. Of the 138 deployments, 70% of all deployments were deemed to be “Successful” (Successful was defined as continuous footage being recorded for more than one hour without an interruption), which equated to 87% of the individual 30 s videos. The bespoke cameras proved to be easily portable between 54 different nests and reasonably weatherproof (~14% of deployments classed as “Partial” or “Failure” deployments were specifically due to the weather/humidity), and we make further trouble-shooting suggestions to mitigate additional weather-related failures.

4. Here we have shown that this system is fully portable and capable of coping with salt spray and humidity, and consequently the camera-build methods and scripts could be applied easily to many different species that also utilise cavities, burrows, and artificial nests, and can potentially be adapted for other wildlife monitoring situations to provide novel insights into species-specific daily cycles of behaviours and interspecies interactions.

Methods

Software: This paper details the methods to build a bespoke camera. Here we save the 5 python scripts used to run ('nestcam.py' and 'shutdown.py') or set up the camera ('script for RaspPi terminal_RTC.py', 'script for RaspPi terminal_runonboot.py', 'script for RaspPi terminal_usb.py').

Data: This bespoke camera was deployed across two breeding seasons (Monteiro's storm-petrel, Hydrobates monteiroi 2019 and Madeiran storm-petrel, Hydrobates castro 2019-2020). The data saved here includes: the level of success recorded per deployment (based on success, partial failure (usable), partial failure (non-usable) or failure) and causes of the failures suggested. Further suggestions for improvements are given in the paper.

Usage Notes

Data and software uploaded include:

- Raw data: all deployment data with columns: nest number, species, year, camera success/failure/partial, issues of deployment, number of videos per deployment, hours of footage (calculated using the number of video deployments as 30s per video), video start and end dates, video start and end times, date and time wrong (1 = yes), breeding stage of nest. Note that nest 7, Hydrobates castro date: 06/02/2020 the PIR sensor did not work and so recorded 6.4 hours without a break.

- Software scripts saved in python:

- 'nestcam.py' = main script to run the camera/PIR sensor

- 'shutdown.py' = script that will shut the Raspberry Pi board down when triggered

- 'script for RaspPi terminal_RTC.py' = this details the command lines to be used in the Rasbperry Pi 'terminal' which assists in the camera set up of the Real Time Clock 

- 'script for RaspPi terminal_runonboot.py' = this details the command lines to be used in the Rasbperry Pi 'terminal' which assists in the camera set up running once the Raspberry Pi board is turned on

- 'script for RaspPi terminal_usb.py' = this details the command lines to be used in the Rasbperry Pi 'terminal' which assists in 'mounting' the USB on the Rasbperry Pi board

Funding

Natural Environment Research Council, Award: NE/L002434/1