Bird photography with a Raspberry Pi and a DSLR

Tricky things, birds. Even when you’ve got yourself sorted out with boxes and feeders to entice them into your garden, it can be very difficult to get a decent photograph – they don’t stay still for long, especially if they see you coming (and it is amazing just how adept birds are at spotting the slightest movement – the sort of movement you might make to operate the zoom lens on your camera, for example), and many feeding birds will only visit the table for a few seconds at a time, even if you’re well hidden.

Enter Adrian Bevan and his Raspberry Pi.

Adrian had built a shutter release for his Canon1000D SLR, and decided to extend his new knowledge by making a DIY remote release. He’s been activating it manually, but has also made instructions available for using it with a motion detector (Adrian’s currently using a webcam and a second Pi for this part of the kit), so that the SLR can fire automatically when the Pi it is attached to senses that there was a bird on the table using information streamed from the outdoor Pi.

Your best bet here is to set the camera up in continuous shooting mode so that it’ll take several shots over a few seconds once your target has been spotted. Adrian has put exhaustive instructions on making your own setup on his blog, complete with circuit diagrams and code, alongside some video of the shutter in action.

Speaking of birds, I was, sadly, nowhere near a camera when a sparrowhawk dropped out of the sky to disembowel a blue tit on my front lawn this morning. Rotten shame, that. Oh – and if anybody has any tips on how to stop my bird-feeders being reliably emptied within ten minutes of filling by a horde of marauding starlings, I’m all ears.

Adrian has used that old Pi hackers’ standby, Tupperware, to house the webcam, battery pack and associated Pi in a waterproof environment. Securely housing your DSLR outside in a way that means it won’t get wet but can still take pictures is, obviously, a bit trickier; his is, I think, set up indoors, pointing out of a window, with a whacking great zoom lens attached to the front. If you’ve any ideas on how to set up and leave a good camera outdoors without it getting wet or stolen, please let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

26 comments

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Nice writeup on his web page, and some nice photos! It looks like the bird is reacting to the shutter noise of the camera. Which maybe makes for some interesting photos, but otherwise it might be useful to put the camera in a sturdy sound-absorbing box (sometimes called a “camera blimp”, used for taking still photos on motion-picture sound stages, courtrooms, etc).

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Blackbird looks a bit angry in the second shot!

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I’ve not tried with a DLSR yet, but I have a Raspberry Pi at the bottom of the garden monitoring an IR webcam in bird box, and a trail used by pheasants:
http://astrobeano.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/raspberry-pi-down-garden.html
http://astrobeano.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/raspberry-pi-motion-sensitive-trail-cam.html

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Those are some great photos. Love the fact it’s running on two Pi’s. Makes me wonder about using a Pi to detect squirrels on my balcony and make noise to scare them off.

Liz – For housing a DSLR outside, this instructable has a pretty detailed run-down. http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-long-term-time-lapse/

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Thanks All for comments, @JBeale – Yes they are reacting to the sound of the shutter which makes them look the right way – very helpful. Camera was covered with a thick towel to reduce the noise to something that didn’t scare them off. A box is certainly a possibility, still at proving stage at the moment.
@Peter : Very interesting and well presented, Astronomy is also a hobby of mine.
@Liz : No “whacking great zoom lens” unfortunately, setup about 8-10 feet from the bird table and when it’s nice and sunny (better pictures) and I’m never far away when I do.

Adrian.

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Aw rats. There was I, imagining you with a foot of telezoom strapped to your front. It painted a charming picture.

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Speaking of Sparrowhawks, I managed to snap this around this time last year – it had just snatched the baby from a blackbird nest housed amongst a clematis plant next to our patio. Mummy and daddy bird went, understandably, ballistic

http://i33.tinypic.com/xp3nud.jpg

(NB: not a patch on Adrian’s pics for sharpness, but it was a rush job!)

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Funny how people get about predators. I was talking to a neighbour in the pub last week about the local birds; she was very ratty about the presence of magpies in the neighbourhood, because they eat eggs and nestlings. A bit later in the conversation, I mentioned the village’s family of jays (they come into my garden for mealworms and suet). She thinks they’re terrific too; they’re unusual, they’re colourful, and they’re a rare visitor to the bird table. I didn’t mention the fact that they’re much, much worse than magpies for predating on other birds’ nests…

We need to work harder on getting farmers to increase the size of field margins, and on preserving hedgerows in their traditional form; giant East Anglian agribusiness out where we live means large fields with few and scanty boundaries, and less habitat for birds. It’d do more for the songbird population than any magpie/squirrel/bird of prey-culling exercise (like those advocated by the Songbird Trust, who have some…opaque relationships with landowners who rely on the shooting of game birds for an income) ever will.

I could witter on about birds all night.

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You probably already know this but just for reference- there are (at least) two different contributions to noise when taking a DSLR picture. The louder one is usually the “mirror slap” as the reflex mirror pivots up and bangs against the stops; the other quieter noise being the shutter itself. Many models have a “mirror lock-up” mode to reduce the noise, which also blacks out the optical viewfinder (the mirror being removed from the optical path). If you aren’t physically present and looking through the viewfinder, there’s no need to have the mirror flip up and down making noise. However, I think it continually draws current to hold the mirror up, so this would reduce battery life (unless you run the camera from external power).

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That is correct of course, in this situation though a towel was adequate. I think your right that it draws current to hold the mirror up, not too noticeable though unless your spend a couple of hours shooting.

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Thanks Bob_binz, they are not quite there sharpness wise, but not very far off.

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Not quite sure what to say……I prefer water colours, but best not I think….. :)

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I guess the question of “Where be that Blackbird to?” has finally been answered…

I’ll get my coat :(

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I am assuming a PIR was used to trigger the raspberry pi. could this be reconfigured for night time creatures using and infrared camera.

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sorry guys should have read further question answered :)

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Much as I love cats, having two myself, they are a disaster for wildlife, especially birds. With 10 million cats in the country, if each one catches one bird a year, that’s 10 million birds gone. In reality it is more like one bird a month, so I’ll leave you to do the maths.

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That’s why ours are indoor cats. ;)

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Regarding your starling problem – what about using one of your previous announcements? http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2012/09/21/raspberry-pi-retaliation-usb-missile-launcher-piday-raspberrypi-raspberry_pi/

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I’m really looking forward to the much anticipated camera module. I long to set up a decent HD webcam to monitor the birds and what not in the garden.

The best way to stop starlings taking all the food, is to have some of it in squirrel proof globe feeders for the little birds. It’s still good to let the starlings take food, as they are a red list species that have been in global decline. We have fat balls out for the starlings, because it’s harder for them to decimate it all quickly. They are messy eaters.

A note about predators: it is good to have the odd visit, but we try to move feeders around and make it hard work for the local sparrowhawks. They tend to figure out strategies to mob the set-up, so it helps to change it around, so they don’t have it too easy.

Just my tuppence.

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Cats plural? Mooncake has a new playmate?

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MC’s always had a camera-shy brother, Raffles; for historical reasons (Skype-bombing), she’s the official cat and poor old Raffles doesn’t get a look-in.

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Starlings: enjoy them, they are glorious fun, with fantastic plumage at this time of year. Try filling your feeders at different times, starlings seem to enjoy routines more than some other types of birds.

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Oh, I *do* enjoy them; lovely things. It’d just be nice for the other birds to get a look-in too!

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Re – Starlings. My wife had the same problem, but found some squirrel blocking cages ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=sr_pg_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Abird+feeder+cage&keywords=bird+feeder+cage&ie=UTF8&qid=1366745476 ) that really work. Fit your usual tubular feeder inside and you will find that the apertures in the mesh are fine for tits, finches, sparrows etc. to gain access, but adult starlings are just too big, as are squirrels!

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I wish they all had to wear a bell and a fluorescent collar. Might save the birds and save them from cars.

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Would you mind posting the source code to this current project? I’d be interested in modifying something to voice activated or sound to trigger the camera to shoot. :-) awesome project!

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