John Jay-- The Nest Cam: Sending Live Images to the Classrooms

Remarkable advances in camera technology have allowed the possiblity of capturing quite incredible live images from a martin nest to your TV screen, all for less than $200.

Our first endeavor into this area was in 2004. At that time we installed a black and white camera into the top of a Natureline gourd and hard-wired it via a length of coaxial cable to a single TV set. Were were amazed at the footage obtained even though all the images were in black and white and no sound was recorded.

In 2005 Dave McClaskey of S&K Manufacturing donated to our school a set of Bo Villa gourds and pole along with an S&K nest camera. We installed the camera inside the lid of one of the Bo Villa gourds and once again hard-wired it inside the school using the length of coaxial cable supplied with the camera.

At that time our resident Intructional Technology Wizard, Ron Gray, came up with the idea of sending the sounds and images from the nest camera to all of the classrooms at John Jay using the school's in-house cable system. The coaxial cable was plugged into a signal modulator, which boosted the signal and transmitted them via the cable. All the TV's in the school could then access the live sound and images using the channel designated for transmitting live events on campus.

We recorded some of this footage onto VHS tape with a VCR, and then digitized a few samples that may be seen below:

Movie Link One

Movie Link Two

Movie Link Three

The "Purple Martin TV" was a big hit in the school, even though even this far south almost all the action occurred during the last month of the school year (May). Students all across the school were fascinated, and teachers reported fewer discipline problems when the channel was running. Teachers did however, often have to turn off the martin channel when they wanted their students' full attention.

Fortunately the brood in the camera gourd was a successful one, all five young surviving to fledge. One factor that must be considered when presenting natural events live is that sometimes nature is harsh. Our students often expressed concern that the smallest members of the brood were not being fed as often as their larger siblings, we are not sure what their reaction might have been if the smallest nestling starved or if a sparrow or SY martin had entered and killed any of the brood.

Anyhow, this is how we did it.....

At right is the camera in place. Although it did not become necessary, we could have moved the camera to any of the eight gourds on the pole.

Note the coaxial cable secured to the pole with zip-ties. The plastic-wrapped and zip-tied bundle below the gourds is where the camera leads connect to the cable.


We mounted the camera inside a white plastic container, and cut a hole in the Bo Villa gourd lid to accomodate the set-up.



We routed the coaxial cable underground in pvc conduit pipe, running it into the building under the corner of a rarely-used exit door.


One thing we neglected to do was record enough VHS footage, something we expect to remedy this year. We did however take lots of pictures in the classroom. At right is the female on an almost-finished nest. It was interesting to see the rapid vibrating or shaking movements of her beak when she inserted material into the nest.

It was almost a week after nest construction had stopped that the female laid her first egg. Eventually five eggs were laid and serious incubation began.






The happy day arrived right on schedule. What follows is a brief collage of the nestlings as they grew.

Back to martin home



In early June, a week after school let out for the summer, all the nestlings successfully fledged.


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