Monday, 10 April 2017

An Unexpected Robin Nest

I recently went looking for an old nest box had fallen from its tree.  A bit of poking about in the undergrowth located it... plus a pair of nesting robins, sitting on eggs.

So we have a robin nesting on the ground in a broken old nest box, and quite vulnerable in my opinion.  In an effort to make it a bit more robust I've put some temporary 'anti-cat' protection around it.  I also popped a webcam in (operation of approx 1 minute).  I'm a bit concerned the nest is still fairly vulnerable, but at least I've warned the kids off that bit of the garden, explaining that to the dog was a bit trickier. Some more robust anti-cat measures will go up over the Bank Holiday weekend... any way here she/he is:

Fluffed-up Robin incubating eggs

click --> Follow this link for live Stream <-- click

... live stream was stopped offline when they fledged :)


20/04/17: HATCHED!
Setup a live youtube live stream, and will live stream video in the daytime.
At least 2 eggs hatched today, I think 1 last night and 2 in the day.  There are at least three chicks being fed regularly.  Two videos uploaded today:
1) Adult robin eating eggshell and discarding another piece
2) First glimpse of chicks, a few hours after hatching

22/04/17: 2 days old
Only one parent is feeding, while the other sits on the chicks.
1) Video of some sort of grub being fed

29/04/17: 9 days old
We definitely have three chicks.  I came across this interesting RSPB information page on the nesting habits of robins.  Three would seem to be a relatively small clutch size, but our lot seem to have read the manual since eyes started opening on about day 5.  All have their eyes open now (when they're not sleeping).  Until yesterday, one parents sat on the chicks with the other one feeding, but that has stopped now, presumably they're both busy collecting food.  Since the parents dash in and out to feed, its difficult to see what they're feeding, but we've definitely graduated from spiders to big fate white things (cant tell what they are).
1) Day 7 feeding
2) Day 9 feeding, and removal of faecal sac

03/05/17: 13 days old
Looking a bit more like proper birds now.  Are starting to take an interest in their surroundings, eg picking off insects that wander too close to the nest.  Adults feeding approx every 4 minutes.

Day 8
Day 9
Day 13

The dramatic end to this nest is described in this post

How this was setup....
My rough-and ready solution to documenting this is a LifeCam studio webcam (higher res/better low light than its LifeCam Cinema sibling).  This camera has up to now been monitoring the rabbit shed, so it was simple to move it.  Handily, the nest box is adjacent to the shed with power and network access (who dosen't?).  A quick network cable run to a 'stand-by' raspberry Pi + PoE splitter meant that I could house the bulk away from 'Robbie' the Robin (name was not my choice), to minimise any disturbance.  Video capture is using iCatcher console CCTV software

Robin nesting in old,. broken nest box
The Robin box is behind the upturned pot (enlarged on inset).  Electronics are housed in the box attached to the pergola (another re-purposed bird box).  I've done a bit of waterproofing with electric insulation tape to protect the webcam .  The original entrance hole is facing to the right (not used), with robin access through some other animal-caused damage to the lid region.

SO, fingers crossed, with a bit of help this family will make it through.  Of concern is all the cats, badgers, rats and mice that I've filmed on my trail camera in this exact spot...

Techy bits
Motion jpeg streaming from a compatible usb webcam guide here via a raspberry pi.
This uses an original Type B raspberry Pi.  I had to fix the focus as it wants to focus just behind the bird's head, which isn't very helpful

Code to fix the focus on Raspberry Pi.. Enter the following in a terminal window
sudo apt-get install uvcdynctrl # install package to control USB webcam
uvcdynctrl -v -d video0 --set='Focus, Auto' 0 # turn autofocus OFF
uvcdynctrl -v -d video0 --set='Focus (absolute)' 35 # fixed focus position
...more on controlling auto focus of usb webcams here

The Pi gets its power via power over ethernet (PoE) to my house (via shed).  Video stream is captured at iCatcher console on a PC as follows: On new camera setup, select 'Network Device', and enter 'Source' as follows, replacing with the IP address and port of the Raspberry pi in the custom feeds dialogue box:


I get approx 10fps at 1280x1080, which isn't bad and makes for some some nice screen grabs. 20 fps at 800x600 is also possible, but I've opted for higher res, lower framerate.

So why not use a Raspberry pi camera module?  Several reasons...

  1. This was quick to do with minimal disturbance as I could locate the Pi far away from the nest.  Rasp Pi camera cables are not very long, and more fragile than a standard USB cable.. I can access the Raspberry Pi + its power gubbins without going too near the nest.
  2. The low light performance of the PiCamera is AWFUL.  I have recently installed one of the new v2 camera modules in a custom designed box with its own lighting rig (incidentally is just above this old broken, occupied box!), and have struggled with illumination.
  3. Pi Camera module is not robust, and likes to fry itself it you handle it without taking extreme care to earth yourself first.
raspI camera has its plus points, and is good in an enclosed, pre-planned situation.  Its also cheaper than this webcam (off the shelf.. this webcam was an ebay bargain)

So fingers crossed we make it to the weekend and I can properly fence it off, in the meantime we're watching with interest...

Post Easter weekend...
While not especially pretty, the robins don't seem to mind this attempt to put off the local fox/cat/badger population

Livestream setup
I'm running ffmpeg on a second Pi which takes the video stream from the Pi attached to the pergola in the pic above, adds in a dummy audio stream to play nicely with YouTube, flips the image (camera is upside down), and reduces the width to 720 (scaled) and streams in appropriate format to YouTube.  I've anonymised it by removing its local IP address and my YouTube streaming ID.  The second Pi wasn't doing much anyway, and lives in a currently vacant birdbox.

I'll expand on this in a bit more detail in a separate post, but the command is as follows:

ffmpeg -f mjpeg -i 'http://XXX.XXX.X.XX:8080/?action=stream' -an -vcodec h264 -ar 44100 -ac 2 -acodec pcm_s16le -f s16le -ac 2 -i /dev/zero -acodec aac -ab 128k -g 50 -vf 'scale=720:-1, vflip,hflip' -strict experimental -f flv  rtmp://


  1. Great stuff! I have two robin nest boxes in safe locations, but they just don't read my emails!

    Were those videos taken with natural daylight, or do you have lights? My guess is its daylight. The colour and detail is brilliant.

    You could try an ultra-sonic cat deterrent. Ours seems to work on most of our visiting cats, but there is one all-black guy that is either deaf or well 'ard.

    I suggest you get some old fashioned metal chicken wire (maybe a 1m square) and just stake it down around the edges in a kind of dome shape. Mice will still be able to get it, but I think robins can see them off.

    The interesting thing about robin chicks is that they remain totally silent, whereas tits make a lot of noise.

    Robbie? I have a lady friend called Robyn, so I guess Robbie works for either gender.

    1. All natural light, I didn't want to go poking leds in. The only light is through approx 2inch hole, which the bird is sitting just next to.

      Cat scarier is a no-goer as it should also scare off my kids, they definitely need to be outside during the Easter hols..

      Will be getting some chicken wire over the weekend to robustify it...