Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

The Birdhouse Nature Cam, Part 1

Dear Bird Folks,

A few weeks ago you wrote a column about those “stick-on-the-window birdhouses,” which are advertised on TV. In the column you said that kind of birdhouse is a bad idea and we would be better off not investing in them. Today I saw an ad for a tiny camera that fits into a birdhouse. The camera lets people watch the birds’ nesting activity on their TV. Are you familiar with this product? Also, did you get any flack from the company that makes the window birdhouses?

– Stan, Northbridge, MA


No, I didn’t, Stan,

I didn’t hear a word from the company that makes those crummy window birdhouses, but thanks for reminding them about it. After writing that column I was worried some hotshot lawyer from the birdhouse company was going to call to “have a few words” with me. Every time the phone rang I was afraid to answer it, much like I am on April Fool’s Day. But so far the phone has been quiet, and that’s just the way I like it.

We have sold tiny birdhouse camera kits for years, or at least we have had them on the shelves. (They aren’t really a hot item.) Every spring I tell myself that I should take one home and try it. That way I would know if it works or not. Last spring I started the process. I took one home, but then lost it. I looked everywhere. The entire summer passed before I found it again. Where was it? I had mistakenly put my velvet smoking jacket on top of the camera kit and didn’t rediscovered it until this spring, when I was taking my smoking jacket to the cleaners. (BTW: For you kids out there, I don’t smoke. Smoking is not good. In fact, I don’t even have a smoking jacket. The garment that I actually put on top of the camera was the pair of sweatpants I wear when I work out. I just wrote smoking jacket because I didn’t think anyone would believe that I actually worked out.)

In front of my bedroom window is a birdhouse and the same pair of chickadees have used this house for the past twenty years. (I realize that chickadees don’t live for twenty years, but my wife thinks it’s the same pair, so I agree. It’s just easier that way.) I attached the tiny camera to the inside of the nest box, ran the wire into my bedroom, plugged it into the TV, turned it on and much to my astonishment, it actually worked. I was stunned. I was even more stunned when, ten seconds after turning on the camera, a chickadee stuck its black and white head inside the birdhouse and appeared on my TV. Wow! It was very cool. And it was about to get even cooler.

For the next few weeks we watched as the female brought soft moss and other nesting material into the box. Each time she brought in new moss she would tap the floor of the nest with her beak. It was a strange ritual, but I’m guessing she was trying to gauge the thickness of her nest. (Either that or she was trying to obtain her proper Sleep Number.) Then, using her wiggling body as a mold, mama chickadee turned the moss into a perfectly round nest cup. (FYI: The males don’t help with the nest. They are way too macho to do any of that wiggling-body stuff.) Then we waited. Would there be eggs? For days the nest stayed totally empty. No signs of the female. What happened? Had she abandoned us? Should I call that guy at the bird store and ask him what had happened? He knows everything. But then it hit me: it was the weather. Remember how cold and nasty this spring was? I think the female was simply waiting for things to improve before she laid her eggs. So, I didn’t call the guy and my theory proved correct.

Eventually, the weather improved and the female chickadee returned, spending each night in the box. At this point we were leaving the nest camera, which also works in the dark, on all night. (It was our idea of action in the bedroom.) Then, early one morning, I heard the mama bird make a chicken-like sound and when she left the box there was an egg. Yay! After I got dressed, I called the rest of the family to come see the egg. But by the time they all arrived, the egg was gone. What? They all said, “Dad, is seeing imaginary objects again.” Two days later, I saw three eggs. Once again I called the family and once again they saw no eggs. What the heck? Who keeps stealing the eggs? This time I really did call the guy in the bird store. He’s so nice and super smart (not to mention good looking). The bird store guy told me not to worry. Quite often the female covers her eggs when she leaves the nest. He was sure all the eggs were still there. A few days later his words would prove to be 100% correct. (I told you he was super smart.)

Over the course of the next week the female laid a total of six tiny chickadee eggs and only when the last egg was laid did she stop covering them up. Now she sat tight, only leaving the box briefly when the male brought her food. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I would always look at the TV to see what was going on in the nest. Sometimes mother chickadee was asleep, but often she was busily rotating her eggs. She instinctively knows that proper egg rotation was needed to ensure that all the eggs warmed evenly. The incubation lasted one week and then two, and still no chicks. Like any expectant father, I began to worry. Then one afternoon, as I was closing my shop, I got a call from my wife. She told me that something was going on with the eggs. I told her to boil some water and I’d be right home (if I didn’t get stopped for speeding on the way). When I got home…oops, out of room. I’ll finish this next week.