I utilized a publicly available webcam for a student research
project in my upper-level, college ornithology course. This project
was designed to provide my students with a convenient and remote
method to observe wild birds, collect data on bird activities, summarize data with basic descriptive statistics and graphs, and communicate results in a final paper. I was already familiar with a
webcam that provided a close-up view of bird feeders. Here, I (1)
describe how that webcam was used to obtain video-clip samples,
(2) briefly describe how students quantified bird visits using the
video-clip samples, (3) provide some examples of the types of data
that were obtained from the video-clip samples, and (4) discuss factors to consider in using wildlife webcams for student research
projects in courses. As this was a trial webcam-based research project, it was not designed to include a formal evaluation of project-related learning outcomes or student performance metrics.
Bird Feeder Webcam Project Example
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology operates a series of webcams (cams.
allaboutbirds.org/), one of which is called the Feeder Watch Cam. It
is located in the Treman Bird Feeding Garden at the lab (42.48oN,
76.45oW), Ithaca, NY. The webcam’s field of view is directed at a
group of bird feeders that are maintained and filled with food by staff
at the lab. The webcam streams 24/7 on the You Tube Live platform,
and includes a DVR feature that allows viewers to rewind up to four
hours from the live time. The viewing quality of the webcam is
adjustable at various resolution increments from high-definition set-
tings of 1080p and 720p, to a low of 144p, and can be viewed in
“full screen” mode. The web page’s window includes a date/time-
stamp. The lab’s staff maintained a 6-feeder setup at the webcam
during this study (Figure 1).
Video Recording of Webcam
Many screen capture applications are currently available for Windows
and Apple computers. The Windows 10 operating system includes an
Xbox application that can be used to capture virtually any type of
screen activity and save it as a video clip. Apple computers come with
Quick Time Player, which has a screen recording feature and can then
be used to play back recorded videos. There are also many third-party
Windows/Apple applications available for free download or for purchase. A Google search can locate currently available screen capture
applications, and the You Tube web site contains videos demonstrating how to make screen video recordings.
While some students were already familiar with how to conduct
video screen captures on their computers, I discussed available
applications, and gave demonstrations using QuickTime Player.
Figure 1. Portion of the web page for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Feeder Watch Cam. The feeders were a priori designated
1–6. Note the date and timestamp (running clock) within the black bar below feeder 6, and the temperature/weather condition
information in the photo’s lower-left corner. This screen capture was taken with the webcam’s quality set at 720p.