After students were comfortable using the application of their
choice, they made test recordings of the Feeder Watch Cam’s view-window. I required them to make test recordings to ensure they
could obtain video clips of sufficient resolution and quality to allow
easy identification of bird species and feeding activities from the
recorded videos. I provided feedback on their test videos, and we
discussed potential problems or limitations related to factors such
as Internet speed, viewing resolution, and screen size (see below).
This video testing period preceded the start of the formal video sampling for the project.
Students used the webcam’s timestamp as the official clock to follow for recording-period start and stop times, and they recorded
live activities and/or used the DVR feature of the webcam’s system
to record periods within the previous four hours of the live time.
They recorded 10-minute time periods (hereafter, 10-min periods)
of video during a single week for each of the months January (15–21),
February (12–18), and March (12–18). Each day of the week was
divided into three blocks of time (hereafter, blocks): morning
(0800–1000 EST), mid-day (1100–1300), and late-day (1400–
1600). This design generated 12 10-min periods for each block, with
a total of 252 possible 10-min periods for each week. Students were
required to sign up for a minimum of three 10-min periods per week
and to distribute them among the blocks. A shared calendar schedule
on Google Docs with days/blocks/10-min periods was made and
updated as required; only one student recorded any 10-min period.
I also made recordings of several 10-min periods not taken by students, which I later distributed to increase the sample size.
Sampling Restrictions and Weather Data
Recordings were not made during periods of high winds that caused
excessive feeder movement or when precipitation was heavy. For
each period, students recorded air temperature, general weather
condition, and wind speed and direction. Real-time temperature
and general weather condition (e.g., clear, overcast, light snow,
etc.) from a weather station about 3.5 km SE of the feeders is displayed on the webcam page (Figure 1). Wind speed/direction for
that weather station could be obtained by clicking on the tempera-ture/condition graphic, or obtained for other weather stations closer
to the feeders ( www.wunderground.com/). If one or more squirrels
(Sciurus) were present on the feeder at the start time for the recording, or appeared during the recording session, recording was not
attempted, or the recording was terminated as squirrel activity at
the feeders influenced feeder use by birds (personal observation).
When student recording sessions were cancelled (e.g., weather) or
aborted/rejected (squirrels), they were instructed to select other
open periods as replacements.
Quantifying Bird Activity from Recordings
Screen capture recordings of bird activity on the Feeder Watch Cam
allowed students to quantify activities at their leisure, control video-play functions (e.g., pause, fast forward, rewind), and seek help with
questions about bird identification and activity assessment. Prior to
student’s viewing video samples, I provided a list of species they
would likely observe, and I discussed identification of those species
in class. For each 10-min video only one student viewed the video
and quantified bird visits.
For each 10-min period, students recorded date, block, period,
air temperature, weather condition, and wind speed/direction. A bird
landing on a feeder was designated as a visitation event. A bird had to
land on a feeder to be counted as a visitation event. For each visitation
event the bird species and the feeder number were recorded. Also,
whether the bird made at least one feeding attempt was recorded as
yes or no. Prior to student’s viewing video samples and quantifying
bird activities, I discussed various visitation scenarios they would
potentially observe, and we discussed how to code them in an Excel
worksheet (see Figure 2, below). The simplest was a bird landing on
a feeder, making a feeding attempt, or not, and then flying away. A
more complicated scenario might involve a bird landing on a feeder,
then moving to an adjacent feeder, and then returning to the first
feeder before flying away. The first example represents a one bird visit
by one individual. The second example represents three bird visits by
one individual. A group consensus was made on how to code the data
for the various scenarios.
Information on bird visits to the feeders was entered into Excel,
with each row representing a single visitation event. Column data
entered for each visitation event included: month, day, date,
weather conditions, temperature, wind direction, wind speed, daily
block, 10-min period, feeder number, species, and whether the
bird made a feeding attempt. I provided the students with an Excel
workbook that provided a template for the order of the column
variables (see Figure 2). We discussed and agreed on methods to
code cell values to simplify data entry, as some students entered
data directly into Excel as they viewed each video. The list of likely
bird species included numeric codes to be used for data entry
(Figure 2). Class time was spent discussing how the data could
be summarized with simple descriptive statistics and presented
with Excel features such as Pivot Tables and Charts. At a minimum,
summaries were required for: (1) feeder visitation rates, (2) percent
visits to the different feeders, and (3) percent of feeding attempts.
Students were encouraged to explore and summarize the data with
regard to other variables (e.g., temperature and weather conditions). I required students to submit a final written report describing their methodology and results.
Selected Examples of Data Summaries
Students quantified bird activity from a total of 106 10-min periods
(17.7 hours) out of a possible 126 hours available during the three
weeks of sampling. Students observed a total of 16 species of birds
at the feeders in the 106 sample videos, with a total of 2,637 bird visits. Only select results from the student analyses are presented here
as data-summary examples because the focus of this paper is on
student-based research potential of wildlife webcams, not a detailed
presentation of methodology and results for this particular bird feeding project (see Discussion and Summary). Since an equal number of
video sample periods among months or blocks was not available,
bird visitation was expressed as the average number of visits per
10-min period. Averages, by daily block, for the five species of birds
that were most frequently observed visiting the feeder complex is
given in Table 1, and the percent of visits to the individual feeders
for each of those species is given in Table 2. Table 3 gives the percentages of the total bird visits observed during the study (all 16 species
pooled) among the feeders, by month and daily block.