Bird filmers box clever – Hidden cameras tape avian antics in the garden

Every garden looks better if there are birds in it and Joe Tonga’s mission is to ensure that as many gardens as possible contain native birds. From his home in East Fremantle Joe is providing artificial nest boxes for owls, parrots, cockatoos and may other birds, as well as possums and bats. “People are putting them in their back yards, sometimes in types of trees that birds and animals would not normally go near when looking for a nesting site, and native species are flocking to them,” Joe said.

Hobby farmers also have taken to the nests with some buying half a dozen and wanting to fit the boxes with video and audio gear so they can check on birds and animals without disturbing them. Joe can install a camera in a false ceiling at the top of a nest as well as another at the bottom, attached to the outside of the nest, with both cameras operating behind glass.

The trees around Joe’s house, in his neighbours’ yards and on verges, have sprouted an array of nest boxes suitable for birds ranging from owls to tiny pardalotes. “I wanted to encourage native birds to nest here, so I installed a box in a tree and a short while later a southern boo-book owl nested in it and raised three babies,” he said.

That was five years ago, and Joe, a house renovator, has been making and installing boxes in his spare time ever since. An interest in electronics led him to connect tiny infra-red cameras and microphones to the boxes with cables running down the trees and buried underground leading to a monitor in his study, where the action can be enjoyed and recorded on video tape. “I guess you could say the boxes I’ve placed around here are my test sites where I see what works and what doesn’t,” Joe said. “Boxes in other locations have become home to many species, among them ducks, black cockatoos, kingfishers, kookaburras and insectivorous Gould’s wattle bats.”

Joe said the bat boxes were particularly interesting because they were totally different from regular nest boxes. “Two sizes are available. The smaller box is about the size of a small shoe box and contains a series of plywood partitions around 15mm apart that provide enough roosting space for approximately 50 of the mouse-sized bats.” he said. “I also make larger bat boxes that can accommodate up to 400.”

Joe found the nesting habits of striated pardalotes interesting. “I saw them taking twigs and other nesting material into a box over several weeks before the activity stopped and when I checked a while later I found it completely full of nesting material,” he said. Further investigation revealed that a spiral-shaped tunnel around the width of a 20c coin, led to a chamber at the bottom that contained a nest of youngsters. A small section of hollow log is fixed to the front of each of Joe’s nesting boxes box to imitate a natural entrance and a wire mesh ladder inside the entrance lets inhabitants easily enter and leave.

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