A webcam for things that go bump in the night

If you like Phoebe Allens, the famous Allen’s hummingbird whose comings and goings are video-recorded in a southern California yard, then you should know about The Animal Detector.

The Animal Detector is a video blog devoted to the nocturnal critters that visit the backyard of University of North Carolina developmental biologist Bob Goldstein.

One night a couple of years ago, Goldstein’s toddler son asked for a piece of cheese to leave outside for animals. The next day, the cheese had of course disappeared—but who had taken it?

To find out, Goldstein and his son rigged up an infrared-sensitive light and a motion-sensing webcam, left some pet-food “bait” in view of the lens, and went to bed. And, voilà, the next morning, they had a video of a cat stopping by for a late-night snack.

Since then, the Animal Detector has recorded the nighttime visits of birds, possums, raccoons, squirrels, a fox, and even a human (a neighbor kid; he didn’t take the bait).

Time-lapse image of the flightpaths of two pelicans. Credit: Bob Goldstein
Time-lapse image of the flightpaths of two pelicans. Credit: Bob Goldstein

And the Detector has branched out: Goldstein’s rig monitored a robin’s nest for three weeks, capturing the hatching, feeding, and fledging of its occupants. One week, the Detector went to the beach and recorded the flights of seagulls and pelicans. The time-lapse results, processed into a single image, are works of art.

There’s lots more to see on the blog. If you want to create your own Animal Detector, consult Goldstein’s plans, published in the February 2009 Make magazine. And let us know if you do—it would make a great post for your Member Blog. I’m definitely going to set one up.

Categories: Animals, Birds