Ted Pudlik bio photo

Ted Pudlik

Physics Ph.D. and programmer.

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Paparazzi bird feeder

I keep a bird feeder outside a window at home, but I can never be sure who visits it: when the birds are awake, I’m at work (or asleep). The paparazzi bird feeder solves this problem by taking pictures of my avian visitors and posting them to Flickr and Twitter.

I started working on this idea at Triangle Startup Weekend: Maker Edition in April 2014 with Aaron Mead and Andrew Roberson. In the beginning, we had only some rough sketches:

Our dry-erase board.

We quickly built a working prototype that detected the birds using a passive IR sensor and a sonic ranger:

The cardboard prototype.

It took pictures like this one, showing a family of house finches:

Bird spotted!

You’ll notice that this early prototype was made of cardboard, so it could only be deployed when the weather was good. The detection strategy was not very reliable, either: almost one picture in four were false positives.

The current prototype addresses these shortcomings. The passive IR sensor and sonic ranger were replaced with a modulated-IR tripwire, and the electronics was moved into a weatherproof box.

The plywood prototype.

For more images and instructions for building your own, check out the project’s website. You can also follow the prototype on Flickr.

A few of my favorite pictures: quarreling sparrows, a pair of nuthatches, and a bluejay hiding from the rain.