It’s often difficult to witness the magic of nature up close and personal, but emerging technologies have drastically improved live streaming capabilities, and there are a host of different wildlife cams bringing nature to you! And as live streaming becomes more and more affordable, anyone with a bird feeding station, an active backyard, or access to a variety of wildlife can set up a cam to enjoy.
That said, there’s a lot of tech and different options involved in setting up a live-streaming wildlife cam. This guide focuses less on specifics—which will vary depending on what your cam is looking to accomplish—and serves more as a general overview (with links to other resources below) of what is needed to set up a wildlife cam in order to focus your research to better fit your personal wildlife cam goals. So get to planning and share your wildlife with the rest of the world!
Planning is the most important step. Your exact setup will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish, what you want it to look like (HD, full color, night vision, etc.), and your budget. For example, if you’re setting up a nest box cam, it’ll be dark inside and will require night vision or infrared. Plus, you’ll want to avoid battery-powered cameras so you don’t disturb the nest having to change them often.
Also, imagine your setup. Do you have anywhere to mount the camera, or will you need to buy/build something for the mounting? Is there a power source near, or will you need to run wires underground? Will weather be an issue, or will the camera be covered? All of these questions will focus your search and point you to the correct resources, and often, those resources will inform the rest of your purchases.
There are tons of available camera types suitable for wildlife cams—webcams, analog cameras, network IP cameras, etc.—and variations within each type. Start with the specifics you selected during the planning step and do some research on which camera bests suits your needs and budget. There are tons of blogs, guides, and reviews to narrow your search and find the right camera.
When you make your decision, take special notice of the camera’s specific requirements—wifi or ethernet connection, power source, data requirements, software and streaming capabilities—as this will inform much of your other purchases, such as a router and modem, encoder software, the proper cables, etc.
Running a live stream requires a lot of RAM and a powerful video card, so make sure you have a dedicated system in place that can handle your stream. Also, depending on your internet service provider, you might need a dedicated router and/or modem to handle the extra bandwidth.
Once you’ve got your hardware set up correctly—and depending on your camera and video host—you’ll need encoding software to upload your footage. There is some free/cheap software available, and some cameras allow you to download the software directly to the camera.
Now that you’ve planned your setup and have your gear, sketch out a blueprint. Pay attention to the location of your setup, closest power source, distance from the router (wifi or ethernet), and what is needed to mount the camera and run the wires. It might seem unnecessary, but it will help you visualize your setup, organize the necessary equipment, and estimate the lengths of your wires.
Build Your Setup
Mount your camera, run the appropriate wires to your power supply and internet connection, power everything up, and test to make sure everything is working properly.
Stream to the World
Now that you’re up and running, you’ll need a streaming service to host your footage if you are planning to share with the world. YouTube Live offers a free service, but there are several others to choose from.
Make sure you have permission to stream, follow your host’s streaming guidelines, and make sure your setup never harms or disturbs its subjects (if setting up a nest cam, it’s illegal to touch or physically disturb an active nest or its contents).