Building a Weight-triggered Perch

by Austin Vinar | Dec 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Chipping Sparrow on branch
Chipping Sparrow. Photo © Austin Vinar.

When trying to photograph skittish birds at my feeder, I’ve often thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to have a trail camera that takes good bird photos…. But, knowing that a camera like that would be well out of my price range, I gave up that thought.

Then I came across an article about infra-red photography in the December 2006 issue of Nature Friend. Kevin Shank explained how they had their camera set to photograph birds when they landed on a designated perch. The whole article got me thinking. Could I build a setup that would trigger my camera when a bird landed on a perch?

I started to consider the options and resources I had available and finally came up with a plan for this weight-triggered perch. Join me as I put my ideas to work!

First, we’ll start on the camera end of it. For my camera, I needed a 2.5mm auxiliary plug with at least 6 inches of cord attached. Strip about an inch of insulation off both wires inside it. If you plug the auxiliary end into your camera’s cable release port and touch the two wires together, the camera will take a picture.

Next, we will extend those two wires out as far as you plan to have your camera from your perch, plus a few feet. I would advise somewhere around fifteen feet; more wire is better than less! To do this, strip about an inch of insulation off the end of your extension wires. If the cord you use for extension has more than two wires, just pick two (I did red and blue) and ignore the rest. Fasten the wires from the auxiliary cord to the extension wires with wire nuts. If your wires are very small, you could just twist them together and wrap them in electrical tape. After you get the wires connected, wrap each in electrical tape separately to keep them from touching each other.

Now we will set the wires aside for a few minutes while we work on the perch end. First, let’s find a perch. I used a piece of driftwood that had a nice end on it. Basically anything would work, but you want the end small enough that the bird always lands in your frame. Next find a board about 18 inches long that is pretty thin. Mine was about ⅜ inch wide by 1¼ inches tall. Fasten your perch to one end of it, using screws, nails, or staples. Next find some small heavy, metal object that you can easily fasten to the other end. I used a very large nut. It needs to conduct electricity. Fasten this to the board and make sure it is very secure.

Next, you need to find your point of balance. An easy way is to set your board on a hammer handle and move it left or right until neither end touches the ground. Then move it slightly so the end with the weight is a little heavier than the end with the perch. Mark the spot right above the hammer handle and drill a hole in the middle of the board there. Make sure this hole is just bigger than the nail you plan to use to fasten the “teeter-totter” to the base.

For the base, I took a piece of 1” x 6” about 9 inches long and fastened a 2” x 4” about 6 inches long lengthwise along the end of it. The 2” x 4” should be mounted perpendicular to the 1” x 6”. Nail your “teeter-totter” to this. You will want about ½-inch clearance between the 1” x 6” and the bottom of your “teeter-totter” where the teeter-totter pivots.

Now we need to mount a strip of metal about ⅛ inch above our weight. Find a strip of metal big enough you can fasten it to the 2” x 4” and bend it so it sits about ⅛ inch above the weight.

We are almost done! Take the loose end of your extension wires and strip an inch or two of insulation off of them. If your cord had more than two wires, make sure you use the same ones you used on the other end! Mount one wire to your weight and one to your strip of metal. It does not matter which of the two wires goes where. You could either twist or tape them on. Just make sure they have good, firm contact in both places.

Now we are ready to test it! Plug the auxiliary end into your camera’s cable release port and set the perch somewhere you often see birds. I have found a good location is near a bird feeder. Put your camera on a tripod, and then frame and focus it on the perch. I would advise using an aperture of about f/11 to make sure the bird that lands there is in focus.

I recommend changing your perch relatively often to keep your pictures from becoming monotonous. Just make sure your new perch weighs the same as the first perch, or you may have to rebalance your “teeter-totter.”

Now you can leave and let the bird do the photographing! It is always lots of fun to come back later and check what was captured by the camera. Experiment with your set-up, as that is half the fun! And when you catch a shy bird’s portrait, you have gained the opportunity to share its awesome design and praise God, our Creator.

You will need a strip of metal above the weight. Your wires will attach to the weight and to the strip of metal.
You will need clearance for your “teeter-totter” to pivot without binding.
Change prop occasionally so not all photos look identical.

Editor’s note: If you have made a gadget to help in your photography, we would be glad to hear about it. We invite you to send us an article and photos for possible use in this feature.

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