By Jessica Lovell
Travis Cranmer knows quite a bit about birdhouses. He’s been building them for years following the designs his late grandfather developed.
But Cranmer wants to know more.
“It’s always a mystery to me what happened inside and how they build a nest,” he says of winged critters such as chickadees, wrens and other small songbirds.
The University of Guelph student, who is working toward a master’s degree in plant pathology, has devised a plan to see exactly what the birds do inside his birdhouses.“I’m really hoping that they start building a nest shortly,” he says.
When they do, Cranmer will know, because he’s filming the action as it happens.
Cranmer did a little research and soon realized that with his birdhouse’s unique design, it would be a simple matter to just drill a hole in the roof and plop a camera in.
He calls it the “hexcam,” because it is a camera fitted into the roof of his standard hexagonal birdhouse. It was easy to install, because unlike most birdhouses that open at the bottom when it’s time to clean out the old nest, Cranmer’s opens from the top. The roof simply lifts off.
“It’s my grandfather’s design,” he says. “He died when I was four. He gave me the birdhouse before he passed away.”
Cranmer later used the model he had been given to teach himself how to build birdhouses, while at the same time feeling like he was connecting with a man he hardly had the chance to know.
“It’s like I knew him through this,” Cranmer says.
It’s the house’s mounting bracket that makes the design work so well. The bracket mounts separately to a post, tree, fence or the like, so when the birds have finished nesting the house is easily removed. The roof comes off, the contents can be dumped out, and the house is easily remounted – no tools required – and ready for the next round of baby birds.
“You want to clean it out as soon as they’re gone, because chickadees can have up to three sets of young in a season in the same birdhouse,” Cranmer says.
He started building birdhouses as a hobby after he came to Guelph to do his undergraduate degree. The building took the place of gardening – something he enjoyed back on the farm in his home town of Sarnia, but found difficult to do in the yard of the south-end townhouse he shares with other students.
“I built five (birdhouses) and someone said ‘I want to buy one,’” says Cranmer.
A business was soon born.
“I’ve been selling for four years at the farmers’ market,” he says.
He also does craft shows, such as the university’s Fair November, and sells via a website he created himself, www.earthdesign.ca.
The birdhouses, which now line the sawdust-coated garage of his student house, are helping Cranmer pay down his undergraduate student debt.
In a way, placing a camera inside one of his birdhouses is not just a way to learn what goes on inside, but also to generate more interest in the business.
He now has live video of the inside of the birdhouse streaming to his website.
“The bird cam has brought many more people to my site,” says Cranmer.
But so far, there are no baby birds to speak of.
“They’ve been checking it out every day,” says Cranmer. “They’re interested, but it doesn’t seem like they’re committed.”
He speculates that seeing their own reflection in the lens of the camera might have the birds a little spooked.
Still, he has interesting video of chickadees checking out the house, and he has already learned some things he didn’t know.
For example, when one of the birds brought in nesting material and then fanned out its wings, spreading the material around with a shake of its body, it was a behaviour Cranmer didn’t expect to see.
“I also didn’t expect both of them to be in there at the same time,” he says, referencing the day he caught a pair of birds in the house together.
He’s been making time lapse videos every day and posting the most interesting ones to his website.
“It’s not as elusive as the eagle cams, but it’s local and it’s a bird we know,” he says.
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By Jessica Lovell