Ready to find out which of your local wild species utilize your yard at night? Let’s set up a trail camera!
A trail camera is a weather-proof, remote camera often used as a method of non-invasive wildlife research. Trail cameras are designed to take photo and/or video footage when the sensor detects a warm-bodied animal passing in front of the device. This allows users to monitor wild species and populations without disturbing or influencing their behavior and movement. These cameras provide invaluable information on the species occupying the landscape. They can also be quite simple and fun to use!
Would you like to receive a temporary trail camera kit from the Wolf Conservation Center? Email Dana Goin, the WCC's Wildlife Outreach Specialist, to learn more. This program is currently only available for participants who live local to the Wolf Conservation Center in Westchester County (New York) and southwestern Connecticut.
How to Use the Kit
Scouting a Location:
First look around for animal sign, if there is any in your yard. This could perhaps be tracks in the dirt or scat (fecal matter). Maybe you’ve even spotted animals in certain parts of your yard before. You might consider placing it along a tree-line, facing a stone wall, or even attached to patio furniture! Be creative and try to consider areas that naturally attract wildlife. Is there an opening in the underbrush that could be a natural trail? Do you have water on your property (i.e. a pond or creek)? These would be good locations to consider for trail camera placement as it might be an attractant for local species.
Remember, you can always move the cameras around if you’re not spotting anything! Important note: do not bait your cameras with food or any other attractant. Prioritize locations with animal signs or past sightings, but know that often you will just learn as you go when it comes to placing cameras. Only place the camera on your own property, or with permission from the landowner.
Setting the Camera:
Once you’ve settled on a potential location for your camera, there are a few other things you’ll need to consider. First you’ll need a sturdy place to attach the camera. Find a location in your yard or property with a tree or secure of furniture on which you can affix the camera.
Avoid obstructions. You want a clear field of vision in front of your camera for a nice image. You might need to cut back some vegetation or tall grasses if they may interfere with the image or sensor. Grasses and leaves waving in the wind can be enough to trigger the camera and lead to thousands of photos of vegetation.
Place the camera so it is facing a wide area in front of the sensor. If setting on a path or in a narrow area, angle it so they’re facing down the trail instead of straight across it. That way, you’ll capture more of the animal’s approach instead of a blur as the animal runs right past. A camera angled down a trail will have the animal in view for longer as it approaches or retreats from the line of view (See diagram).
Ideally, try to aim your camera north or south so it will not face directly into the sun at any time of day. However, this isn’t always possible or ideal given the landscape features. Work with what you have. Setting your camera at about knee-height is typically a good way to get clear shots of many animals at their average approximate eye-level. Practice walking in front it or toward it as if you are an animal on film to see if the angle looks right. If it is angling too high or too low, you can adjust the angle by placing sticks between the camera and the item to which it is affixed.
Be mindful of the neighbors! Try not to face the camera towards their yards so as to not invade their sense of privacy. If you can, let them know what you’re doing. Maybe they’ll be interested to learn which critters use their land as well!
Before you’re done, double-check the camera’s settings to make sure they’re all correct. We recommend videos between 10-20 seconds. You may want to check the camera after the first few days to see if the angle is right in the photos/videos, but after that it’s often best to disturb it as little as possible. Check back in 2 weeks or so to see how what activity you may have captured. Enjoy!
While we welcome you to check your SD cards and download any exciting photos/video files you would like to keep, we ask that you do not delete videos of any animals from your SD cards. This is so that we might be able to use them for our own educational/research purposes. However, you are permitted to delete videos of humans if you wish to do so. If you do not, we will erase them once we sort through the cameras so as not to violate your privacy during your camera borrowing period.
Your borrowing period will be 1 month long. If you wish to participate again once the month has expired, please contact email@example.com to be re-added to the list at any point during or after the borrowing period. Near the end of the period, Dana Goin (WCC's Wildlife Outreach Specialist) will reach out to you to arrange a time to collect the equipment. Please gather all items and place them back in the storage bin provided prior to the pick-up date. Please contact Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-763-2373 x210 with any additional questions.