Bird-watching made easy

Boxwatch Nestbox and Camera

Pounds 299; Boxwatch, Bracken House,Bank Farm, Cowden, Kent, TN8 7EG Tel: 01342 850259

Just occasionally, you come across a piece of apparatus that is the stimulus for such exciting ideas that you can hardly wait to get at it. The Boxwatch camera system is just that. It allows budding wildlife film-makers to produce a quality video recording of the rearing of young birds by devoted parents.

The principal product of this sophisticated camera system is a bird box, made from all-weather plywood, into which is slotted a cartridge camera. The camera, which includes infra-red lamps and a microphone, is housed in an impact-resistant, plastic cover. Its wide-angle lens will focus from 40mm to infinity. It produces clear, sharply defined images, on a television monitor and when recorded through a video-cassette recorder.

The bird box is suitable for blue and great tits, robins and flycatchers. Boxwatch also produces boxes for other birds - and for bats, too.

Last year a prototype was tried out at Homerton College, Cambridge. A pair of blue tits reared their young in the box, and students were able to monitor nest building, egg-laying, incubation, feeding and other aspects of parental behaviour.

The system would be invaluable in both primary and secondary schools because it would enable students to observe behaviour they would otherwise not be able to see. It would allow teachers to demonstrate elements of life and living processes in the national curriculum and could provide material for GCSE and A-level biology projects. With the new AEB A-level psychology syllabus now giving much greater emphasis to comparative psychology, many psychology departments might find the apparatus useful for practical work.

The camera works outside the box. Therefore, outside the nesting season, it could be used to study the nocturnal activities of school animals, the behaviour of young children in a playgroup, or even the sleeping postures of humans.

At Pounds 299, the system is not cheap but it would be a worthwhile acquisition for any school; it would be the perfect project for a parent-teacher association to fund.

Michael Dockery * The writer is education officer for the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour at Manchester Metropolitan University

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