Wildlife RFID

NatureCounters - Wildlife RFID

RFID developed specially for wildlife monitoring

Conventional RFID systems were not designed to monitor wildlife in the field. Ours was, and here is why:

  • Ours is the only system that has been designed from the bottom up to run for months unattended in wet weather in the field from just 5 AA batteries, so you can record nest visits over the long-term and don\'t need to carry heavy batteries around and swap readers between boxes.
  • Ours is the only system that has been coupled so closely with a datalogger that it can record partial reads and missed reads along with visit data, temperature data and light levels to an SD card. Wild animals don\'t wait for a beep after a successful tag read, and conventional readers will not record the fact that a tag was present but failed to read accurately.
  • Ours is the only system that can determine the direction of movement (using dual light beam technology), so only needs one RFID coil.
  • Ours is the only system that integrates the RFID reader, datalogger and batteries into one small single unit that fits neatly onto the front of the nest box in seconds, minimising disturbance to the nest.
  • Ours is the only system that uses 3D printing technology to design and build housings rapidly for your particular requirements. That makes it a versatile system that can be adapted for logging visits to burrows and nest boxes for birds, bats, dormice, or whatever.

Let\'s look at those features in a bit more detail....

Ultra-Low power RFID for nestboxes

The NatureCounters Nestbox RFID system combines a dual light-beam visit counter with an RFID reader in a single unit. Only when the light-beams are broken, indicating the presence of an animal, does the system energise the RFID coil, and it shuts down again after successfully reading the tag. The rest of the time, when nothing is there, the RFID reader chip stays in Sleep Mode. That means you save somthing like 99.9% of the power normally consumed by an RFID system. 

Waterproofed RFID / Datalogger electronics

Even when enclosed in a housing, the damp atmosphere outside on wildlife research sites can soon penetrate and start to affect electronic circuits, as we discovered early in the development of our systems when we first made a Puffin Burrow Monitor, so since then we have actually coated all our electronic circuits in a thick waterprrof coating. Any still exposed contacts, such as the SD card contacts and battery contacts are waterproofed using petroleum jelly (vaseline), and this approach has proved very successful for multi-year use. Also, we avoid using loose wires wherever possible, because these are particularly prone to failure in outdoors conditions, so our battery holders are mounted directly onto the circuit boards. We even avoid using push-button and sliding switches, and instead use hermetically sealed reed switches which are activated by a magnet. Robustness for use in the field has been designed into the system from the lowest level.

Logging and correction of RFID Tag read failures

RFID tags used on small animals such as bats and great tits are very small indeed, and no reader can ever give a 100% read reliability of an animal moving quickly through an entrance hole into a nestbox. So how do you know you have missed a tag? For most wildlife studies we think it is important to know whether the animal had a tag which the system failed to read, or whether the animal simply did not have a tag. Other RFID systems simply will not tell you; they only signal to the host datalogger when they have successfully read a tag, so ours is the only RFID system we know of which records when reads have failed, and even how easy the read was when it succeeeded.

An RFID system that logs direction of movement

The RFID functionality has been designed alongside our successful nestbox visit counter, which uses the dual light beam system described above to determine not only the direction, i.e. Entry/ Exit/ Look-in/ Look-out/ Single-sensor-blockage (typically insect activity), but even the speed of motion of an animal, by logging on the SD card the precise time each light beam is broken and restored. The same "head-bobbing" elimination algorithm, (a movement birds do when evaluating a nesting site) is included in this RFID visit logger as in the basic counter, so you will get the best measure of visit frequency possible.

Customisable actions on particular RFID tag values

One application of our RFID readers is for animal behaviour studies, whereby the RFID reader triggers certain actions, such as firing a camera, or opening a feeder, or dispensing a certain amount of food. We can customise the programming of our systems to load a table of tag values from the SD card, to dictate what actions should be triggered by each tag. If this is of use to you, do discuss it with us.

Low cost RFID readers for wide deployment in Research and for Mitigation Monitoring

Our RFID visit-loggers have already been deployed for university ornithological research, and are on test in a bat research project in Spain, and entering trials in bat flight cages here in th UK. We want them to be used in large multi-year studies, and for mitigation monitoring where bats are displaced due to building works, so we have had to price them very cheaply. The RFID enabled visit logger, which is an entriely self-contained unit which records RFID, visit data, light levels and three different temperature signals to and SD card, will be on sale when flight cage tests are completed, and will cost approximately £140+VAT per unit. Some versions without RFID are already on sale on this site, and are even cheaper. We also offer dummy front-panels for nest boxes which look just like the real loggers, so that these can be put up on many more boxes, and a logger swapped in if a box is active.

Modular electronics and customised housing design

So far, we have designed and manufactured housings for the most popular Schwegler bird and bat boxes, integrating the logger and RFID system entirely into the front panel of the box. If you have other designs in mind, then we will be happy to design and build those for you.