Oilbird Project

Proposal for an Infra-red Oilbird Observation System


Established in 1967, the Asa Wright Nature Center is one of the premier conservation NGOs in Trinidad and Tobago. With an original mandate to preserve the wildlife and natural habitats in the Arima valley, the Center has since expanded its conservation programmes to include support for land acquisition for conservation; habitat restoration; conservation education; community-based conservation; and research on the tropical ecosystems of the island of Trinidad.

Among the Nature Center’s unique biological assets is a colony of oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis). The oilbird is a rare nocturnal fruit-eating bird, which uses echolocation to navigate and forage in the forests at night. Apart from these peculiar characteristics, this species also has very specific nesting requirements, as it breeds and roosts primarily in caves.

The Asa Wright oilbird colony, which currently stands at 131 birds, is one of the most secure oilbird colonies on the island because of the level of protection afforded the cave by virtue of its location on the Springhill Estate of the AWNC.



Oilbirds are very sensitive to disturbance at their roosting/nesting caves. The Nature Center has had the experience of the birds completely abandoning their roosts due to visitor disturbance. As a result, the AWNC carefully manages access to the oilbirds at Dunston Cave to ensure that the birds are not disturbed by visitors. This means that only a limited number of visitors are actually able to see the birds at their roosting/breeding sites.

Nonetheless, recent increases in the numbers of visitors to the Center, as well as the need to increase the degree of conservation awareness about the oilbirds and their habitats, requires the development of new opportunities for visitor interaction with the birds without disturbing them. In this context, we propose the installation of a remote infra-red camera system at the Dunston Cave. This system would allow visitors, in particular the numerous school children who visit the Nature Center, to be able to see the birds in real-time, without the associated disturbance.

The system would consist of a remotely controlled infrared camera, and an infrared floodlighting system installed at Dunston Cave. The camera would be controlled by a joystick at the verandah of the main-house and/or the Ian Lambie Education and Community Outreach Unit. This joystick would enable greater visitor interaction, through a Òhands-onÓ real-time manipulation of the visitor viewing experience. The video from the cave would be fed to two 21″ flat-panel monitors (one each on the verandah and the education and community outreach unit). The new system would also allow the Nature Center to provide streaming internet-video of the birds at the cave, which would be used to develop a web-page for schools on the oilbirds of the Nature Center.


System Design & Equipment

The Infra-red Oilbird Observation System will consist of the grotto-based waterproof infrared camera, infra red illuminator and microphone; a video distribution and joy-stick type camera control system; a DVD recorder and internet video server, as well as two 21′ plasma screens. The system has been designed by Ecowatch Limited of Cornwall, U.K. and is represented schematically below: