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Research: Trail Camera Study

Dates Conducted: 2008 - present
Lead Researcher: Dr. Randy Van Dragt, Professor of Biology & Director of Ecosystem Preserve
Student Researchers: Stewardship Interns & Summer Preserve Stewards


The Paul and Carolyn Buiten Wildlife Sanctuary’s 60 acres are set aside as a refuge for wildlife, and are restricted from public use. This area is used primarily for scientific research, to study the movements, behavioral patterns, and populations of the preserve’s wildlife.

The Study

In the fall of 2008, motion sensor cameras were installed in the Buiten Wildlife Sanctuary. The cameras are programed to capture images as movement passes in front of the lens. Immediately after the camera detects activity, a series of pictures are captured, gathering the identity and movement of the animal. Director Van Dragt and the preserve stewards use these images to track the species that call the preserve home. They study the species’ preferred habitat, as well as how the species interact and move between habitats. For example, the population count of white-tailed deer is tracked each year, and the study shows a fluctuation in numbers between years as the deer move in and out of the preserve. These captured images also notify the stewards when new species arrive on the preserve. Coyotes and grey foxes, for example, were first spotted on the preserve in 2008, shortly after the cameras were installed.

turkeys & deer


doe & fawn

Red fox

Caught on Camera

White-tailed deer
Fox squirrels
Wild turkeys
Red foxes
Grey foxes


Cuddeback Capture digital cameras are used for this study. The cameras have a resolution of 3 megapixels, and they can capture pictures as far as 50 feet away.

Each camera is set 4-5 feet above the ground, primarily on tree trunks so the tree movement doesn’t set off the motion sensor.

The shots have a delay of 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the animals’ reactions to the constant flashing.

Do It Yourself

This study is easy to conduct in your own backyard - with the right equipment, you can study the species that call your backyard home!