Bird Buddy

A few years ago I got way into birds. I wouldn’t dare call myself a die-hard birder (yet), but it’s been a lot of fun to learn about the birds that show up in my back yard.

I backed Bird Buddy‘s Kickstarter campaign as soon as I learned that a smart bird feeder was in the works. It was a long journey for the creators, and they diligently kept the project backers up to date with their design and manufacturing status. Who knew buying a bird feeder would teach me so much about supply chains and chip manufacturing?

Eventually the finished product made its way to my house over the winter, but I wasn’t able to install it until the weather got a bit warmer. I set it up right outside my kitchen window so my family could see the birds up close while also making it easy to refill the seed. But I’m reconsidering its location because I feel like it’s not getting as much traffic as my other feeders. More experimentation to follow!

The Bird Buddy with yellow casing with white camera mounted to a window
The Bird Buddy seen through Brad's kitchen window.

The basic gist of the product is amazing: birds show up to the feeder, the Bird Buddy takes video/photos, and the Bird Buddy app notifies you that you have feathered visitors. The whole thing works great and is incredibly enjoyable and pleasant.

These are some of the only notifications I have enabled on my phone, and I think we could all use more bird-related notifications in our lives.

The main birds visiting the feeder are my usual backyard suspects: blue jays, tufted titmice, black-capped-chickadees, and sparrows. But the other day I got this fantastic notification:

Screenshot of Bird Buddy's app that has a notification that reads "Knock, knock! Looks like you've got a new first-time visitor!" with a picture of a Baltimore oriole.

LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL BIRD! It’s exciting to see migratory birds come back north (I’m in western Pennsylvania), and this is where the Bird Buddy really shines. Though I’ve seen exactly two orioles in my back yard in previous seasons, I wouldn’t have seen this oriole because I was away from home. And now that I know they’re in the area, I’m going to set up an oriole feeder since they like like sweet stuff like fruit and nectar. Pretty cool!

The Bird Buddy app design and tone of voice is friendly, though the experience can be a bit clunky at times. The info for each bird species is a bit lacking, but that’s ok because the Merlin app is absolutely incredible for that kind of stuff.

The main thing I definitely don’t feel great about is all of the social stuff. When a bird visits, the app really steers you to share it with the community (though there’s an option to save it to your private collection). That’s fine, but the most eyebrow-raising stuff is around species identification and a live feed of Bird Buddies around the world:

A Bird Buddy live stream of a northern cardinal in Ballwin, US.
A Bird Buddy live stream from Connecticut, US
Screenshot of Bird Buddy's app that says "Know this species?" that shows a bird with someone's house in the background.

On one hand, this is awesome! Crowdsourcing bird identification is cool, and viewing live streams of birds all over the world sounds amazing. But. Those are peoples’ homes and backyards that are being put on display. I definitely am not the most privacy-minded person out there, but this weirds me out. I’ve been poking around the app’s settings, and it’s not super clear if this a default behavior or if it’s something that can be opted out of. I wonder how many other people don’t know cameras on their property can be viewed by random people? I love the idea of community and crowdsourcing, but I’d also love clear and nuanced privacy controls so I can protect my family’s privacy.

So yeah! Overall, I love the concept and general execution of the Bird Buddy. I think it’s going to be really exciting as the finally weather turns and a lot of migratory birds make their way back up north. If the Bird Buddy team makes the privacy controls more robust and/or clear, then I’d definitely recommend it to any wannabe bird-watcher like me.