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Bird Buddy Review: This Smart Bird Feeder Captures Your Backyard Birds on Camera

Bird Buddy uses AI to identify the birds in your yard -- and it's pretty cool.

8.4

Bird Buddy Smart Bird Feeder

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Like

  • A ton of fun
  • Easy setup
  • Simple design
  • Great photos

Don't Like

  • A bit expensive
  • Some functions are a bit slow

Throughout the pandemic, bird-watching boomed. So it makes sense that a smart bird feeder has followed.

Bird Buddy, which is the most-funded Kickstarter campaign ever in the gadgets category, takes pictures of birds, identifies the species and builds a personal collection for you in its mobile app. Since the product launched in 2020, it's had trouble staying in stock, though feeders are now shipping to people worldwide who backed Bird Buddy's Kickstarter campaign or who preordered. 

I got the opportunity to do some hands-on testing to see what the project's backers are getting and what you can get if you preorder one (they're still back-ordered, but are expected to ship in April). Despite its high starting price of $199, I recommend Bird Buddy to bird-watching enthusiasts and newbies interested in an easy-to-use gadget that delivers crisp photos and will change the way you look at birds.

What is a Bird Buddy?

Bird Buddy is a small birdhouse with a detachable, rechargeable battery and camera module that takes pictures of and identifies the birds that visit your feeder. It's made of clear and colored (blue or yellow) plastic and has a cute, cartoony look to match the cartoon birds that act as mascots in the app.

A red house finch.

My Bird Buddy captured a photo of this curious house finch.

Andrew Blok/CNET

Bird Buddy's main attraction is the ease with which it allows you to capture good-quality photos and video of backyard birds. Its five-megapixel camera streams video in 720p. (Bird Buddy says it'll be able to stream 1080p at some point.) You can live stream the video or have Birdy Buddy send you images of birds shortly after their visits. Bird Buddy currently doesn't have internal storage, so to view the photos, you need to connect the birdhouse to Wi-Fi. This is for close-to-home bird feeding, not whimsical wilderness wildlife monitoring. (You're better off with a trail cam for that.)

A magnet and small bolt holds the camera/battery module in the feeder. The feeder itself has an easy-to-fill reservoir and a perch that generally gets birds at a great distance for photographs with engaging and slightly goofy angles.

The base kit (currently $199) comes with a bird feeder and a rope for hanging it, and a mount for attaching it to flat surfaces. It has plenty of add-ons for purchase, too. Most notably, perhaps, is a $70 solar roof that extends battery life. You can also get a wall mount ($24), a water feeder ($22) or a suet ball holder ($14), which should attract different types of birds.

Bird Buddy bird feeder.

There are other mounting options, but the included rope was handy and stood up to squirrels leaping onto the feeder.

Andrew Blok/CNET

Setting up your Bird Buddy

Assembling your Bird Buddy feeder is intuitive and easy, and the app does a good job of walking you through setting up the smart features. It takes a few minutes, but I had no problems establishing my account and connecting to Wi-Fi. The part that took the longest was choosing a spot to hang it close enough to my Wi-Fi router and likely to attract the visitors I wanted.

Squirrel-proofing bird feeders is a pastime probably as old as bird feeding itself. Bird Buddy representatives told me they're not concerned with thwarting squirrels (a truly difficult task) and that they've heard from some Bird Buddy users that squirrel watching has become an unexpected perk. To avoid squirrels, I hung mine by the included cord from a hook on my front porch.

(A squirrel did reach the feeder after an acrobatic leap. It hung on to the wildly swinging feeder for a few seconds before abandoning its plan. Bird Buddy was fine.)

Testing out the Bird Buddy

There aren't many smart bird feeders on the market, so I was testing Bird Buddy without a reference point to other similar products. My experience with it was overwhelmingly positive, though, and it knocks its stated goals out of the park.

A close up of the Bird Buddy camera module.

Bird Buddy's camera and battery module can be easily removed to charge.

Andrew Blok/CNET

The short version is that Bird Buddy helped me see backyard birds in a new and entertaining way, all with an easy and fun interface, while also providing a bit of a community experience.

I've had the Bird Buddy hanging on my porch for over a month now. It joined three other feeders that have been up (and in sporadic use) for much longer. While it's hard to tell for sure, the Bird Buddy seems to be attracting birds at about the same rate as the other feeders. Likewise, it doesn't seem to be any more or less messy than the others, though I tested neither point empirically.

As a bird feeder, it's easy to use. A small door on the back opens and makes a funnel to fill the seed reservoir that you can easily fill using the included cup. Then Bird Buddy gets to work.

Bird Buddy sends you in-app "postcards" whenever a bird visits and its camera captures a photo or video worth sending. You can choose to keep or discard the photos, and share them publicly through the app or keep them private.

You can also proactively live stream the feed from your Bird Buddy, though then it won't take photos. Streaming live video will drain your Bird Buddy camera faster than it would otherwise, and battery length has been a bit of an issue. It can also take up to 2 minutes to start a live stream. When I tried to start streams after seeing birds visiting the feeder, they had often left before it started up. 

A house sparrow photographed by Bird Buddy.

House sparrows: They're just like us. Bird Buddy caught this messy eater.

Andrew Blok/CNET

When I first set Bird Buddy up, the battery needed recharging a couple times a week. When the camera is busy taking pictures of lots of birds, the battery drains quickly. This was also during a period of time when temperatures were near zero, which may have had an effect. (Bird Buddy says the camera can safely operate down to -5 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Bird Buddy has since updated its software to have the camera enter a "deep sleep" mode during the night. This appears to have extended the battery life considerably, a good thing since Bird Buddy said that improved battery life was one of its most requested improvements. I've had the update live for a little over a week and the battery only needed charging once after a week of fairly steady use.

Identifying birds with Bird Buddy

Bird Buddy takes surprisingly crisp photos. As it sinks in just how many quality photos of my frequent visitors I now have, I've gotten picky with the photos I keep. Instead of discarding just the occasional blurry one, I'll toss great photos that duplicate ones I've already saved. Even when I'm deleting photos of birds I've seen a dozen times before, the close-ups of these tiny fluffs make me happy.

A black capped chickadee as captured by the Bird Buddy.

Chickadees are as cute up close as you'd expect, this Bird Buddy photo shows.

Andrew Blok/CNET

For every image it captures, Bird Buddy uses artificial intelligence to identify the birds in the pictures. I've only tested it out on three species -- a black-capped chickadee, a house sparrow and a house finch -- but it's done a good job. It's messed up one obvious one, but other than that it's only confused a house finch for a purple finch, a genuinely tricky distinction to make.

When it thinks it can't make an identification, it'll label the bird as a "mystery visitor." You can then identify these yourself, or send them to an expert who will return an identification right in the app. I did this with the house finch that had been identified as a purple finch. I got an answer back in under 48 hours.

You can also share your Bird Buddy with up to three people. Guests have to create an account and enter a unique code, but then they'll be able to view any images captured from the time they connect. They are not able to start a live stream (a good move for security purposes) or view older images (there may be a good reason for this, but I don't know it). It's still definitely an added value. There's something nice about having a hyperlocal connection with someone over a distance. 

You can view Bird Buddy photos from feeders around the world, and can also get a taste of that with Bird Buddy's public, real-time tracker of sightings.

Final thoughts

Bird Buddy knocks it out of the park. It delivers on what it promises and then some. While the novelty will certainly wear off, I'm sure I'll still be glad to have it in another few months or years, even more so if I lived somewhere I could attract a wider variety of birds.

Earlier this month, Bird Buddy announced a hummingbird feeder. If seeing sparrows and chickadees close-up is fun, getting to see hummingbirds that close is going to be even more so.

Bird Buddy sent me a unit to test. The $200 price tag feels a little steep to me, though I would guess that everyone's valuation of the Bird Buddy experience varies. I didn't test the solar roof, but if it keeps the battery topped up, it would be a welcome addition.

All in all, it's a great gadget that brings birds closer in a new and fun way.