These Smart Devices Make Bird Watching Better

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Birds were never my thing until I spent the morning in a friend’s garden, watching the hundreds of birds swarming her bird feeders. I immediately bought four feeders and constructed the buffet of any bird’s dreams, which has only grown over time. For a few years, I would just watch them come and go, or listen to them sing, but I never had any idea of what I was watching. This year, with the help of smart tech, I have really upped my game—and it’s made birding so much more fun. 

Birdsong AI will identify birds in your area

Plenty of apps will Shazam your local birds’ tweets. The best-reviewed app by most birders is BirdNET, out of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s available on Android and Apple, and best of all, it’s free. It also appears that many other apps rely on BirdNET as the data backbone. Cornell Lab has their own app, called Merlin, which is also free and has a slightly slicker interface. Merlin relies solely on Cornell data sources and BirdNET brings in additional data sources, so it has a bigger library to work with. Both of these use AI to pair the birdsong you direct the phone at with the libraries’ resources to ID the source. While there are other apps, like ChirpOMatic ($۳.۹۹), they aren’t free and aren’t nearly as well reviewed.  

Still, these apps require you to have your phone, open the app and aim the phone in the direction of the song, all before the bird stops singing. I recently installed Haikubox ($۲۴۹ including first-year membership) in my yard,  which listens passively, all the time.  Haikubox looks like a small power brick you keep plugged in. It’s weatherproof, so you just leave it in your yard. The app records the birdsong, identifies it and then delivers notifications and reports on the birds in your yard to your phone. While Haikubox isn’t the slickest hardware or software out there (it requires two apps, one for reporting, one for updating; the UI isn’t very clear and sharing isn’t well developed), it is incredibly engaging. Within moments of setup, I was receiving recordings of individual hummingbirds and pine siskins, which I expected. But sounds I had not pinned down before suddenly had an ID and the updates have often made me run to the window or door to see if I could find the source of the song.  Haikubox also relies on BirdNET and a combination of machine learning and AI. While the data is easy to download for your own uses, if you want to keep your IDs and recordings for more than a few hours, you’ll need to pay for a subscription ($۶۰ a year).

Smart birdhouses get you up close and personal

My favorite birdhouse is one that attaches to a window; I can see it from my work desk. It’s clear, and scrub jays stop by for the mealworms I leave. Unfortunately, so do squirrels. A better solution for close up engagement is a smart birdhouse, the most well known of which is Bird Buddy, which won an innovation award at CES this year. I installed the latest version of the Bird Buddy last week, with a solar roof ($299). The cost of the birdhouse isn’t the only expenditure, it comes with a hook to hang the feeder, but if you’ve got squirrels, that’s an absolute no-go. I purchased a pole and squirrel baffle to mount the birdhouse and create a squirrel-proof zone. It took a week, but I was rewarded with my first visitors over the last few days. Bird Buddy has a well-developed app that allows you to get a live view of your own camera, or will deliver notifications of any visitors to your birdhouse with ID, recorded video and photos, all of which are made for sharing. While you wait, you can also tune into bird houses around the globe.  

There are plenty of other smart birdhouses, including Birdfy ($۲۴۹), which also debuted at CES this year. Birdfy has a broader-angle camera than Bird Buddy, and a detachable battery pack, which might make it easier to charge than the Bird Buddy. Both have solar panels, so charging shouldn’t be much of an issue. 

Bird Buddy also has a hummingbird feeder coming out this August on pre-order ($359) which I’m eager to test; hummingbirds are one of the most entertaining birds to have in the garden, but hard to capture on film. 

Sadly, none of these apps remind you to clean your bird feeder, which is non-negotiable unless you want to spread disease among the local bird population, so you’ll need to set up recurring reminders on your calendar. Depending on the weather, you may want to be cleaning your feeder at least every two weeks; when it’s hot out, you need to change hummingbird feeders every day. 

You can buy custom bird seed for your area

Bird seed, it turns out, is not cheap and you’ll be surprised how quickly your local flock starts to go through the buffet. There are likely local birding stores, and you should visit them, because for all the smart tech around, they’ll know your local avian population better than anyone, and will know exactly what they want to eat. I was also charmed to find Happy Bird Watcher, which makes custom blends of seeds based on your zip code and ships them to you on a regular schedule. 

Smart coops are here, too

Most people with chicken or duck flocks already have doors on their coops that open and close with the sun. Now, however, you can finally get a smart coop. The Smart Coop has cameras, feeders and doors that all report back to you via an app. You can get an entire setup including the coop and run for $1995, the coop for $1695, or just pick up the door and cameras for $399.99 and install them on a coop you have. 

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