Summer’s BIGGEST disappointment? Why I can’t recommend Bird Buddy smart bird feeder + camera

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Erin Lawrence

How much attention do you pay to what’s happening in your yard? There’s a whole world happening out there, and you probably don’t see most of it. But you could… that’s where something like a camera-enabled, app-connected bird feeder comes in. If this sounds like expensive overkill, well, yeah, it is. But it also has the potential to be really fun. I recently got the Bird Buddy feeder from husband Roger as a gift, so in this review, I’ll put it to the test; we’ll look at what it’s like to set up and install, how well the camera works, and how long the battery lasts. Maybe most importantly, I’ll show you what kind of wildlife I saw during my 4 weeks with it and if the supposed AI bird identification works or not. A bit of a heads-up; while this feeder seems fun and educational, it is very expensive for what you get, and I found it has a lot of shortcomings… but are they enough to make it feel cheep… I’ll peck away at the pros and cons to get you a final decision.

Bird Buddy smart bird feeder with camera
2.5

Summary

Bird Buddy as a concept is a great idea. The execution is where it falls flat for me and there are enough downsides and cut corners that I can’t recommend it. Learn why I think you should probably wait for a Generation 2 version of Bird Buddy.

Pros

  • Beautiful design
  • Image quality is good, even at only HD
  • Lots of sharing options

Cons

  • No birdseed/sample included
  • Small seed holder
  • Hard/Awkward refilling
  • Base tray is too big and open; prone to birds overfeeding
  • Videos only in 720 HD, unless you pay more
  • All plastic parts feels cheap
  • No water drainage in bottom tray
  • Live connection takes too long
  • No SD card option: cloud recording only
  • Very expensive for what you actually get

The Internet of Things has its digital claws on virtually everything these days! On one corner you have all the big and small electronics you use in your household ranging from smart speakers to smart faucets. Then you also have various Internet-connected gadgets for outside your home like smart sprinklers and even bird feeders. Yup, folks thought it was a good idea to add some smarts to a bird feeder! In fact, searching for one on Amazon yields tons of results from all sorts of brands you have probably never heard of. The problem? Smart bird feeders cost at least $100 or roughly six times the price of an ordinary bird feeder so you really need to make sure you invest on a trustworthy product. The Bird Buddy Smart Feeder + Camera looks to play that part earning awards from CES, SXSW, and Kickstarter. Let’s see how it performs and if it is worth shelling out at least $239 USD over.

What is a “Smart” Bird Feeder?

Bird Buddy

What are you getting with a ‘smart’ bird feeder?

In essence the Bird Buddy is a device to spot and identify birds that come to the feeder, using everyone’s favourite buzzwords; Artificial Intelligence or AI.

Watch my full review & see the video

Smart bird feeders are basically bird feeders equipped with a camera module and a wireless connection chip allowing you to get an intimate look at birds chowing down on your birdseed buffet. Bird Buddy, like some other more expensive bird feeders also have companion apps which use AI to try to identify the bird for you. These feeders are battery-powered and have some type of motion detection too, which will activate the camera whenever it detects a bird. Finally, smart bird feeders must be weather-resistant to protect the electronics from rain and other conditions.

When you factor in the camera, battery, sensors, plus app development and do a bit of math, you can realize there’s a lot that goes into a smart feeder, but it also gives you a lot more too.

Bird Buddy: Unboxing and Setup

Bird Buddy

The Bird Buddy comes in a nice package, but there’s not much inside; you get the removable camera unit on top which is actually quite large and fat. Underneath there is the feeder unit itself and a small cup to fill it with.

The construction is all plastic but the design is nice and modern with a narrow feed container behind clear plastic. There’s a divot in there to slip in the camera which stays in place thanks to the housing’s built-in magnet.

The Bird Buddy’s recyclable plastic housing is supposed to be weatherproof and feels both light and pretty solid but how well the housing will hold up after a few years could depend on your environment.

Also included in the package is a universal mount with screws, and a metal hanger hook and rope. If you want to wall mount you must purchase a wall mount separately ($39 USD, unless you go for the Pro package which comes with other accessories like a solar roof for recharging, and suet ball holder.)
What you don’t get

I was surprised however at what you don’t get: birdseed is not included. While I wasn’t expecting a 5 pound bag of sunflower seeds, I was actually hoping for a small sample bag so that we could get started luring birds right away, but as it was, we had to wait until we could get to a store to buy some. For the price of Bird Buddy, I’d love to see a very small sample of birdseed included in the package so people can fill it right away while they source out more birdseed.

Speaking of value for price, I’m also quite surprised at how small the seed-holding capacity of this birdfeeder is. The bin can store around 3.8 cups or 0.9 liters worth of bird seed which should last several weeks depending on the season.

Which means you will want to place it somewhere where it is easily accessible to you, because you are going to be filling it up all the time. This was a small con for me right out of the gate.

To get started, you should fully charge the camera with the included USB-C cable which connects to the top of the camera module. For waterproofing it is covered with a small silicone stopper. The stopper does not have any type of anchor so don’t misplace it. I will say I think this is a cheap design choice: Most silicone stoppers when placed in the top of a unit that will be outdoors have a lanyard that permanently connect them so you can always ensure the cover will stay protected. Another small corner cut.

Next, download the Bird Buddy app from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store so you can immediately connect the module to your Wi-Fi. Connecting your Bird Buddy to your Wi-Fi early can help you figure out where to place your Bird Buddy as the feeder cannot function without an Internet connection. The app will help you stay within Wi-Fi range.

You also need to create a Bird Buddy account through the app as the photos and videos the camera takes go directly to the cloud, with an option to download too.

Once you have mounted the Bird Buddy within range of your router on the 2.4 GHz band, you can then add the bird seed by opening the latch on the back of the feeder.

Specs and Features Using Bird Buddy Feeder

With the feeder set up and connected I was ready to go. The first order of business is to fill the seed container, and again I was frustrated. There is a small door in the top of the back of the feeder which opens up. There is absolutely no way to get anything in there without making a mess. I suppose this is why there is a cup with a spout included, and in truth this did help the process, but there are still several problems. One is that the back plate of the feeder slides up and down, and if you’re not careful, you’ll spill seed out the back. The other way you’re going to spill this is that in order for you to use the cup to fill the feeder, you have to tilt it forward a bit, which then allows all the seed that’s fallen into the tray at the bottom of the feeder so spill over the front.

I am actually really frustrated with how poorly designed this is. This feeder has one job and that is to hold birdseed to feed the birds. But there’s no good efficient way to fill it and not waste a whole bunch of seed in the process. Major thumbs down.

Waiting period

With the feeder finally full and settled out in the yard I was hoping to be flooded with bird sightings. For me it took almost a full week before I got my first notification. I can’t blame this on Bird Buddy since there’s probably a waiting period before the birds figure out what’s on the menu in your yard. But you might want to scale back your expectations.

App is clunky, cluttered and confusing

The Bird Buddy app should begin sending you notifications. The app will record any sightings and store both video and photos buy you’ll get push notifications also.

Unfortunately the easy account setup is where the fun with the app ended. The app is extremely cluttered and busy, and it’s very hard to figure out how to access your feeder.

There are six tabs along the bottom of the app and the icons don’t make much sense. There’s a Mailbox or Inbox (also known as History) which allows you to connect to other feeders around the world until you start seeing birds of your own. Once you have some sightings, you will see your snapshots here, but be warned, you only get them for 7 days.

Next to that is two squares which stands for “Collection” which is actually where your own photos that you SAVE should show up. Then there is a TV icon which apparently allows you to also connect to other feeders around the world. Next stop is a person symbol which is supposed to represent “Community. The last tab on the bottom is the traditional Settings gear.

I will say there is a lot of overlap here among these tabs, and understanding the intricacies and subtle differences of what you get between each tab is not made clear.

How to view the stream from your Bird Buddy feeder

For the most part you’re going to want to access the Settings gear which is where you will find your own personal feeder.

Under the Settings tab you should see your own feeder at the top of the screen. It will display whether it is connected and ready for birds, as well as its existing battery life. You basically have one option; ‘Start Livestream’. It takes at least a minute in most cases to connect to the livestream, which is another frustration; if you spot a bird on the feeder and want a closer look, there’s a good chance it’s flown the coop by the time the connection is made.

When the Bird Buddy first released to Kickstarter backers and early customers, many complained about the buggy app experience. Fortunately, Bird Buddy continues to make rapid apps to their mobile apps resolving those issues. The app is pretty reliable in sending out push notifications whenever a bird is detected. AI recognition is hit or miss and it’s a cool thing to see when the app correctly identifies the bird species. But of course, even the most advanced AI is prone to errors so you can’t expect any smart bird feeder product to get the bird species right each and every time.

Camera & image quality

Bird Buddy

What separates the Bird Buddy from most of the other cheaper smart bird feeders is its 5-megapixel camera module with a 120-degree field of view. Even so, you’re only getting an HD camera here; nothing high-resolution.

Megapixels alone don’t measure camera quality but at first glance, the Bird Buddy camera takes clear and vivid photos. Videos record at 720p and unfortunately, you need to go for a Pro subscription which costs about $15 a year to unlock 1080p recording.

This is another example of Bird Buddy cutting a corner, hoping to get more money from you. Most video doorbells or wireless home security cameras are 1080p, so it feels like a bit of a gouge to pay more for better resolution.

But let’s get to the goods about overall photo and video quality: It’s actually really good. The photos are clear and sharp and while they do lack some finer definition, it’s quite easy to see and identify the birds.

You’ll get both still photos and videos of any interactions, which lets you get a bit more detail and see different angles.

Yet another corner cut: videos and photos ‘expire’

As I was going through some of my footage I was kind of surprised to see several had flags that they would be expiring in one day. Just 7 days after I had installed the feeder I was already losing access to what limited footage I had. It is possible to save these to your own personal collection, but even so I’m pretty annoyed that that’s all the runway I get.

AI identification: excellent accuracy

If you’re not ornithologist (a person who studies birds and I am definitely not) you never have to wonder what’s landing at your feeder. Bird Buddy uses artificial intelligence to identify the birds for you and it seems quite accurate, at least from my limited knowledge.

In my 4 weeks with Bird Buddy I am disappointed I didn’t see any exotic birds, but I did get a lot of sparrows and mourning doves, so beyond those I can’t speak to how well it identifies a bigger array of species.

Bird Buddy Community

The other thing you can do with your feeder is share your photos or videos with the wider Bird Buddy Community. Not only can you enable access to your snaps, but you can view other people’s captures or live feeds too. If you’re truly into birding, this is a great way to connect with your people.

Lots of Sharing options

With both the photos and videos you capture from your bird buddy you can save them to your phone, save them to your collection, as well as share them with a wider audience using text, email or more.

New species alerts on repeat and more features you can’t use

Many times in my inbox feed I would see that photos have been tagged with “new species” since more often than not the “new species” that showed up in my feed was either a sparrow or a dove, I was confused at why it was constantly being tagged as a new species. I think this “new species” designation actually means, “new bird-mail”, since it seemed to apply to photos and videos I hadn’t seen yet.

You can choose to ‘ignore’ certain common species if you want, so you only get alerts for something truly new or exotic. Of course, as is becoming common, this is a feature you can only use with the Pro plan.

Optional Features

Bird Buddy

Bird Buddy sells two other variants of its smart bird feeder for those willing to pay a bit more for convenience. The most popular variant is the one that comes with a solar roof which is a handy accessory to have if you don’t have a nearby power outlet and don’t want to recharge the camera module every 1 to 2 weeks. This bundle costs $299 USD so you save about $20 compared to buying the solar roof separately. But since the bird feeder relies on USB-C power, you could set up your own solar panel arrangement or use backup power to keep the feeder charged.

Finally, you can buy the Bird Buddy Pro Bundle up front, which also includes the solar roof along with a 3-in-1 nutrition set, suet ball holder, and perch extender.

Cloud recording only: no SD card option

Smart bird feeders are a fun but niche category to explore which makes Bird Buddy a potential risk for those who might be on the fence with its high asking price. My main concern with the product is its complete reliance on the cloud. The company behind the product isn’t a major brand and they had to rely on Kickstarter backers to get the product off the ground and it had a rocky launch. On top of that, Bird Buddy restricts several features to a Pro subscription including 1080p video and a high-performance mode that uses more battery to take more photos along with guest invites. This is understandable considering the high costs of maintaining servers, but it does open up the possibility of the Bird Buddy turning into an ordinary bird feeder if the company shuts down due to shifting sales or reduced paid subscriber count. Company shutdowns have happened before with smart home companies like Insteon and iHome.

Not all smart bird feeders have this issue because some have built-in storage or an SD card slot for local video storage. On the official Bird Buddy FAQ page, the company may explore local storage in the future so a lot of what you are paying for is on trust that the product and service will improve.

Poorly designed feeder

As someone who’s had a few bird feeders out in the yard, I’m no expert, but there are a few things in the design of this one that make me believe it’s poorly designed, just as a basic feeder.
For one, the hanging hook is awkward to place, and it moves around a lot, making the feeder quite unstable. On the flip side, the bottom isn’t flat, so you can’t really place it on a table or a pedestal and have it stay put. While you could use the included post adapter for a more stable placement, of course you would have to go and find the right size pole or an old broom handle.

Other design flaws; the base tray is massive, allowing copious amounts of seed to fill it, so the greedier birds have a field day feasting on what is essentially an open buffet. In a future re-design, I’d like to see some kind of a grid over it that can limit access to the already small amount of seed here. The roof also appears in every shot in the top corners.

You could possibly say this is for branding so that it’s easy to know which feeder the videos are from, but it’s the kind of thing that takes the focus away from the birds.

Battery life

At this point it feels like I’m kicking the birds while they’re down, but the battery life on this feeder is also extremely lackluster. On a full charge I was only able to get about 10 days used before I needed to recharge it. Doing that is easy enough since you can pop the camera module out and take it indoors, but 10 days is a pretty paltry amount of battery and I can absolutely see folks growing weary of the constant recharging and just giving up. Naturally, Bird Buddy wants you to pay for its solar recharger of course but if you’re already frustrated about having spent so much on the feeder this is not an ideal solution.

Final Thoughts

Bird Buddy

Overall, Bird Buddy as a concept is a great idea. The execution is where it falls flat for me and there are enough downsides and cut corners that I can’t recommend it. Let’s go over the pros and cons, and when you see the list all lined up here, you’ll understand why I think you should probably wait for a Generation 2 version of Bird Buddy.

Let’s start with the pros… I absolutely love the design, and I think it’s truly beautiful. The modern look is definitely what drew me to this feeder. I was also rather surprised and impressed with the quality of the photos and videos. Birds can be notoriously hard to capture with their flirting and zooming in and out, but the camera module seems to do a really good job at only sending the best images to my phone.

On the downside, there’s so much to talk about; how small the seed container is, how open and accessible the base tray is and how poorly designed the feeder itself seems, how absolutely awkward it is to refill the seed container, the short battery life, or perhaps the lack of a 1080p high definition option you don’t have to pay extra for. The live connection takes a long time even when the feeder is closest to my router, and of course the entire system is reliant on Bird Buddy’s proprietary cloud system with no option for local recording with a memory card. The mounting options are very limited, again unless you want to pay more, and the feeder won’t sit on flat surfaces. Plus I’m not sure the all-plastic build could withstand falling from its swingy hook in a windstorm.

For the very high price tag a sample bag of seed should be part of the package to keep the excitement of unboxing going. Overall, I don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth, so if this is something you are eyeing, I would recommend you wait for a future generation and what I hope would be some significant improvements. I also saw some competition at CES 2024 and I’m looking forward to checking out the other options that are out there so be sure to watch for some of those reviews later this year.

Bird Buddy sells for about 4249 US and you can find it on Amazon.

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