Tech: Birdsnap Smartphone App

Earlier today I found out about a new app that claims it can ID birds from photos.

Birdsnap, a collaboration between Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, was just released a few days ago on the iTunes store.  As of this writing, it is only available for iPhone 5/5(s) devices.

So, I downloaded the free app on my phone and tested it out taking photos of my computer screen.  Maybe not the best way to test it but it is evening currently and is supposed to rain all weekend, so I was left with no other choice.

To start the matching process, you either take a photo or find one on your phone.  Then the app asks you to tap the area where the eye(s) are and then again near the tail.  After 10-15 seconds of thinking, you should get a result.

I first tested it by taking photos of 5 birds that, while not rare, are not your typical backyard birds.  (Chipping Sparrow, Cerulean Warbler, Snowy Egret, Marsh Wren, and Vermillion Flycatcher).

I was very pleasantly surprised to find it matched all 5 on the first attempt.

Well.... how about shorebirds, sparrows, and fall warblers?  The birds that give people the most problems.

Not bad....  but could use some work.

  •  Least Sandpiper - Nailed it on first attempt
  •  Hudsonian Godwit - Kept misidentifying as Marbled Godwit.  Still a good guess considering the photo is of a drab Hudsonian Godwit.
  • Blackpoll Warbler (fall) - Misidentified as Cape May Warbler on first attempt.   Tried a new photo and could not ID at all.  
  • Blackburnian Warbler (fall) - Nailed it first attempt.
  • Leconte's Sparrow - Misidentified as Grasshopper Sparrow.  Second attempt with new photo also misidentified as Grasshopper Sparrow.  LeConte's appears to be in the database, so this species might need more work.
The app's user interface is reasonably well designed.  I was able to open it and start navigating right away, but I can see some areas where people who don't use phone apps very often could get overwhelmed.

My only real issue with the app is it's size.  At 899mb, this app will eat up lots of space on your phone and anyone who keeps a large collection of music or videos on their phone might not have space for it.  I assume the large size is needed for all the photos within the app, but it could be an issue for some people.

I'm definitely interested in seeing where this app goes.  It seems to be strong for a first release and could be a very good app for novice to intermediate birders or birders outside of their usual birding ranges.  However, the early problems with some of the harder to ID birds makes me hesitant to recommend it to birders who can recognize most birds on their own and are looking for something to help.  

They appear to have an area on their website where people can offer input and even volunteer to help improve their software.  

I'll have to play with this app for a few more weeks and review it again after some real world testing.


Tech: Submitting sightings to eBird using Birdlog

I've been entering my bird sightings into eBird since I started birding back in 2006.  I found it was an easy way to log and track all my sightings while also benefitting science.

However, I always ran into a couple of problems:

  • Sitting down and entering my sightings into eBird could be frustrating since I had to manually enter everything I had already written down previously in my journal.  Entering the location, time, and all the sightings could take 5-10 minutes per location.  If you had visited a half dozen locations, entering those sightings could take 30+ minutes.
  • All that required time led me to ignore sightings that I didn't feel were worthwhile or didn't include some sort of sighting that would boost one of my many lists.
  • To save time, I would just select the closest eBird Hotspot (within reason) and enter the sightings for there, instead of creating a new spot.  Even worse, I frequently entered a sighting just using the city or county function, which really didn't benefit science at all.
Fast forward a few years and I discovered the Birdlog app for iPhone.

Now, when I arrive at a birding location, I just open the app and can either quickly select the Hotspot by GPS if it already exists or quickly create a new one within a minute or two and begin birding.

If the birding is slow or I am checking out a pond/marsh/mudflat I will usually enter the sightings as I go.  If the birding is good and I don't want to miss something, I just enter the sightings every 5-10 minutes and then go through it adding to the list and finalizing the totals at the end or when there is a chunk of downtime.

Paul Hurtado at the Mostly Birds Blog has some great tips on using Birdlog.

Birdlog has resulted in my eBird sightings becoming far more accurate and useful while allowing me to spend more time watching birds and less time reporting them.


News: JFK Airport Contractors kill over 26,000 birds, including over 1,600 that are protected.

According to a report from the Huffington Post:

Wildlife control contractors have shot almost 26,000 birds at John F. Kennedy International Airport over the past five years to stop them interfering with passenger flights — including more than 1,600 protected birds the airport did not have express permission to kill, internal records show....