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.

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