birdsnap iconBirdsnap uses visual recognition and magic to identify birds in photos taken with your iPhone.

I am a big fan of incorporating technology into my birding adventures. So when I got wind of a new app on the App Store that claims to identify birds just based on pictures, I got extremely excited. A quick search for Birdsnap and the free app began downloading onto my iPhone.

Birdsnap tips the scales at 900MB, so unless you are at home on wifi, you won’t be able to download it. The large size of this app is disappointing to me; I assumed with such a large size, it meant this app could do the bird recognition without a data connection—NOPE. No data, no bird magic.

bird snap reviewThe process

Upon opening the app you are presented with a list of bird species. Each entry provides images, descriptions, similar species, range map, and sightings map. To identify a new bird, you begin by clicking on the camera icon; Birdsnap then displays a camera interface to take a new photo, or you can select an existing photo from your camera roll.

I am going to first talk about using this app with a pre-existing image. To test the capability of this app in the most ideal settings as possible, I imported a few bird photos from my DSLR into it.

Birdsnap first asks you to zoom and center the bird in frame, then tap on the eye, followed by the tail. As it begins processing the image, it does a fancy blurred animation (as shown). It will take a moment to finish the processing, then spits out a bird photos of the species it thinks is shown. I found that with my clear DSLR photos the accuracy was almost 100%. It was able to correctly identify an Acorn Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, American Goldfinch, Crow, Robin. The only species that tripped it up was a Lesser Goldfinch, which I will give a pass to, since it is very similar to the aforementioned bird (which it guessed).

The reality

This is all great and wonderful in theory. In reality, this app is not very useful unless you are lucky and get a close enough to a bird to get a nice, clear photo. The iPhone camera takes great photos if your subject is reasonably close, but, by nature, birds always fleeting and far away. The chances of getting a decent bird shot with your phone is slim, unless you are shooting through a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.

The accuracy of this app diminishes rapidly if your photo isn’t extremely clear. For times like these it’s best to use the Merlin app for field identification.

This kind of technology has huge potential and would be immensely more useful if it were integrated into a DSLR. I prefer to carry as little as possible when birding, so these digital birding companions are what I get most excited about when I think of the future of birding.

Birdsnap is worth a download to play around with, but don’t depend on it, unless you are uploading high-quality photos into it.

Birdsnap (free, 900MB)

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