Birding Basics: BirdSnap App

Can the BirdSnap App be a necessary birding basic for all birders, or is it just a fun app to play with?

Rob Ripma

Birding basics can come in a variety of forms. More and more, those basics are coming from advances in technology. At the end of May, a brand new app was released that claimed to be able to identify birds in photographs. I have to admit, the idea is extremely intriguing.  I get many photos sent to me from people that would like help identifying a bird, and I’m sure that they people that I help would love to be able to have a simple and easy-to-use photo identifying app.

The idea is that the same technology that is used for facial recognition software can be applied to identifying birds. There are some restrictions on the type of photo that is needed, such as the photograph being very clear and showing the whole bird from head to tail. You can take a photo with your device (only on Apple products currently) or you can upload a photo that you have taken with another camera. In order to get a photo of a high enough quality that it might be identifiable, I would suggest using a camera other than the one your device has, unless you are digiscoping (using your camera on your device to take photos through a spotting scope).

I spent a long time testing out this app and have had mixed results. I only chose very high quality images that should lead to straightforward identifications. The first photo that I used was of an Osprey, and the app got it right! Next, I tried a more difficult species, a Pine Warbler. The first few options listed were incorrect, but the correct species was suggested farther down the list. The first option given, Bay-breasted Warbler,  made no sense at all.

The app had no trouble identifying this Osprey in my photo.

The app had no trouble identifying this Osprey in my photo.

I tested a wide variety of photos with varying results, and in the end, the first option that BirdSnap provided correctly identified about 30% of the photos that I used. If you include all instances where the correct species is listed in the final results somewhere in the list, the percentage of correctly identified images jumps to over 75%.

Flycatchers tend to be more difficult to identify and BirdSnap has some trouble with this one. Acadian Flycatcher was not listed among the 6 species that were suggested.

Flycatchers tend to be more difficult to identify and BirdSnap has some trouble with this one. Acadian Flycatcher was listed in the results but was lower on the list.

Overall, I think that this is a useful app for working on identifying birds in your backyard, and it could be a good tool beyond that, but I do have some doubts. The quality of the photo makes a big difference in the quality of the results, so you have to be sure to get a great photo of the bird that you would like to identify. That said, I did have a lot of fun seeing if I could get the app to correctly identify the images that I used in testing.

BirdSnap is free in the App Store, and I suggest that everyone download it and give it a try. It’s a very interesting app with a lot of potential to be a useful birding basic tool, but I recommend being cautious about accepting definitive results/identifications from it.

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