“This bird feeder camera makes me feel like I am the bird whisperer and the birds are eating out of the palm of my hand.”
Smart bird feeders take your birdwatching game to a whole new level, bringing you eye-to-eye with your favorite birds and delighting kids and adults alike.
In this article, we offer 10 tips for choosing the best smart bird feeder for your needs.
What is a smart bird feeder?
A smart bird feeder is a hopper-type bird feeder with a security camera, microphone and speaker built into it. The "smarts" come from the app you install on your phone.
The bird feeder uses the app to send a notification to your phone when a bird (or squirrel) arrives. The app also tries to identify the bird.
Using the app you can:
- Watch and listen to birds in real time, very close up
- Save photos and short videos of your bird
- Share the video stream with several others so they can watch too
- Activate a light or sound to scare squirrels or other wildlife off
- Select the camera settings you prefer
How much does a smart bird feeder cost?
You can find camera-equipped bird feeders for “cheep” (under $100), but don’t waste your money. Those feeders don’t offer the features that make smart bird feeders so much fun.
You should expect to pay between $150 and $300 USD for one of the best smart bird feeders.
That probably sounds like a lot for a bird feeder, but remember that it's not really the actual bird feeder you're paying for.
What you're really buying is the opportunity to get closer to a wild bird than you ever could in person.
But with so many smart bird feeders available, how do you find the right one for your needs?
Note: As an affiliate of Amazon and other vendors, we earn from qualifying purchases.
10 tips for choosing the best smart bird feeder
1. Consider convenience
Smart bird feeder cameras are mostly battery powered and use WiFi to communicate with your phone, but there are a few that aren't. Are you willing to run a power line to the feeder, or take the camera out every few days to charge for several hours?
If not, you should look for a smart bird feeder with WiFi connectivity and a solar panel.
2. Think about how often you want to refill
Seed capacity varies from about 3.5 cups (one liter) to about 9.5 cups (2.7 liters). If you're feeding large numbers of birds, you'll probably want to get one of the larger smart bird feeders.
3. Pick a good location
You'll need to find a spot that receives a good WiFi signal, or boost your signal strength with a WiFi repeater.
If you're counting on solar power to keep the battery going, you'll need to position your smart feeder's solar panel where it will get several hours of direct light each day.
4. Consider the squirrels
The best smart bird feeders are pretty sturdy, but they are not squirrel-resistant at all.
In fact, most have large perches and quite large feeding ports and seed trays as you can see in this image of the BROAIMX feeder (click to enlarge).
Pretty much a squirrel buffet, right?
If squirrels are a problem, you'll need to plan around them. (Check out these fool-proof squirrel busting tips.)
5. Check out the setup process
Even the best smart bird feeders don't function right out of the box.
At the very least, you'll need to:
- Charge the camera
- Download an app to your phone
- Connect camera and app via your WiFi
You may also need to do a little assembly, such as attaching the perch to the feeder, connecting a solar panel cord to the camera, and installing a microSD card.
Once you find the right location, you'll need a screwdriver to attach the mounting bracket to a solid support, and perhaps attach a connector to the body of the feeder.
If you don't do well with technology and/or tools, you may want to line up some handy help to get you started.
(Note: Many smart bird feeders come with a strap for holding the feeder to a tree. We don't recommend using it because they tend to come loose.)
6. Make sure it's weatherproof
The best smart bird feeders are IP65 waterproof, which means the camera will remain watertight even if your kids get crazy with the hose and aim a jet of water right at it. (IP stands for Ingress Protection.)
Note: An IP65 camera will stand up to the worst weather and will also keep dust and debris out, but will probably leak if submerged in water, so don't dunk it while you're cleaning it.
7. Look at the options for storing images
Do you want to save your own videos and photos, or will you be happy with online cloud storage?
Many, but not all, smart bird feeders can accommodate a microSD card for storing your videos and photos right in the camera. Some include an SD card in the price and some don't.
Many also offer internet cloud storage with Amazon Web Services or the vendor's own cloud service.
Make sure you check out any restrictions: most companies limit the time your images can be stored and also limit how much data you can save.
Bargain-priced smart bird feeders often don't offer any image capture at all, meaning you're limited to seeing the live feed only.
8. Will you need a monthly subscription?
Some of the best smart bird feeders require an inexpensive monthly subscription to use their AI (artificial intelligence) features or to capture longer video segments.
This might be an issue if you want to gift a smart bird feeder to someone on a fixed income (unless you decide to pay for the subscription too.)
9. Choose the features that suit your needs
Pay attention to the camera features as the camera controls what you'll see.
The best smart bird feeders have a wide angle lens, which means you'll see more of the perch and also more of the area around the feeder. (Handy for keeping an eye on the kids!)
Night vision is great for low light conditions - early dawn or late dusk -but you may not need it if there's already a bright light, such as a streetlight, near the feeder.
Most smart bird feeders with night vision use infrared which delivers images in tones of gray, but a couple have full color night vision.
Some also let you adjust the camera tilt which is handy if you find that smaller birds don't get close enough for a clear image.
Optional add-ons like solar power, a larger perch or feeders for nectar, fruit and suet are available for certain smart bird feeders for an extra charge. These are usually priced better as bundles than individual pieces.
10. Don't plan on tossing your bird guide
Artificial Intelligence - the "smarts" of a smart bird feeder app - is very much a work in progress when it comes to bird recognition.
A couple of the apps are pretty good at recognizing some common birds, but most don't do well at all.
You'll probably need to refer to your bird book to double check the bird IDs and may even get a good laugh at some of the boo-boos the feeder's AI comes up with.
Looking for a way to get eye-to-eye with your backyard birds? A smart bird feeder is the way to go! But there are so many models available that it's hard to know where to start.
You can wade through the confusion by giving some thought to how much convenience and versatility you want from the feeder. Once you've got a handle on that it will be easier to see which models will work for you.
Check out our list of the 7 Best smart bird feeders for 2023 for the smart bird feeders we think offer the best value and features.
Got a question or a story to share? Sound off in the comments!
Know someone who's thinking about a smart bird feeder? Please share this article!
Featured image credit: Thanks to Michael J. Mikkelson at Design.AlienWorkshop, who created this laser and 3D printed smart bird feeder as a gift to his mother. Photo by M.J. Mikkelson.