Growing up in eastern North Carolina, Ash Smith remembered how his father built bluebird houses and placed them around his home on White Lake and on the 18-hole golf course. His mother loved bruises and would tell him when she saw one that it was a message from a loved one.

She recalls the enjoyment her parents had in watching the hummingbirds arrive at a feeder they placed just outside her kitchen window. Smith still cherishes the little illustrated book on bird identification, along with some binoculars, left for her by his father.

So when Smith saw an ad for a starter project on a bird feeding device called the Bird Buddy, he knew he wanted to buy one, even if the cost seemed a bit steep at first.

The Bird Buddy not only helps Smith feed the birds, but the bird feeder also takes snapshots and videos of feathered friends as they fly around for a few treats. The startup says its AI technology can recognize more than 1,000 species of birds, allowing users to share via a mobile app what kind of birds they’re feeding.

“I immediately thought how excited my father would have been, and also my mother, to have been able to see the birds up close like this,” Smith said in an email exchange. “It was a little expensive, but I knew I had to have one. It makes me feel like I’m sharing something with my parents even though they’re both gone.”

Gastonia City Attorney Ash Smith watches birds at his Bird Buddy feeder in his backyard on Friday morning, January 13, 2023.  Smith has been entertaining his Facebook friends by posting his Bird Buddy "postcards," who like close-up photos and videos of birds coming to your bird feeder looking for a treat.

Weeks ago, Smith began posting the “postcards,” as the company calls them, of his close-up photos and videos of Carolina Chickadees, Greater Chickadees, Carolina Kinglets, and, of course, cardinals on his Facebook page to the delight of his friends. . Some have told her they check in daily just for a virtual moment with nature.

“When the light is really good, you can see the inside of the birds’ eyes and the detail in their feathers. There’s an almost iridescent sheen to the feathers,” Smith said. “The video quality is really amazing.”

A male cardinal receives a gift from the Bird Buddy at the Ash Smith home of Gastonia.  Smith got the Bird Buddy from him in October and has delighted his social media friends by posting photos and videos of the birds on Facebook.

Bird Buddy began shipping its bird feeders in September and reports that it has already sold all 100,000 in its inventory. The basic feeder is priced at $199, although Smith’s costs an additional $50 because it comes with a solar charger built into the roof.

Smith has worked as a Gastonia city attorney for more than 27 years, and has been the city attorney since 2002, providing legal advice to the City Council and city officials from his City Hall office. He lives in the Eagles Walk neighborhood, appropriately named avian, near the intersection of Union and Beatty Roads, not far from Forestview High School.

After seeing the popularity of Smith’s bird videos and photography, The Gazette he asked Smith a few questions about his Bird Buddy, to which he answered kindly.

A Carolina chickadee gets a bite of a Bird Buddy bird feeder at the home of Gastonia resident Ash Smith.

What is your role to make it work?

I buy a regular birdseed mix that includes sunflower seeds and refill it as needed. I’m going to try dried mealworms next to see if I can attract bluebirds, which have yet to pay a visit much to my chagrin. Periodically you will receive a message from the application telling you to update the software. You have to unplug the camera from the feeder, plug it into a charging cable, and then leave it untouched for about 30 minutes after tapping the app and telling it to update. It is also important to periodically wash and clean the feeder to prevent birds from spreading disease to each other.

Has this fueled your avian interest?

A chickadee arrives at the Bird Buddy feeder in the backyard of Gastonia City Attorney Ash Smith on Friday morning, January 13, 2023.

You have to download the Bird Buddy app to use the feeder. You use the app to view the photos and videos, though you can of course download them to your phone or computer. The app preliminarily identifies the bird for you, though it doesn’t always get it right. You can tap on the photo and it will tell you about the species, show you a map of its North American habitat range, and other information. It definitely educated me on species I wasn’t familiar with (Dark-eyed Junco, anyone?) and made me go to Wikipedia to read more about species I wasn’t familiar with.

Any surprise?

As I mentioned, I haven’t gotten a bluebird yet and I’d really like that. I have so many photos and videos of cardinals now that it’s almost too much. I really think it’s the same male and female cardinal coming every day now and they’re just munching away. Lots of finches and sparrows too. Brown-headed thrushes are wicked! They will fight each other at the feeder and of course scare away any other species.

Why a social sensation?

A photo of a Bird Buddy's Tufted Chickadee

I thought there would be some interest, but it really has been a huge hit with a lot of people. It’s been really interesting being the “early adopter” and seeing all the reactions from my Facebook friends. Several people have commented that they check the videos every day.

This photograph of a Carolina wren comes from the Bird Buddy bird feeder at the home of Gastonia resident Ash Smith.  Bird Buddy not only takes photos and videos of birds that stop to eat, but also uses AI to identify the species.

Things to know before buying?

Obviously, you must have a smartphone to download the Bird Buddy app and a Wi-Fi network with coverage in the part of your garden where you place the Bird Buddy.

I’ve seen several knockoffs from other companies and I can’t really say if they’re better or worse than the Bird Buddy, but I had a Facebook friend who bought a knockoff and last I heard he couldn’t get it to take pictures.

Apparently there is now a waiting list for the Bird Buddy feeder and it can take you several months to get one. Again, please be patient when you get one as it takes a few weeks to start shipping photos.

Difficult to install?

Out of the box, it really isn’t that hard. I think the area where you connect the camera to the solar charger cable is a bit tight. It took me a few weeks to put the feeder in a spot in my backyard where sunlight was on the solar panels long enough to charge it properly. It’s working great now.

bird final shot

I’ve been called a bird brain before and I think this really seals the deal now!

You can contact Kevin Ellis at 704-201-7016 or email him at [email protected]