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NC attorney becomes social media hit with view of avian life

Gastonia City Attorney Ash Smith watches for birds at his backyard Bird Buddy feeder on Jan. 13. Mike Hensdill | The Gaston Gazette via AP

GASTONIA — As Ash Smith was growing up in eastern North Carolina, he recalled how his father built blue bird houses and put them around his White Lake home and all 18 holes at the golf course. His mother loved cardinals and would tell him when she saw one it was a message from a loved one.

He remembers the enjoyment both his parents took from seeing hummingbirds come to a feeder they placed right outside their kitchen window. Smith still cherishes the little illustrated book on identifying birds, along with some binoculars, his father left him.

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

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

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

A titmouse arrives at the Bird Buddy feeder in Gastonia City Attorney Ash Smith’s backyard on Jan. 13 in Gastonia. Mike Hensdill | The Gaston Gazette via AP

Weeks ago, Smith started posting the “post cards,” as the company calls them, of his close up photographs and videos of Carolina chickadees, tufted titmouses, Carolina wrens, and of course, cardinals to his Facebook page to the delight of his friends. Some have told him they check in daily just for a virtual moment with nature.

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

Bird Buddy started shipping its bird feeders in September and reports it has already sold all 100,000 in its inventory. The price for the basic feeder is $199, although Smith’s cost an additional $50 because it came with a solar charger built into the roof.

Smith has worked as an attorney for the city of Gastonia for more than 27 years, and has been the city attorney since 2002, offering legal counsel to City Council and town officials from his City Hall office.