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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 58875
ISSN: 0893844X
Journal code: SYNT

Thanks to a 4.7-ounce hunk of plastic and glass and more than 250,000 applications, iPhone users have the world in the palm of their hands. From sensible and helpful to outrageous and odd, there truly is an app for everything. You can tune your guitar with the Tuner app, stay on top of pesky house payments with the Mortgage Payment Calculator app, or satisfy your inner child with the Bubble Snap app-it lets users pop virtual bubble wrap-for free.

In December, the Apple Store presented another helpful app. Meet BirdsEye, the birding app for iPhone and iPod touch, available through the iTunes Store for $19.99. Just in time for spring, BirdsEye offers veteran and novice birders a myriad of tools-via their phone-to find more birds and hear more chirps.

"BirdsEye is the best invention for birding since binoculars," said Kenn Kaufman, avid birder and author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America (2005, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Kaufman and app developer Todd Koym of Birds in the Hand worked closely with "birdies" at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to give users instant access to the lab's eBird database, which receives up to 2 million bird observation reports a month from all over North America. The application then maps how to get to the nearest sighting location using eBird's more than 30,000 hotspots.

"Our goal is to give people more great birding opportunities," said Koym. "Going into eBird is hard work but BirdsEye makes it super easy."

Whether you're a curious new chickadee or a veteran longtime birder, at home or on the road, BirdsEye helps users see more birds and maintain a list of each one seen. If you are seeking a rare or unique bird, BirdsEye will tell you where, when and how often it has been spotted and even provides directions to sites through Google Maps. If you are traveling and are unfamiliar with the local birding sites, Birds-Eye offers information from birding experts in the area. No matter where you're birding, the app offers personal insights from Kaufman himself on locating specific birds.

The application also offers stunning photographs, taken from the Vireo collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences, plus four hours of audio in the form of birdcalls and treetop songs for 470 of the most frequently spotted tweeters. Additional content on rare birds is available through the BirdsEye link on iTunes, for a total of 847 species.

With so many features, it's safe to say BirdsEye wasn't built in a day. "I wasn't even interested at first," Kaufman said. He had been approached several times to help create birding apps, but they were all too simplistic, until he met Koym.

"This was a chance to be involved in something totally new," Kaufman said. Kaufman, who has seen more than 770 species in North America alone and about 5,000 worldwide, knew that providing access to old and new data was key. BirdsEye does just that as the first app allowing users to link directly to a well-known database, and extract information directly through their phones.

Koym, who considers himself a novice birder with only six years behind the binoculars, said the app would have been impossible without eBird and its project leader, Brian Sullivan. Sullivan, who has been conducting fieldwork on birds of North America for the past 12 years, said eBird itself has a lot of potential to gather scientifically useful data. His birding travels and field projects, which have taken him to Central and South America, and even the Arctic, have all been recorded on eBird.

"The more people that use eBird, the better," Sullivan said.

All sighting and species information provided through BirdsEye is completely valid, having been passed through rigorous eBird filters and confirmed by human review at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Kaufman himself wrote the background and sighting profiles of each popular avian species, and he said it was a great opportunity to revisit some of his favorite birding memories. But in the case of unusual sightings, or rare birds, eBird uses a set of filters. If the filters get tripped, the claims must pass human review before being posted to eBird and available via BirdsEye. Spending $19.99 for such expertise is quite a steal.

Today, Koym and his team are working quickly to develop a new feature that will give birders even more chirp for their buck. Soon, BirdsEye customers will be able to submit their own sightings directly to eBird, from their phone. Currently, app users are able to receive information from eBird directly to their phone, but to submit their own findings, a trip to the ancient laptop is required. Once development is complete, it will only be a matter of days before users can update their application.

"Being able to upload from the field will be great," Kaufman explained. It will officially close the loop between the field and the application itself, making BirdsEye a valuable birding tool, one far more portable than thick field guides. All you need is a pair of binoculars and your phone, on which you can quickly move from birding to BubbleSnap and back.


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