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Free bird ID program lets beginners learn with home computers

From the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

-- A lot of people are intrigued by birds and watch feathered visitors to backyard feeders or roads and in backwoods areas. But identifying all the different species is a challenge.

The help of experienced birders, those devout, binocular-wearing fans, can be overwhelming as the birder calls out a species when only a sound is heard or a distant image is seen for a couple of seconds. Now there is a training program that works through home computers or laptops, and it is free.

“Dendroica: An aid to the identification of North American Birds” is a project of Environment Canada and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Breeding Bird Survey. The web address is www.natureinstruct.org/dendroica.

Dendroica is an interactive website developed to help anyone -- students, volunteers and professionals -- improve their skills at identifying birds by sight or by sound, particularly so that they can participate in nature survey and monitoring programs, including Breeding Bird Atlases. The site includes bird species from throughout Canada, the United States and Mexico.

The program includes multiple different sound recordings and photographs for each species as well as descriptions of the songs of each species. Although there are still a number of gaps in the coverage, especially from Mexico, the program also allows participants to contribute new photographs and sound recordings, so it will continue to improve over time.

Project manager Charles M. Francis of the Canadian Wildlife Service said, “We hope that, as more people use the program, we will be able to fill many of our gaps in coverage – although we already have more than 4,000 each of photos and sound recordings.”

To use the program, participants must register and sign in. This allows users to select lists of species to study, such as all the breeding (or non-breeding) species in a particular region, or species with a particular song type or from a particular taxonomic group, or they can make their own lists. They can then study the photos or sound recordings and read the song descriptions for the selected species before quizzing themselves to see how well they are doing.

The quiz randomly picks songs and/or photos (users can choose) from among the list available for each species. This is particularly valuable for learning bird songs because there are multiple recordings of most species, so users don't always get the same recording for a particular species.

Francis said, “There are several improvements that we are already planning, in addition to continuing to expand the database of photos and recordings. Currently, the program is available in English and French, but we will be adding a Spanish version in the near future. We will also be adding a new set of maps to provide better detail than the current maps.”

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