I am terrible at identifying birds. Terrible. I can handle the trees of the Andes, but as soon as what I'm looking at starts moving, I struggle to spot all of the relevant identification details. Usually by the time the bird has flown away, I've barely even been able to see what color it was! That's why the debut of a new tool from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in collaboration with Swarovski Optik, caught my eye.
The tool, called a "digital guide," is a monocular, which functions similar to binoculars, but consists of just one tube. After you spot a bird through the lens, you can take its photo, which the guide then sends straight to your cell phone. Then, with the help of Cornell's Merlin bird identification app, it automatically returns a list of birds that might be what you are looking at. The integration of this amazing technology is the latest example of the "gamification" of nature, allowing anyone with the digital guide quickly identify birds and add new species to their lifetime list.
This could level the playing field for people who want to start observing nature but lack the background knowledge to identify what kinds of birds they are seeing. It could also standardize data collection by field scientists, which would particularly be a welcome tool in tropical countries with high bird diversity.
But one variable remains unknown: the price. If the digital guide is too expensive, it will only be accessible to wealthy folks and the most well-funded researchers. And for many casual nature observers, the pleasure of just being outside without technology may be a key reason they find birding so relaxing. So, don't throw those bird identification books out just yet!
Or if you do, can you send them my way?