Bird Fact Friday: the Barred Owl (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Barred Owl, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • This owl is large, sedentary, and dark-eyed. It is also loudly vocal.
  • Originally an Eastern bird, this owl has spread to the Pacific Northwest, sometimes competing with Spotted Owls.
  • They are mottled brown, without ear tufts, and have short, rounded tails.
  • Barred Owls are often found perched in large trees in mature mixed forests, often near water. These areas are more likely to have cavities for nesting and a diverse range of prey, especially small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.
  • Pairs likely mate for life, and use largely unmodified cavities for nesting.
  • They are sometimes predated by Great-horned Owls
  • They have a lifespan of up to 24 years.
  • Population: 3 million and increasing.

Have you seen (or heard) a Barred Owl?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Leafwalkers

Adapted from pages 172-173 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America:

The Yellow-haltered Leafwalker (Chalcosyrphus [Xylotomima] curvarius) is identified by its bright yellow halteres. It is the most distinctive of the orange-legged Chalcosyrphus species, with an entirely black metacoxa. These insects are common, and fly typically between mid-May to late August. Like the two preceding species, they can often be found on hilltops. On hilltops, the males more often land on the ground rather than on leaves or twigs. They are mostly found in hardwood forests but there are a few records from the tundra. There is no genetic variation between Arctic and eastern specimens. One specimen was collected on a large fallen Populus (aspen) log that had been on the ground for about one year.

Meanwhile, the Violet Leafwalker (Chalcosrphus [Xylotomima] chalybeus) is distinctive as it is all black, and has a metallic purple sheen to its body. Its legs are entirelyblack, and unlike the wings of other black Chalcosyrphus, the wings are largely dark brown. These bugs are between 12.4.-16.1 mm in length, and are fairly common, flying typically between mid-May and mid-August. These hardwood forest flies are often seen around fallen dead tree trunks. They are spectacular and glisten with purplish iridescence on a sunny day. They only occasionally visit hilltops. Flowers visited include Rubus and Spiraea. These flies
mimic solitary wasps such as Sphex pensylvanicus and Chalybion californicum.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

Math, Games, and Pizza: Responses from SUMIT 2019

On April 6th and 7th, girls between 6th and 11th grade with a love of math took part in SUMIT 2019, which Princeton University Press proudly sponsors. The event offers one of the most memorable opportunities to do math while forming lasting friendships with like-minded peers. Together, girls build mathematical momentum and frequently surprise themselves with what they’re able to solve. All previous SUMITs have garnered overall ratings of 10 out of 10 by participants.

After the event, organizers spoke with some of the participants about what their role models, experiences at SUMIT, and what they love about math. Take a look at what these girls had to say…

Do you believe you made meaningful connections with other girls and/or staff who share your interest in math?

  • “Yes, I was able to meet some really cool people in a great environment.”
  • “Yes, this was a wonderful experience and I loved meeting new people who shared the same interest as me.”
  • “Yes. I didn’t realize how many girls love math. I actually made friends.”
 

What was your favorite thing about SUMIT?

  • “I really enjoy how everything fits together to solve the bigger picture. It is so cool! I also really enjoy being in an environment in which it is all girls who are enthusiastic about math.”
  • “I liked solving challenging math problems and working together as a team!!”
  • “The challenging problems and being able to work on them with others.”
  • “Meeting other girls who are enthusiastic about math and collaborating with them or problems…also, the pizza was really good”

What do you love about math?

  • “The satisfaction of solving a problem.”
  • “It’s like solving the world’s greatest puzzle”
  • “Everything except proofs.”
  • “I love how there can be challenging and hard problems that make you think and work harder.”
  • “I love that there are usually multiple ways to solve a problem and that different areas of math connect to one another.”  

Who inspires you to be a mathematician?

  • “Ada Lovelace”
  • “My family”
  • “I usually see other people persevering through math problems and that inspires me.”
  • “Math teachers I have had”
  • “I am pretty self-inspired; my interests in math inspire me. But, seeing other mathematicians around me, especially women, inspires me even more.”  

 

Princeton University Press has been a major sponsor of SUMIT since its inception in 2012, and is always proud to promote this magical escape-the-room-esque event where girls join forces to overcome challenges and become the heroines of an elaborate mathematical saga. The event offers one of the most memorable opportunities to do math while forming lasting friendships with like-minded peers. Together, girls build mathematical momentum and frequently surprise themselves with what they’re able to solve. All previous SUMITs have garnered overall ratings of 10 out of 10 by participants.

Created by Girls’ Angle, a nonprofit math club for girls, together with a team of college students, graduate students, and mathematicians, SUMIT 2019 takes place in Cambridge, MA.

Bird Fact Friday: The Eastern Phoebe (as seen on BirdGenie)!

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Eastern Phoebe, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • These birds are tail-wagging, solitary, active flycatchers.
  • They’re common in the East in warmer months, and are early spring migrants.
  • The Eastern Phoebe’s are medium-sized and large-headed, with gray-brown back and buffy or white underparts.
  • They nearly always wag their tails when perched.
  • Typically, they perch low and fly out to catch insects, which are its primary food source (along with occasional seeds and berries).
  • Their nests are typically made of mud and vegetation, often on human structures with ledges, niches, walls, or other solid bases.
  • They have a lifespan of up t o 10 years.
  • Population: 32 million and stable.

Have you seen (or heard) an Eastern Phoebe?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Insect of the Week: Laetodon

Adapted from page 38-39 of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America

Laetodon species are small metallic ant flies (Microdontinae) with a posterior appendix on wing vein R4+5. This genus used to be included within Microdon and was described in 2013 by Menno Reemer. The genus Laetodon includes five species, four of them Nearctic and one Neotropical. Only one species occurs within the area of the field guide. Larvae are presumed to be predators in ant nests but have not been described. 

More specifically, the Laetodon laetus is a small metallic ant fly ranging from 6.0-9.7mm in size. These are small, strongly metallic flies that are green, blue, or purple. The tibiae are orange and the flagellum has a short sensory pit on the outside edge. The eye is sparsely pilose. These insects are rare and local, with a flight time ranging from late March (in Florida) to early October (in Arizona), or late May to late September within the area of the field guide. In Maryland, the records are all from mid-to-late July. Larvae are unknown.

Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America
By Jeffrey H. Skevington, Michelle M. Locke, Andrew D. Young, Kevin Moran, William J. Crins, and Stephen A. Marshall

This is the first comprehensive field guide to the flower flies (also known as hover flies) of northeastern North America. Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified. This handy and informative guide teaches you how.

With more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, this guide covers all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more.

Summarizing the current scientific understanding of our flower fly fauna, this is an indispensable resource for anyone, amateur naturalist or scientist, interested in discovering the beauty of these insect.

 

Dana Johnson on Will This Be on the Test?

Getting into college takes plenty of hard work, but knowing what your professors expect of you once you get there can be even more challenging. Will This Be on the Test? is the essential survival guide for high-school students making the transition to college academics. In this entertaining and informative book, Dana Johnson shares wisdom and wit gleaned from her decades of experience as an award-winning teacher in the freshman classroom—lessons that will continue to serve you long after college graduation.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve taught college freshmen for decades and have seen the trouble they have because they don’t realize how high school and college are different. Some don’t figure out how to be successful in their coursework and end up doing poorly or even dropping out. This book is my best advice to students based on my experiences and other professors I’ve known and worked with. I’ve wanted to write the book for many years, but finally made time to do it because I realized how much it could help.

How have students changed since you started teaching?

Students are less self-reliant and have more expectations of reminders, extensions, re-do’s on assignments, and extra credit. They want to be told information, rather than take charge of their own learning. They are more likely to blame someone or something else than take responsibility. With the advent of email, students prefer to send electronic messages rather than call or come to the offices of their professors, which means they have less of an academic relationship. Students seem less likely to meet many of their classmates as they are primarily connected via their phones and social media to friends they know through other contexts.

When should students (and parents) read this book?

Students should read it before going to college and again at the end of the first semester or two. The re-reading will help them pick up some tips that are more meaningful after they have experienced some college courses. Parents should read the book before their students are in high school so they understand what high school and the family should be preparing them for.

High school teachers and counselors could benefit from reading it too, so they’re aware of habits, skills, and a mindset that will help students make the transition successfully from high school to college.

What is the biggest mistake students make in college academics?

I’ll give you two:

  1. Skipping class. Since no one is calling their parents when they don’t go to class, it seems easy to sleep in or give preference to other activities.
  2. Procrastinating. There are fewer intermediate deadlines, reminders, reviews, prompts, and safety nets in college than in high school. At first, the assignment deadlines and exams seem so far away, and students wait too long before starting the work or studying.

An example of the comics found in Will This Be on the Test?. Art by Jeremy Tamburello.

Are the cartoons featured throughout the book based on real events?

The ideas all originated in something I experienced or was told to me. Every professor tells stories about bizarre, rude, amusing, or naïve behavior on the part of students, and students have told me their stories also. Some of them seem a little unbelievable – but they are all based on true stories!

What should students know about professors that they generally don’t?

Professors are experts in a special slice of their fields. They love their content, and they love their work. This is not just a job for them, it is their intellectual life. You can learn a lot by talking with them outside of class. Professors enjoy having their students visit office hours, and they want to pass on what they know. Students can think of this as a form of networking, which is a skill that will pay off after college too.

 

Dana Johnson taught for many years at the College of William and Mary, where she twice won the Simon Prize for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, and has three decades of experience teaching college freshmen. She lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Earth Day 2019: Protecting whales and dolphins through citizen science

Whales and dolphins are icons of the sea that are instantly recognisable, and few animals inspire such excitement and passion. The intelligence of these animals relative to humans means that they speak to something deep within our psyche and connect us with the ocean like no other species.

However, despite this level of interest, there’s still so much we don’t know about cetaceans, the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises. According to the IUCN, over half the species of cetacean found globally are considered data deficient, which means we can’t even say whether they are thriving or on the verge of extinction.

This lack of knowledge and understanding means that it’s impossible to put in place effective protections for whales and dolphins – after all, how can you keep safe something safe if you don’t understand it?

ORCA trains members of the public to help shed light on the world of these amazing animals and to volunteer as “citizen scientists” –people from all walks of life, who have decided to take an active role in safeguarding the future of the ocean.

We teach these committed volunteers to identify and record animals from different ships traveling across the world, from ferries to cruise ships. We place them aboard in teams of four to conduct regular scientific surveys, then analyse their sightings to build a long term data set.

Having this type of insight means that we can highlight changes or trends in the behaviour, distribution and population of the different species we encounter, which is crucial in creating impactful and effective marine conservation policy. We share our data with government agencies and leading researchers to help them create protected areas, keeping whales and dolphins safe for future generations.

For more than fifteen years we’ve been collecting data across Europe and the North Atlantic, and we have been able to share this insight with WILDGuides to help create the upcoming Europe’s Sea Mammals. As well as being able to give the most comprehensive and accurate possible picture of where species can be found, we’ve also been able to help give insight into the threats that these animals face, and show how easy it is for people to get involved in marine conservation.

This includes showcasing some of the most endangered species on the planet and shining a light on the challenges they face in the 21st century, ranging from ship strike to by catch. We are hoping that highlighting these challenges in this stunning new field guide will inspire more people to get involved and play their part in protecting the ocean.

Europe’s Sea Mammals will be in the back pack of every single one of our volunteers from later this year, and it is truly the most detailed and accurate guide to Europe’s cetaceans. We’re proud to have been involved in producing this book, and know it will play a leading role in helping our citizen scientists monitor some of the most vulnerable marine mammals on the planet for many years to come.

Steve Jones is the Head of Partnerships at ORCA, a charity that’s entirely dedicated to studying and protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises in the UK and European waters.

Europe’s Sea Mammals Including the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde
A field guide to the whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals

This cutting-edge photographic identification guide to Europe’s sea mammals—the only such guide of its kind—covers the 39 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and 9 species of seals found in the region, which spans the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean, Caspian and Baltic seas. Written and illustrated by a team of professional tour guides with extensive experience presenting the region’s sea mammals, the guide features more than 180 color photographs, maps and graphics, highlights key identification features and includes information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species. Produced with the marine conservation charity ORCA, the book presents mapping data from a decade of surveys, which shows both current distribution and changes over time.

Europe’s Sea Mammals is an essential companion for whale watchers and anyone else who is interested in this enigmatic group of mammals.

  • The only photographic guide dedicated to this popular whale-watching region
  • Features more than 180 color photos, maps and graphics
  • Highlights key identification features and provides essential information on the range, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of each species

 

Bird Fact Friday: The Blue Jay (As Seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Blue Jay, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • These are social, intelligent, alarm birds.
  • They’re common in the Eastern US and Canada.
  • They prefer forest edges, parks, and towns, especially near oaks, as acorns are a favorite food along with other nuts and insects.
  • Blue jays are large, bright blue, and black and white crested.
  • These birds can carry up to five acorns, and can cache thousands in a season.
  • They have a variety of calls, usually given while perched, including mimicry of Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks.
  • Up to twenty percent of all ages of Blue Jays migrate each year, but the mechanism is not well understood.
  • They often mate for life.
  • Their lifespan is up to 17 years.
  • Population: 13 million and slightly declining.

Have you seen (or heard) an the Blue Jay?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

Bird Fact Friday: The American Goldfinch (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the American Goldfinch, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • They are acrobatic, gregarious, and vocal
  • They’re common throughout much of North America in weedy fields, riparian areas, farms, roadsides and backyards
  • They’re small and bright yellow with a black cap in the summer; drab olive and patchy in the winter; unstreaked, with wing bards and a notched tail
  • Often occuring in flocks; buoyant, undulating flight style
  • They have a conical bill which is adapted to seed eating; diet is exclusively vegetarian
  • They favor sunflower and thistle seed at feeders
  • These birds are late nesters in June and July, to take advantage of seeding milkweed, thistle, and other plants
  • They often call in flight, with a bouncy and undulating call style
  • Their lifespan is up to ten years
  • Population: 42 million and stable

Have you seen (or heard) an American Goldfinch?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

 

Tom Stephenson on the BirdGenie App

Where did the idea for BirdGenie’s technology come from?

TS: I was a musician and played concerts and worked in studios for many years. During this time I became interested in sound design and processing technologies. I continued this interest at Roland Corporation, where I finally got a “real” job, designing multi-channel recorders and mixing consoles. After retiring as director of technology of one of the divisions, I finally had more time for birding.

I had always been interested in vocalizations, often sketching out the shape of songs I was learning. Bird songs are often highly variable from individual to individual across one species. I wanted to find out what unifying elements allowed a member of a species, or us humans, to look beyond those variations and identify a bird as a member of one species.

As part of this study I wrote an article for ABA’s Birding magazine outlining how to identify the songs of different thrasher species, highly variable mimics, using the structure of their songs. Realizing how powerful this kind of analysis could be was a breakthrough for me. I began looking at spectrograms, which are graphics representations, of many different kinds of bird songs. I was trying to find the unifying structures underlying all of the songs of one species.

I was also comparing the general structure of all songs. Were there any universal constants that could help us notice the key unifying features that make one species’ songs unique? These studies, including basics like the elements, phrases and sections of songs, led to the breakthrough vocabulary and analysis of vocalizations in the book I wrote with Scott Whittle, The Warbler Guide.

My background work in signal processing and audio analysis as a musician and designer led me to think more broadly about how these song criteria could be formalized and stereotyped so they could even be used by a computer to help with song identification. After working on this for some time I filed for a patent on these methods and concepts for identifying animal vocalizations, which was finally granted a few years ago now. Sorry for the long-winded answer!

Did you do the programming yourself?

TS: No. That’s tough work! But I had been thinking about how to implement these ideas for some time. I went to an audio trade show and ran into a friend. He had just started working at a prominent software company that created products with highly sophisticated signal processing. I asked him if their processing technologies might work with my ideas. He thought they would and became very interested in the project.

I went up to their offices in, Cambridge, MA, and gave a presentation about the size of the birding marketplace and my strategies. They got excited about these ideas and assigned two engineers to work with me on the project. They first researched all of the academic papers on the topic, and then developed programs to implement those strategies.

The state of the art then, and even now, is black-box-machine-learning. Basically you feed a computer with lots of known examples which are analyzed using a variety of processing tools. The computer develops a map of features for each type. You then present the computer with a new example and it applies those mapped criteria and tries to make an identification. This system works well for music identification and even voice recognition, however birds are just a lot more variable.

We started with warbler songs because I had been working on them for some time and had a good library of examples. After some development time, the program started working very well about 70% of the time. But based on the mistaken identifications it made, I could see the “black box” wasn’t using much of my system. For example, a species, whose songs always have at least two sections, might be mistaken for a species that only sings one-section songs.  When I pointed this out to the programmers they said they could try and “train” the black box with more examples, but they didn’t have any way of seeing the computer’s rules or modifying them manually. That’s why they call it a “black box” system.

I realized that, even though this was state-of-the-art, it wasn’t going to work well with bird songs. I needed a system that allowed for direct injection of the ID criteria I had found to be fundamental to identifying highly variable bird songs. They agreed and the CEO put me in touch with Stephen Pope, who became our programmer for BirdGenie’s engine. He had an extensive background in music technologies, signal processing and computer programming. He immediately understood the need for a new way of designing the engine, using black-box strategies but supplementing them more types of machine learning and with a user-driven rule set and other strategies that could take advantage of my prior work.

A sample of the BirdGenie app.

So is that what makes BirdGenie different from other programs on the market?

TS: Yes, most definitely. BirdGenie’s patented strategies are unique and effective. We use a wide range of rule-based strategies that we can control, modify and improve, which is very different from the standard black-box methods.

When I started working with Stephen my first requirement was that the whole system be transparent. I wanted to be able to “see” what the computer was finding relevant and then modify or add other criteria. So the first program he created was a Tool that shows all of the ID criteria and how they are weighted. We then added more than thirty additional criteria that reflect the important structures and underlying features for all bird songs. And in addition to these general rules, we can add more criteria that are specific to each individual species. Some features, like density and ratio of harmonics, or relationship of silences between elements to element lengths; are not detectable by the human ear, but can be very effective ID criteria.

Stephen’s background at Stanford’s CCRMA, UC Berkley’s CNMAT and Xerox PARC programs made him uniquely qualified to work on the project. Bird song is actually much more difficult than music or even human voice. It’s highly variable and that’s why our methods work so well, using the underlying structures and the similarities that allow even us humans to identify a singing bird.

How do you think users will benefit from BirdGenie?

TS: BirdGenie can help users identify almost all of the birds they find in their backyard or local park. People who feed birds, take hikes, or just enjoy walking in their local natural areas, are often surrounded by singing birds that can be hard-to-see. BirdGenie can help them find the identify of these hidden songsters and learn more about the natural bird life around them.

Here’s an example. I was visiting a family that had a small suburban backyard and a couple of bird feeders. They recognized the Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and Downy Woodpeckers that visited regularly.

But during a June visit I stepped outside and in about fifteen minutes heard over twenty species of birds singing in their yard. We looked them all up and they realized they had seen most of them, at least briefly. The loud singing of one species, the House Wren, had baffled them for years. Once they realized what a great species that is, they went out and bought a small bird house which it now nests in every year.

We’re hoping that being able to identify and learn more about all of their great local birds, will allow people to enjoy nature even more than they do now, and maybe even get more involved in conservation.

A screenshot of BirdGenie as it records the bird sounds around its user.

Is BirdGenie kid-friendly?

TS: The better question might be “Is it adult friendly?!!” Kids are such great adopters of technology that often they’re more fluent with an iPhone or Android than adults. That being said, we spent a lot of time and resources making BirdGenie very easy to use. The screens and user interface are very simple.  

That might sound like an obvious thing, but actually it takes a lot of work. Simple is not nearly as easy as confusing! We worked with two different design firms, and have done hours of field testing to make sure everything in the program is simple and intuitive, even for adults!

Beyond helping users learn more about their local birds, does BirdGenie have any other benefits?

TS: Yes, we hope so. Users can choose to share their recordings and IDs with us. This is all anonymous, of course. But these data could be very valuable for research.

For example, right now there is no easy way for a scientist to study how Song Sparrow songs vary across the U.S. and Canada. Of course they could get grant money and spend a year or more traveling from state to state. But with BirdGenie’s shared song data, we could generate a large sample set of Song Sparrow songs all across the U.S.

Once we have it, we will make this information available to researchers, who could then use it to target studies in local song dialects and possibly learn more about how songs are learned, the status and distribution of species during different seasons, and more.

Last question: What is the Match Assist feature in BirdGenie?

TS:  Match Assist is a feature unique to BirdGenie. Birds often sing in noisy environments or are difficult to get close enough to so for a good recording. Of course BirdGenie uses powerful noise reduction tools. Even if there are people talking or lawn mowers are going, BirdGenie can usually isolate the bird song and make the identification.

But in cases of really distant birds, or multiple birds singing at once, we have provided an additional tool to help with the identification process. That’s Match Assist. Using this unique feature, users can choose to answer 3 or 4 simple questions about different aspects of a song they recorded. The engine can then use the answers to further isolate a song and make an ID.

For example, one question is whether the bird is singing one sound over and over again, like an American Crow or a Blue Jay, or many different sounds, like a House Wren. This not only can assist in the ID process but also is a way users can learn more about the structure and characteristics of the songs around them.

In many ways, BirdGenie is really an educational tool. It helps users learn more about what birds are singing and living around them, and also helps users become more aware of bird song in general and what makes songs so unique and beautiful.

Bird Fact Friday: The Cedar Waxwing (as seen on BirdGenie!)

This week’s Bird Fact Friday highlights the Cedar Waxwing, as seen on BirdGenie. Here are some interesting facts about the bird:

  • They are flock-oriented, colorful fruit eaters
  • They’re common throughout much of North America in woodlands and open fields, parks and edges, especially near streams
  • They’re medium-sized, slender, crested, large-headed and short-billed. They have brownish heads, chest and back basding to gray, black masks, yellow tail tips, and red spots on their wings. Their smooth tones almost looks airbrushed
  • The red wing tips are waxy secretions, whose function is not known
  • They’re often first detected by their high, thin cals
  • They’re one of the few North American fruit specialists, only occasionally supplementing diet with insects
  • Planting native trees like dogwood or serviceberry may attract waxwings
  • They have a lifespan of up to 8 years
  • Population: ~52 million and stable

Have you seen (or heard) a waxwing?

 

BirdGenie

BirdGenie™ is a breakthrough app that helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds in the backyard, local park, or on the nature trail—all with the tap of a button! Just hold up your phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie™ helps you identify the species. The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. And the app is easy to use. Just point your smartphone or tablet at a bird, and tap the screen when the bird starts singing. The app’s automatic pre-record feature ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the song and BirdGenie’s™ patented, highly accurate expert system matches the recording to the closest species. The app’s sophisticated noise-reduction feature means that even in noisy environments, where there is conversation or traffic, you can discover what bird you’re listening to.

Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

Perfect for anyone who wants to know what birds are singing around them, BirdGenie™ takes bird identification to a whole new awesome level.

With BirdGenie™ you can:

  • Quickly identify most birds just by recording their songs
  • Look at vivid images of the bird—some in 3-D!
  • Listen to samples of the bird’s various songs and compare them with your recording
  • Keep a log of all your recordings
  • Share your recordings, matches, and photos with friends and family
  • Browse the built-in catalog to learn about local species, their other songs, their habits and diet, and much more
  • Use the app anywhere, as no internet connection is required!

Important features of BirdGenie™:

  • The matching expert system beats anything in the market today
  • Easy-to-use guided user interface
  • Effective noise-reduction system helps users make identifications in less-than-ideal environments
  • Complete species accounts with multiple photos for all plumage types (some with 3-D models)
  • Comprehensive spectrograms (voiceprints of songs)

Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7, 8, X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

 

The BirdGenie™ App is Now Available to Download

Princeton University Press is pleased to announce that the BirdGenie™ app is now available for download in the iTunes and Android App Store*. This breakthrough app helps anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet accurately identify birds —all with the tap of a button! The app’s highly developed sound identification ability and expert matching system enable bird enthusiasts to achieve an accuracy unheard of in the birding field. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the birds around them.

BirdGenie™ includes up to two hundred vocalization types for one hundred species: literally all of the birds likely to be encountered in a backyard or local park, or on a hike, in North America at any time of the year. Beyond specifying a bird species, BirdGenie™ provides sample songs and spectrograms to compare with your own recording and to guarantee a confident match. The app also includes pictures of all plumages, information about habitat and behavior, and links to further reading. It even has 3-D models for some of the species so you can match different views of a bird. You can share your recordings, photos, and matches with friends and other users, and if you’re so inclined, you can anonymously share recordings to a scientific database to help researchers learn about birdsong variations. No internet connection is required for anything but sharing, making the program accessible everywhere.

You can also sign up for email updates from BirdGenie™ on the Princeton University Press website.

Learn more about BirdGenie™, and our other birding titles, by following Princeton Nature on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

*Technical Specifications:

  • Requires iOS 10 or later. Compatible with all iPhones after iPhone 6 including 7,8,X and iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.
  • Requires Android 5.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.

BirdGenie™ is a trademark of Princeton University Press.