April 2020 Supplement

Virtual Birding in a Time of Isolation

Recognizing that those who enjoy being out of doors and appreciating birds might find it difficult to adjust to the presently widespread "lockdowns", both the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab have produced dedicated guides to the extensive virtual features in their respective websites. Audubon's "Bird Therapy"[1] and Cornell's "Beacons of Hope"[2] are both custom-designed portals to the various existing resources they offer appropriate to these times. Learning, listening, and watching opportunities are abundant on each site.

On the other hand, created especially for the current health crisis and for birders who are accustomed to regular group gatherings, the American Birding Association offers a "Virtual Bird Club"[3]. The first meeting was streamed March 25 on multiple social media platforms and featured Audubon columnist and blogger The Birdist, Nick Lund, whose tongue-in-cheek "How to Draw Birds"[4] instructions could be great fun for locked-in kids (see more below) and young-at-heart adults.

A presciently valuable writing from the past is Noah Strycker's essay on Virtual Birding[5] (from 2012, before his 2015 Big Year record). Noah uses experiences through a bird cam on the Farallons to explore the differences between in-person and remote sightings, and introduces the concept of "meat birds" as the alternative to virtual ones. Can you put them both on your life list? Refer to our April 2019 article on Bird Cams to find opportunities to see species you might be missing!

For stay-at-home students, a wealth of informative, well-designed learning activities is available free at MrNussbaum.com[6]. In the Science section, there are bird lessons, bird eBooks, and more, with grade levels indicated as a home-schooling guide. There is a fabulous array of downloadable birdy activities which could keep any child engaged, involved, and enriched for months if not years. Parents will want to stock-up on printer paper and cartridges, and may enjoy the lessons as much as their kids.

Finally, to fully immerse oneself in the possibilities of virtual birding, there is no equal to Fantasy Birding[7]. This free - reportedly addictive - game (your reviewer is in recovery and has not participated) uses eBird reports to generated imagined sightings by players, in group competitive "fantasy" birding events including Big Years and Big Days. With less bird tourism occurring during isolation, knowing residential areas with high bird/bird watching populations would be a plus. The best description of the game, its rules, and strategies of play is likely the one given on the ABA website[8] by the game's creator, Matt Smith.

The Bird Wide Web™ will be publishing a new article each month.

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