Birds on the Internet: Sifting the best websites for bird information
If we were to conduct a poll asking people what their favorite literary genre is, we'd get answers all over the chart from science fiction to European history. There's a reason Barnes and Noble carries so many titles, it caters to a reading public with extremely diverse interests. Likewise there is no single category of motion picture that appeals to all, tastes are just too variable to simply corral. With this in mind let me offer a short -- yet by no means comprehensive -- review of a few of my favorite birding websites, knowing full well it won't fit everyone's opinion.
Allaboutbirds.org is a reasonable place to start. Operated by the premiere ornithology school in the U.S. (Cornell University), this website is clean, crisp, comprehensive, easy to navigate, and consistently updated. A little something for everyone here, it offers articles and videos on the basics of bird identification, extensive species accounts for most North American birds complete with photographs and sound files, plus everything in between. If you need specific information about birds or birdwatching, this is your source.
Equally useful in the bang-for-the-buck category is aba.org (ABA = American Birding Association). Here you will find the ABA blog, a fun and informative running log updated daily with entries such as the account of an Old World flycatcher called the red-flanked bluetail found in British Columbia on Sunday, Canada's first-ever record and only the second from mainland North America. Perhaps more than any other, this site might be considered the go-to source for purchasing reference material. In addition to the vast collection of optics available, ABA Sales is the "Smithsonian" of books and multimedia dealing with birds from North America and around the world. If it's not here, it's not available.
On Audubon.org you will find multilayered pages with some rather stunning bird photography. All the historical data from the 113 Christmas Bird Counts can be mined here also, a great resource. More than most, though, this one might be considered more a resource for those wishing to "get involved" as page after page at least hints at conservation issues, most with a political message.
Over at Whatbird.com a person finds themselves in a sea of blue. Seriously. If you can get past the somewhat annoying blue-colored backdrop to just about every page on this site, it's pretty good. It seems to be more targeted toward birders with beginning or intermediate skill sets, but that can be a good thing. A responsive search feature quickly takes you to decent species accounts complete with colorful range maps and, in some cases, user-uploaded photographs. Most attractive for me is the fairly large collection of sound files accompanying nearly every bird. Equally intriguing is the online forum where bird identification discussions take place.
Birdwatchersdigest.com is the online version of the popular and highly readable monthly magazine of the same name. A little thin on content and fat on advertising, it's still a nice diversion from some of the more technical sites out there. It seems to cater to the birder looking for the 'why' of birding, a welcome subcategory largely ignored elsewhere. The magazine employs a worthy posse of contributing writers that make reading their pages thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, I'd highly recommend subscribing to this magazine for that reason alone.
For the person looking to wholly lose themselves in bird photography the world is at your fingertips with many websites to satisfy your desire. One, Birdsasart.com, stands out as perhaps one of the finest. It's where Florida-based photographer Arthur Morris posts his dramatic bird photographs, conducts photo safaris, and engages visitors with links and helpful instruction.
Finally, closer to home, we have NDbirdingsociety.com. While not the most professional of sites (it's run by a volunteer in Bismarck), it's packed with local information, submitted photographs, and relevant links. The link to the state's bird listserv (ND-BIRDS) is the one I use the most. It's the easiest way to see what birds are being found across the state without having to subscribe.
This short list is nothing more than my personal take on what's available to each and every one of us via the Internet. I would only encourage you to explore this vast universe of information for yourselves as an adjunct to your exploration of the great outdoors.