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Droves of people rediscovered nature through the greenery of local parks and the wildlife of backyards during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, the popularity of outdoor activities skyrocketed, with a full 8.1 million more Americans hitting hiking trails in 2020 compared to 2019.
One of the activities that seems to be sticking around is birding, which has never been easier thanks to technology that replaces the field kit with a smartphone. Sales of bird feed and backyard bird feeders saw bumps of 45% and 50% following the onset of the pandemic, as one metric of the huge rise in popularity.
Now comes the launch of Birda, a free birdwatching app aimed at curious people who want to deepen their connection with nature. I've found Birda to be a free, easy-to-use tool for logging the birdlife around me, and it provides the lowest possible barrier to entry for new birders while giving old hands a range of useful tools.
How to use Birda to start birdwatching
The cool thing here is there's no expensive kit needed. Birda turns every smartphone into an intuitive yet powerful tool for logging the birds you see -- whether you know what they are or not. The interface is user-friendly for casual backyard bird admirers and serious birdwatchers alike.
You can either log each bird you spot one at a time as you see it or log multiple bird sightings as part of a longer birding session. Track your progress by building lists of all the species you've spotted.
1. Get the app
The Birda app is available for Android and iPhone. Once you have the app, create an account.
Sign up with your email address or create an account using sign in with Google, Apple or Facebook. Enter your name, select an avatar emoji, and select your gender. Birda uses this information to place users on leaderboards for various milestones.
Birda will ask to access your location and photos, which are crucial to maximize the functionality of the app during birdwatching sessions. Sightings are automatically geotagged and you can add photos to sessions and sightings.
Birda's community standards are worth a read and are an important part of the experience. Birda wants to protect birds and the natural habitat they live in. They also want people to be bird safe.
2. Import any existing sightings
Already have a thriving birdwatching career? Cool, you can import your sightings to the app. To simplify the process, use the Birda import tool, which works with existing apps such as eBird and Birdlasser, so you can get your existing sightings on Birda in a flash.
Next you can curate your collections. Birda generates sub-level lists based on time and geographic location. One useful tool is the home list. Birda will add any sightings within a radius of 500 meters around your home to this list. This privacy zone means the exact location of sightings at, or close to, your home is hidden from everyone except you.
3. Get out there
Go outside and look up. Really, that's how you start!
Birda will create location-aware species lists to make it easy to anticipate and identify new birds. When you add a sighting, the species list Birda shows you only contains the birds that have been seen in your general location, which gets pretty granular (about 60 kilometers).
Birda includes the International Community of Ornithologists Clements and Birdlife taxonomies and will assign one to you automatically based on your country, but you can change this in your settings. More advanced birders can choose the taxonomy they'd prefer to use.
4. Share your adventures
We live in the age of sharing. Birding can be a solo or group activity, but in either case it's fun to share and see what others have found in your area. Have a loved one in another state? Share your birding finds with them and connect over a new hobby.
Sharing can also help you with identification, crowdsourcing the knowledge base of the internet. If you don't know which species you've seen, post a picture of it and flag it as "unidentified". When you do this, your followers are notified and asked to help with identifying what you've seen. Users vote and you select the winner.
5. Compete (or not)
If you like a little competition, you can compete with your Birda followers collecting observations and species counts.
Not into making it a race? Cool, you can also disconnect the app from the internet and use it offline. Offline mode, which is helpful for remote places, helps you disconnect and focus on the birds and the outdoors. After all, this is all about getting away from the computer screen so you can stretch your legs and forget about the news and your looming deadlines.
6. Bonus! Help conservationists
Using Birda, you'll be helping conservationists protect birds. Anonymous combined logs from the app can be used by scientists and environmental protection organizations to create a picture of species movement. This will help to put the proper measures in place to support and safeguard them.
You'll also find local conservation activities to join and projects to donate to through the app.
What gear do I need to start?
Just the app and your eyes. But if you want to get serious we'd recommend a good pair of binoculars.
What are the benefits of birding?
Aside from exercise and a brain-expanding hobby, getting out in nature has profound psychological and wellness benefits. Just take it from Natalie White, Birda cofounder: "The healing power of nature was paramount in getting me through my struggles with cancer. It's motivated me to do more to protect our natural world, inspire others to do the same, and leave a legacy for my daughters."
What other apps can help me get outside?
I'm a big fan of Seek for plant identification. AllTrails is a great resource for crowdsourced hiking spots nearby. Merlin Bird ID is another great birding app you might consider.