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Smartphone application takes the mystery out of birdcalls.

Even the most experienced birders have trouble matching more than a handful of songs with species, but UW–Madison ornithologist Mark Berres may have answered the prayers of bird watchers, researchers, and even the most casual naturalist with a new smartphone application.

WeBIRD, the Wisconsin Electronic Bird Identification Resource Database, was inspired a few years ago when a graduate student stepped into Berres’s office to show off a nifty iPhone trick.

“He recorded a short bit of music coming from the radio in my office, tapped an identify button, and in a few seconds, it told him the name of the song we [were] listening to,” Berres says. “Right away, I thought, ‘We can use this for birds.’ ’’

For more than a year, Berres, an assistant professor of animal science, and his students have been testing and improving an app that allows anyone with a smartphone and a mysterious bird nearby to record the bird’s call, submit it wirelessly to a server, and (after a few seconds) receive a positive ID on the species of bird tweeting away within earshot.

“I am amazed at how good it is,” says Berres, who has also used WeBIRD to identify grasshopper species by their clicking calls and frogs by their croaks. “In fact, not only can WeBIRD tell you which species you’re hearing, it’s good enough to identify individual birds from their song.”

Published in the Spring 2012 issue

Tags: Research, Science, Teaching and learning

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