birdPodEveryone knows that the difference between good birding and truly great birding often depends on one’s ability to identify birdsong. Unfortunately, many bird watchers, myself included, are fairly skilled at the watching part but not so hot with the listening and identifying. Help has finally arrived in the form of a brilliant piece of birding gear. The birdPod is a simple, yet elegant solution to an age-old dilemma of bird song identification. To wit, there has never been a greater abundance of resources to help develop one’s familiarity with bird song, from books and CDs to software and websites, than exist today yet none of these items are exactly convenient to deploy out there where the birds actually are. The birdPod, on the other hand, is most assuredly both convenient and portable.

The birdPod is a slick little package (it does run on an iPod after all) capable of delivering in seconds the vocalizations of up to 650 species of North American birds. The genius of the birdPod is not the iPod itself; that’s Apple’s masterwork of design. Nor have the manufacturers of the birdPod put together their own coast to coast compilation of bird calls. For that, they turned to the highly regarded Stokes Field Guides to Bird Songs, Eastern and Western Regions. What birdPod delivers is an efficient, intelligent system.

The birdPod Maker software organizes the Stokes song library, augments it, and adapts it for the iPod. The birdPod software automatically removes bird name narration at the beginning of each bird song track, splits double tracks into single tracks so each bird has its own track, normalizes bird nomenclature, and adds bird family information, scientific names and bird song descriptions. It also sorts more than 75 playlists of bird songs organized by habitat and logical bird groups.

This final feature is one of the system’s greatest strengths, partially compensating for the fatal flaw of any index of avian vocalization. The birdPod clearly does a tremendous amount to close the gap between strange call and certain classification but cannot do it all. The user must possess enough knowledge to actually dial up a track in the field and compare it to an unknown vocalization. If, when confronted by an unfamiliar trill, you don’t know enough to pull up warblers and ignore hummingbirds, you may not get optimal results from the birdPod out on the birding trail. If, on the other hand, you can at least identify your ecosystem, say field or forest, and eliminate obvious exceptions, the birdPod is a definite asset in unmasking secret songsters.

Another obvious use of the birdPod is for educational purposes. Just as students preparing for the SAT might flip through thick stacks of flashcards on the bus or at breakfast in a gambit to increase vocabulary to college levels, so can birdPod owners peruse sequences of aural flashcards while commuting, eating, even working. Best of all, you’ll look hip doing it!

The birdPod looks to be a very useful tool for any birder attempting to expand his or her repertoire of North American bird calls. As a marriage of an exceptional library of bird vocalizations and the hottest portable music player on the market, it is more than the sum of its parts. Becoming the proud owner of birdPod seems pretty easy: you can order the software, the Stokes CDs, even a new iPod fully-loaded from the birdPod shop. Anyone who’s ever wondered at an unfamiliar cheep, peep, or treetop tune will find this piece of gear a fine friend in the field. And when you’re tired of listening to birds for the day (as if that could ever happen) you can still cycle through your favorite mp3s!

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.