Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published October 16, 2012 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Icons on phone

Three full-feature field guides are as close as this "smart phone." For free extensive ornithilogical information use the nearest web device.

Birding Encyclopedias

Ibird App In the fall of 1945, shortly after World War II ended with the dropping of two Atomic Bombs on Japan, a new dream occupation leaped into the consciousness of teen-age boys alongside the old standards of “cowboy” and “professional baseball player.”  Suddenly the exotic and mysterious future lifework of “nuclear physicist” became the dream goal. I decided I needed to get a head start on all my friends who had the same dream. Where to begin? Obviously, the encyclopedia!

At that time the gold standard for encyclopedias was the Britannica, but our school had the second tier Americana, which you could only access in the library at school. My father had succumbed to a smooth door to door salesman selling the World Book, with a new volume coming out each month starting with A and working through the alphabet. We were then up to L so I didn’t have too long to wait. Finally, volume N arrived and I hurriedly leafed to “Nuclear Physics.” There was about half a page on the topic, and I didn’t understand a word of it.

That was a very short lived dream occupation, and it was quickly back to “cowboy” and “baseball” even though my Dad was very subtly implanting “lawyer” without myrealizing it. I had not yet learned the term “ornithologist” and at that time bird-watching was regarded as a sissy activity, so I kept my interest pretty much to myself.

Ibird App indexAs my birding interest became more intense I often wondered why there wasn’t an encyclopedia for birds or birding. There was, but I wasn’t aware of it, and it certainly wasn’t in our school library anyway. Arthur Cleveland Bent was more than half way through his 21 volume “Life Histories” series which he began in 1919 but wasn’t completed until after his death in 1968. The series was reprinted by Dover publications Audubon appbut it was difficult to find all volumes for a complete set. Now the work is largely on-line at http://www.birdsbybent.com/index.html.

The next major encyclopedia of birds was the “Birds of North America” joint project between the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the American Ornithological Union, edited by Dr. Frank Gill. From 1992 through 2003 over 5000 individual researchers contributed to 716 individual printed species booklets, released as they were completed, and in no particular order. The entire collection is now available by subscription on-line through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/, but much of it is available free at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birds_of_North_America

The most ambitious encyclopedia of birds that I am aware of is the Lynx Editions 16 massive volumes “Handbook of the Birds of the World.” A more appropriate description would be “Fork-lift truck book …” but it purports to illustrate and treat in detail every known species of bird in the world. The project started in 1992 and was completed in 2011. Sibley apphttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handbook_of_the_Birds_of_the_World. A free on-line collection can be found at http://ibc.lynxeds.com/.

But friends, entire encyclopedias of birds are available as apps for your smart phone. Three in particular are on my phone and available at all times, in the field, at home, at work, whenever I have my Android smart phone in my pocket. They are “Bird Pro” by iBird.com (left), featuring 924 species accounts and selling for $4.99; “Birds” by the National Audubon Society (right, top) with 777 species also for $4.99; and “Sibley Birds,” an online version of David Sibley’s popular field guide (right) featuring 810 species and available for $19.99. I understand there are additional intriguing apps available for iPhones. So just go to your app store and download your encyclopedia. You won’t even have to watch the mail, or wait for shipping, or the next volume to be issued. Or, easiest of all, just type any bird’s name into Google search. An amazing amount of information is available at your fingertips!! (10/16/2012)


Birding encyclopeidas

Don't forget those detailed birding compediums on the bookshelf.

(Click photos for larger versions)