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Birda founders describe their expansive birding app

A relatively new birding app for Apple and Android phones offers a social-media-like experience focused entirely on birds. Birda, which recently became available in the United States, allows users to log their bird sightings via a user-friendly interface, keep lists, and interact with other birdwatchers.

I recently interviewed John and Natalie White, the app’s co-founders. They first launched a website and mobile app in 2013 for users to share wildlife sightings in southern Africa. In 2018, they began a global birdwatching community called Chirp Birding, which has now evolved into Birda. Read on to learn more.

 

What’s the goal/mission of Birda? 

The mission is to take having fun outdoors and healthy competition and turn it into a driving force for good. The Birda challenges motivate you to get outside and connect to nature and the wildlife around you. You then share your experiences with a super-friendly community, and suddenly your well-being improves, and you gain an increased appreciation of birds and the natural environment. We believe that if you connect, you protect.

Your bird sightings are used for scientific research that supports the preservation of birds and their habitat, all this with the same smartphone that sometimes conspires to keep you on the sofa scrolling. Combining having fun, feeling better, and saving the natural world seems like an outlandish idea… but that is the essence of Birda.

The app seems to focus on allowing people to share bird sightings. Is there a way to share links to bird news, YouTube videos, bird books, feeders or other products, bird advocacy actions, etc.? If not, is that something you would consider adding?

The app is designed with sharing in mind. At the minute that means that users can share their bird sightings and adventures, whether that’s pictures of actual birds, the scenery, or you and your friends out in nature. We also have birding and conservation notices from partner organizations like BirdLife International as part of the feed. Here users can click on a link to read birding news, donate to conservation projects, sign petitions, buy books, and more. We are still at the beginning of our journey, and we have a huge number of features on our roadmap for the future so watch this space.

 

Does the app allow a user to import a checklist from eBird? 

Yes. You can import sightings from eBird, BirdTrack, and BirdLasser and we will be adding many more options in the future, too. We know that many birders already upload their sightings to other platforms, some may even still have a life list in spreadsheet format and want to move it across to Birda. Everyone is welcome. Sightings imported from eBird and other platforms will count towards Birda life lists and challenges.

 

Natalie White

The app’s “locations” function suggests nearby places to look for birds. Where does that data come from? In other words, how does Birda know that these 215 species have been reported at a certain park, for example? 

Birda uses approximately 1 billion sighting records (collected over the last 10 years) to populate the species lists and rarity scores in the Birda location feature. Some of these sighting records are generated by Birda’s own users and the rest are sourced from the GBIF, who publish open sightings data from the global birdwatching community.

 

How many people are using Birda?

Birda launched in Europe in January 2022, the U.S. in September 2022, and now we are live globally. This year has seen extremely encouraging growth, our user engagement is high, and we are the fastest growing birdwatching community on the internet.

 

All of the major social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok – have quite a bit of birding content and communities. What does Birda offer that is different? 

Birda and other niche social networks (e.g., Strava, Waze, and Fishbrain) are distinct from major social media platforms in that we provide features and functionality that are very specific to our niche. So, in the case of Birda’s birdwatching niche, we have all the benefits of a standard social network, but we also have a stack of useful features that birdwatchers depend on. For example: an integrated field guide, ability to log sighting, automatic generation of life lists, challenges, location feature to find where to go birding, and more. It is the marriage of the social and niche specific features and functionality that has given rise to the massive growth in niche social networks.

John White

Birda turns the discovery and exploration of bird life and the outdoors into a game by using challenges, leader boards and fun badges. This helps people enjoy and get the most out of their birding journey. So, unlike mainstream social networks, Birda is composed of, and was created by, people that enjoy discovering birds, that want to connect to nature, and that want to improve their well-being. On Birda you can do things like find out what birds people near you have seen and where, create and curate your own bird lists to keep track of all your sightings, use the species guide to help you identify birds you’ve seen, or ask the community for help identify a bird you can’t figure out. 

These are all cool features, and you can do all sorts of amazing things connected to exploring the birds around, but what really sets Birda apart are all the different challenges that you can take part in. These challenges (things like identifying a certain number of species during a certain time period, spending more time in nature, etc.) promote healthy competition, help people get outside more often, and get people sharing their adventures and experiences on the app.

The cherry on top of the cake is that all these challenges and features that are enhancing the enjoyment of your birding journey are creating bird sightings that are then used for scientific research to help preserve the things you are enjoying. You feel better, the community grows stronger, and the natural world is better off for it.

 

You mentioned a couple of times that sightings in Birda are used for scientific research. Can you explain further? How are these sightings made available to researchers?

Yes, Birda has just been endorsed as a data publisher by the National Biodiversity Network so we can now officially start contributing to the GBIF. The GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) is an international network and data infrastructure funded by the world’s governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on Earth.

If you are interested in the quality of Birda’s data that is shared for conservation, here is a bit more information. 

Birda has spent a lot of time refining the platform in such a way that it produces valuable, quality data for conservation researchers. This is accomplished through a combination of user-centric features as well as background features.

Birda’s user-centric features to improve the quality of the sighting data:

  • When adding sighting records, location-based species lists are used to limit species lists to only the species we know to occur at a location.
  • When adding sighting records, location-based species lists are also sorted from most common to least common.
  • Birda’s species lists are integrated into the Birda species guide to help users find the correct species when adding sighting records.
  • Birda has a ‘Suggest Species’ functionality that gets the community involved in identifying and reviewing species posted.
  • Birda’s community can flag sightings that are incorrectly identified (or have other issues) so that they can be manually reviewed by regional experts. 
  • Birda is in the process of developing species identification quizzes to track and improve users’ species identification skills.

Birda’s background features to improve the quality of the sighting data:

  • Birda uses Birdlife International’s bird distribution dataset to verify that sightings have occurred within known distributions and flag sightings occurring outside of known distributions.
  • Birda uses location-based species lists (based on over 1 billion verified historical sighting records) as further verification that sightings have occurred within or outside of known distributions.
  • Birda is in the process of gauging each user’s species identification skills and using this to segregate sightings datasets based on perceived data quality. 
  • Birda is partnering with a variety of local ornithological organizations and ornithologists to vet data and validate unusual records. 

Over time, Birda will be working on integrating additional functionality to improve the quality of the data it produces for conservation researchers.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

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