My bookshelves are lined with field guides, including at least five devoted to North American raptors. But no matter how often I look at their images or read the expert text, bird books can convey only so much information about their living, breathing subjects.
That’s why I’m excited about a new smartphone and tablet app from HawkWatch International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Raptor ID” features high-quality videos and photos of all 34 North American birds of prey. The videos include voiceovers that help users understand nuanced flight behaviors. Simply put, the app offers an experience you cannot get from a book.
It’s great for studying raptors at home, and it’s a useful tool in the field: After watching a high-flying bird that you can’t identify, simply open the app and see how its flight characteristics compare with birds on the screen.
Renowned raptor experts Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan produced the photo and video content. They are co-authors of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors (Crossley Books, Princeton University Press, 2013). Liguouri, author of Hawks at a Distance (Princeton, 2011), has written about two hawk watches for our popular “Hotspots Near You” section: Yaki and Lipan Points, at the Grand Canyon, and Chelan Ridge, in Washington State. And Sullivan, a project leader of eBird and co-author of Better Birding (Princeton, 2015), is part of the team that produces “On the Move” in every issue of BirdWatching.
The app also features raptor vocalizations, overview text (similar to an ID book), and distribution maps. And it links to seasonal maps on eBird, where users can view recent sightings of each species. You might not be surprised to learn that all of this video, photo, and audio awesomeness takes up a lot of memory: 1.1 gigabytes — more than most other bird apps.
“This has been a long time in the making,” says Liguori. “Brian and I have spent most of our lives studying raptors and collecting raptor photos and videos. Twenty years ago, I never would have thought it would lead to such an interactive experience for people.”
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