Find Cool Birds from Your Subaru Dashboard Using eBird

By Pat Leonard
March 10, 2017
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Some cars can lead you to the nearest latte or make dinner reservations at a Yelp-rated restaurant. But in certain new Subarus, your car can now guide you to the next bird you want to see, by harnessing the power of the eBird project. This feature is available right now in the 2017 Impreza and the 2016–2017 BRZ. It will also be included in some 2018 models that will be available as early as this fall. The eBird app works with the car’s in-dash Starlink system and your smartphone. Here’s what it can do for you:

The app displays nearby birding "Hotspots."The app displays up to 20 nearby birding "Hotspots," showing the number of species found in the last month.
  • You’re on vacation and you don’t know where to go birding. Use eBird in your car to find up to 20 of the best locations within a 50-mile radius and see a list of species reported at each one during the last 30 days.
  • You’re in familiar territory, but there’s a “nemesis” bird you keep missing! Use the eBird app in your car to see if the species has been reported anywhere nearby recently.
  • Heading out for a walk or a picnic, but on the fence about where to go? Check the eBird app for what’s been seen recently, and up the interest level on your outing.
  • It’s migration season and you haven’t had a chance to go birding for a few days. The eBird app can tell you which migrants have been showing up where, based on other birders’ entries.
  • Once you find where you want to go, the app will tell you how far away you are, present a dynamic map showing your car as a moving icon, and back that up with directions along the way. (No guarantee you’ll see the bird, though!)

“It’s pretty clear that Subaru is always thinking about ways its vehicles can be used to enhance people’s lives,” says eBird leader Chris Wood at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “If you’re a bird watcher or just someone who loves nature and is curious about your surroundings, having eBird in your car is the gateway to exploration and adventure.”

eBird collects more than 7 million bird observations every month—information that fuels the bird-finding, location-finding wizardry in the onboard app. What fuels eBird are the lists of birds reported by hundreds of thousands of dedicated bird watchers. In a sense, you have the expertise of all these local birders right in the car with you, no matter where you go. And there’s still plenty of legroom.

Common Goldeneye on the eBird app in SubaruThe app will show you a photo of each species, like this Common Goldeneye.
Common Goldeneye range map on the eBird app in SubaruAnd for most species you can see a range map as well.

How It Works

So, you’re inhaling that heady new-car scent and jingling the keys to your new Impreza. Now what? First you download the Starlink app to your smartphone. When you get in your car, use the 8-inch touch screen to pair your device to the system via Bluetooth, which is already installed in the car. This is the connection that pulls in the eBird data.

When you tap the “Apps” button, choose the sapsucker icon to pull up the eBird app. Opening screens introduce you to the Cornell Lab and caution you against going onto private property to seek out birds.

inside of a SubaruEnjoy birding in comfort. The inside of Subaru's new Impreza.

If you want to know where to find birds in your area, tap on the “Best Locations” tab along the top of the screen. Using the location of the vehicle, the eBird app then calculates the distance to the nearest eBird hotspots within a 50-mile radius. These are locations that eBird users have identified as being great places to see birds. Each hotspot listing also shows the number of species that have been reported there over the past month. Tap on a hotspot name to pull up the list of birds and when they were last seen.

You can also tap on the “Nearby Birds” tab to see a list of species that have been sighted nearby. From that list, you can touch a bird name and see a photo and often a range map. When you tap on the green directional arrow next to the “Last Seen” text you’ll exit the app and go to the car’s navigational system which will provide directions to that hotspot.

You may get distracted by a passing bird, but not by the eBird app. Subaru has made sure that it only functions when the car is not moving.

The eBird is also slated to appear in the 2018 Legacy, Outback, BRZ, Impreza, and Crosstrek models. You don’t need the eBird app on your phone in order to use the car’s eBird app. The app will use a small amount of your phone’s data to download the sightings information. Now, let’s find some birds!

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