Help Us Build Our Top 120 List

By Hugh Powell
June 13, 2008
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Some of us have been wedged into meeting rooms this week, talking about how to make a great bird ID tool. One thing is clear: it’s going to take some time to develop the perfect Ident-O-Matic (some might call it the Petertron) – a tool that can pinpoint any of North America’s 700+ bird species based solely on a user’s recollections of traits like size, color, shape, beak size or, say, number of toes or aroma….

But we don’t want you to get impatient. So we’ll develop the tool in discrete stages that we can roll out over the course of development. (We’ll likely show you test versions of each stage in advance – keep your eyes on this blog).

For the first stage, we envision a tool that guides you to identifying around 120 common bird species through a short series of questions covering location, plumage color(s), general size, shape, and behavior. Later, upgrades will expand the number of species covered and make the searches more pictorial.

So naturally, the first question is: Which 120 birds make the list? Four of us squared off around a table to answer: Alex (representing Boston), Laura (Minnesota), Sam (Texas), and me (California). After agreeing on American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch, the discussion branched out.

“Scissor-tailed Flycatcher? Bohemian Waxwing?”

“If we do California Quail, should we do Gambel’s Quail?”

“Sorry Hugh. Marbled Murrelet is not a backyard bird.”

To build our list, we’re also looking at Project FeederWatch results and popular All About Birds species accounts. Right now we’re whittling down a list of about 150 – but we’re concerned we might be forgetting some. So let us know: What kinds of birds do you have flitting around your town, or singing from your hedges, that we ought to be thinking about?

Coming next week: What makes identification hard or easy?