Our List Runneth Over

By Hugh Powell
website blog redesign ovenbird
Ovenbird painting by Cornell University’s own Louis Agassiz Fuertes, 1897.

We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us with this first-phase bird ID tool. As of Tuesday evening, your suggestions had produced a starter list 180 species long, including everything from Mourning Dove (the overall frontrunner) to Bermuda Petrel (all I can say is: Where do you live, and can I come over?).

And suggestions are still rolling in. I’ll keep updating the species cloud over at the Listmania post, so check back from time to time, and keep the conversation going.

Before we move on to another topic (tomorrow), here’s a roundup of a few of the design suggestions we got among all the species lists.

Several people said they like the design on our blog – we even got a request to make more bird thumbnails in the same style as the warblers at the top of the page. I’ll say thanks on behalf of Alex, our designer (he’s blushing right now) – we’ll see if he can create some more as we go forward. Incidentally, we’ve also had some compliments over on Edu Style, a site that covers academic website design.

There were also good suggestions to keep this version of the tool designed with beginners in mind – a comment that underscores the irony in asking people to list the names of birds they need help identifying. Rita pointed out that beginners pay more attention to larger or more colorful birds, so our list should reflect that.

Several people asked for species lists organized by region – definitely a feature for our bird ID tool. Other suggestions for narrowing down the list of possibilities included size, habitat, and characteristic height in a tree. Here we start getting into shaky territory for a bird ID tool, since any categories that have hazy boundaries (or, like size, are hard to estimate) cause problems for an ID tool.

A couple of examples of this difficulty: I recently saw an Ovenbird singing its heart out from a limb about 75 feet high (from All About Birds: “A small inconspicuous bird of the forest floor”). And for habitat, what about the Golden-crowned Kinglets (“most frequently found in coniferous woods”) I’ve run across in the ornamental spruces lining a city park on Cape Cod? My sense is that these characteristics may be better left to species accounts, where you can use them for reassurance rather than as something to base the identification on. What do you think?

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