The MDAS Webmaster is preparing a regular series of monthly columns presenting computer/mobile applications, websites, and other online resources that could be useful to MDAS members. These will first appear in The Quail, the MDAS newsletter, with additional supporting material and web links here on the website. Each web edition of the column will also include complete directions for accessing and/or downloading the resource discussed, with full clickable web links.
As the name suggests, WhatBird (identify.whatbird.com) is primarily a bird identification website. But it bears almost no resemblance to a typical photo-and-description field guide that you leaf through looking for a familiar face. Developed by the same group that produces iBird Lite, a remarkable, free mobile app that will be discussed in the next The Bird Wide Web column, WhatBird brings the full power of computer intelligent search to the process of identifying an unrecognized sighting.
If the initial step-by-step choices of multiple attributes (location, color, size, wing shape, flight pattern, or any of many dozens more) is too daunting, you can start with the "Bird Expert" function (www.whatbird.com/Expert/Expert.aspx), which gently guides you through features which might be more apparent. At each choice, the possible matches narrow. You can use your memory, a photo, or even a description by someone else to provide the input, and likely find the bird you seek.
And then there's the "Browser" view (www.whatbird.com/browse/attributes.aspx), which again allows you to choose almost any characteristic of a bird and then be given an illustrated list, as though a custom field guide had been created to your specifications. You can scroll through all the California birds, or all the hawks of North America, or even all the brown birds. It's your call.
When you've finally picked a species, clicking on its name or icon brings you to a page with more information on that bird in one place than you would imagine. Photos, song, range, fieldmarks, and more, with additional tabs for identification clues and behavior.
With all these features, it's hard to believe that there's also a "WhatBird Community Forum" (whatbird.com/forum/), for help with bird ID, photo comparisons, and discussion topics from feeders to books. It's a whole world of birding from one website.
Be warned that nearly every page of the WhatBird website except for the Forum has ads for the iBird paid app, which is, after all, what funds the entire site.