Spark

Is that a pixel or a Pileated Woodpecker? Birders flock to Google Street View

Search for elusive species from your desk.

Search for elusive species from your desk.

Red-billed Gulls in a parking lot in Paraparaumu, New Zealand, captured on Google Street View (Nick Lund/Google Street View)
Listen9:45

Google Street View is a fantastic tool. You can use it to find out what a building you have to go to looks like, and you can see whether you'd shoveled your driveway when your street was photographed.

But have you ever thought about using it to look for birds?

Nick Lund has. He's an avid birder who runs The Birdist website and does outreach work for the U.S. National Audubon Society.

A few weeks ago, he started a Facebook group called "Google Street View Birding." And since then, members have identified around 700 different species of birds all over the world, just from zooming in on the typically pixelated details of the images.
Nick Lund really likes birding. (Audubon.org)

"Most of the time you don't see anything," he told Spark host Nora Young.. "But when you do it's pretty amazing: you take a screenshot and put a link on the site, and everyone sort of pats you on the back. Or says, 'that's actually probably not that bird—that's just a stick'."

Street View birding gives avian enthusiasts a way to look for birds anywhere in the world from their desktops, Lund said. It's particularly appealing to younger birders who might be in school, or working full time at a desk job, he added.

"I think some older birders are rolling their eyes a little bit, and saying, 'you know, get off your butt and go find some real birds'. I understand that as well. But we're just trying to make the best of what we've got."

Although much of birding can be quite serious and scientific, Lund said that street view birding is strictly for fun. "Birders love to bird, and they love to do weird stuff, and they love challenges, and they love trying to identify. And this is really an outlet for that. I don't think there's enough of that sometimes in life—and in birding too."

And rather than discourage people from actually going outside with a flask of coffee, binoculars and a notebook, Lund believes it could inspire people to actually visit the places they are now looking up on Street View.

"If anything it's probably showed me some places that I want to visit in real life."

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