Spot feathered friends at Birdzilla
Field guides, viewing techniques all part of Web site
(CNN) -- Birding may be the most popular hobby in the United States; an estimated 60 million people do some occasional bird watching. If you're interested in joining them by getting a start in cyberspace, then you can log on to Web sites like Birdzilla.com.
Sam Crowe of Birdzilla.com says his site covers starter topics and tips including, "field guide selections, proper optics, spotting scopes, where to go, and what kinds of birds you'll see when you get there."
The 'there' can be as near as your backyard. Put up a good feeder, add some seed and sit back and watch the birds stop by for a snack. As for figuring out the identity of these new feathered friends, Birdzilla.com suggests a using field guide and understanding some basic techniques.
Crowe says that there are certain key traits you can start with, including "size, ... and you look at colors on the back, head, colors of the breast, whether there are wing bars, wing line, eye rings."
Looking for those key traits, called field marks, was the brainchild of naturalist Roger Tory Peterson, whose legacy lives on at PetersonOnline.com. His field guide set the bird-identification standard back in 1934.
Today's PetersonOnline.com suggests learning the shapes and sizes of a handful of common birds to start, and that will help you learn the clues to identifying other birds.
As you learn to tell your Mountain Bluebird from your Great Blue Heron, you can join the bird world tradition of keeping a list of birds you see. Some people keep a list of birds seen in a day, birds seen in their backyard, or even lists of streets that are named after birds. Many people keep their "life list" -- every bird they have ever seen -- on Birdzilla.com.
If you're interested in spotting a specific species, there is an area on Birdzilla.com where you can sign-up your particular bird. Should someone report seeing it, Birdzilla will send an e-mail advising you where it was seen.
Technology is fast becoming important to bird watchers who want to see a rare bird -- an important part of the game. Once a rare bird is seen, it's important that information is immediately reported and the location information is exact, thus the bird can be seen by other interested bird watchers.
Birdzilla is developing a rare bird alert system that will make use of the cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) now carried into the field by birders. If a rare bird is spotted, then the birder can report the exact coordinates to Birdzilla, which in turn will provide the exact GPS coordinates to those birders who also use e-mail enabled cell phones and PDAs.
You'll find more than 800 species descriptions, hundreds of range maps, pictures of birds and bird songs on Birdzilla.com. And there are quizzes on identifying birds and games featuring their songs. You also can send your friends a fine-feathered postcard, complete with photograph, catchy tune and personal note.
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