Birding archives: predictions from 1994

I recently received about 15 years of old Birding magazines and in reading through them I came across an article in the February 1994 issue with predictions for technology advances in the next 25 years of birding. It is now 15 years after the article was written so I thought it would be neat to look at what has come true so far and what is still just a dream. Predictions are in the text boxes with a bit of analysis below it.

Optics were not expected to improve significantly, except for the addition of electronic gadgets like audio/video recorders and stabilization.


These gadget laden optics have certainly hit the market, but usually in lower quality optics and have not been widely adopted for use in birding. I have seen Canon’s stabilized binoculars featuring 12x and 15x magnification used at hawkwatches but only occasionally as the optics don’t match up to the Swarovski and Zeiss binoculars hawk watchers are fond of. There are also binoculars with cameras built in but the binoculars are subpar and the cameras too gimmicky to record anything useful. Zeiss has now introduced an eyepiece for their scope that can take images without any additional attachments. The RememBird (right) is an audio recorder that fits on your binoculars and allows you to record field notes as well as bird songs and play them back. So, there have been advances in the gadgets that couple with birding optics, but they have not reached widespread usage at this point.

The real advances were predicted to be around the devices we would carry into the field with us. Electronic field guides no bigger than a Golden Guide would provide users with complete text and plates for 200 bird guides. Also, multiple vocalizations, including all songs, flight calls and contact calls would be available for instant comparison. Going even further, it was predicted that this device could identify the song of an unseen bird for you.

We are almost there. From the National Geographic Handheld Birds for Palm to iBird Explorer (at left) for the iPhone and Windows Mobile platforms, we have very portable bird guides. A basic version of Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds is also available on the iPhone. Unfortunately, we still have a while to wait until either of these provide the complete text and plates from 200 bird guides, but with internet access to sites such as Birds of NA Online from the iPhone, there is a plethora of information available. Loading up any iPod with a whole variety of songs, flight calls and other bird noises is now possible, assuming you have all the CD’s. The software birdJam, has made it simple to organize Stokes Field Guide to Bird Song CD’s for quick access on an iPod. We are still waiting for a small device that can identify bird song, but one recent attempt was the Song Sleuth, which is now out of production. They are planning on releasing a new design at some point.

Listservs and other websites for sharing sightings were predicted to become widespread.

Listservs and websites for sharing sightings have all been around for quite a while at this point. You can access all the birding listservs at BirdingOnThe.Net. The real growth recently has been in the numbers of websites devoted to birders sharing their sightings. eBird is an early example, but other sites devoted more towards listing such as Birdstack have popped up. A twitter-based sightings site, ChirpTracker, provides instant bird sightings. With services such as twitpic for mobile phones, birds can be photographed and sightings shared in seconds. There is even a map-based site, Aviatlas, that provides info on birding sites worldwide, with info on yearly bird occurences.

Many of the predictions in the Birding article have proven accurate, with still 10 years left to go. It seems safe to say that is getting easier and easier to let others know about bird sightings. It will be interesting to see what the next 10 years bring.