How to get the upper hand in Bird-Watching 101

This device can tell you what bird is making that annoying noise outside your window.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

This looks kind of like the slide projector that we used in my third-grade social studies class back in...whenever I was in third grade. But it's not: it's actually a digital tool to enhance the experience of bird-watching, called the Song Sleuth Digital Bird Detector. Turn it on, and it can decipher 160,000 different bird calls in real time, thanks to audio data from Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. It can also record sound so that you can put it on your computer later, for whatever reason.


I might be wrong about this, as bird-watching has never been a hobby of mine, but I thought that part of the mystique of bird-watchers was their ability to recognize any kind of bird call and immediately be able to name the species, gender, age, and what-have-you. So, my first impression of the Song Sleuth was that it was just plain cheating, kind of like Boy Scouts learning to orienteer with GPS devices instead of compasses. ("Hey, Bobby, screw this woodlands thing. My Garmin navigator says there's a KFC nearby.") But, apparently, this thing's legit. Fellow Craver Harry Fuller is a hardcore birder, and I heard through the grapevine that he found this gadget pretty impressive.

If you know somebody who likes birds, and have a little bit of spare cash on your hands--it's $300, according to Gearlog--he or she would probably sing like a canary if this gadget were under the Christmas tree. Sorry, I know that's really lame, but I kind of had to say it.