Dan Tallman, retired Ornithology proferssor - I have always been a big fan of Thayer's Birding Software. Thayer Birding has released two interesting new editions of their software: Version 4.5 (For Widows XP, Vista, Widows 7 and Mac OSX 10.4 to 10.7) and Gold version 5.5 (for Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7--BUT NOT FOR THE MAC, unless you run a Windows emulation program in your Mac.) Thayer provides free updates for birders who already own version 4.0 and Gold 5.0. Those of us with older versions need to purchase new DVDs.
This software is an incredibly robust tool for learning the birds of North America. When I taught ornithology, my students bought these DVDs in place of a normal textbook. Although the prices of these products seem expensive, most college textbooks cost more! In any case, the DVDs come with an imbedded 785-page copy of The Birder's Handbook
. While perhaps not replacing a traditional ornithology text, this handbook, linked to individual species accounts, provides extensive bird biology.
These DVDs provide students with the ultimate set of flash cards for learning birds. Students can easily produce quizzes covering all birds, state birds, or even local birds. After using these quizzes, my students commented that identifying birds was pretty easy. I replied that most things become easy if you study as hard and as often as they did while using their Thayer bird quizzes. Bird calls included in this software can be transferred to iTunes, and thus used on cell phones, iPods or other MP3 players.
There are many improvements among the various editions of these DVDs. You can check out the many features of these DVDs at Thayer Birding Software. The one that inspired this review, however, is the inclusion of over 600 photos of bird eggs and nests. This feature makes this resource all the more valuable for birders. Briefly, the Gold edition now contains 970 species and 3,431 photos. There are 719 bird songs and 552 video clips. (Compare this to 702 species, 2,501 photos and 655 songs in version 3.9). In addition to more video clips, version 4.5 adds 53 new species from previous editions.
Don't be misled by my emphasizing beginners' learning birds with these DVDs. This software will be enjoyed by birders of all abilities. More advanced birders will enjoy identifying new birds, studying birds to be found during travels to new parts of the country, studying unfamiliar bird calls, and even keeping up electronic lifelists. For example, I used my Thayer Birding Software in south Texas to identify the Mottled Duck photographed below. I was able to pull up side-by-side comparisons of Mottled, Black, and Mallard ducks, facilitating the identification of this difficult species.
Dan Tallman - North Dakota Bird Notes (June 2009):
Review of Birds of North America. Version 5: Gold Edition DVD. Thayer Birding Software.
This PC version of this outstanding birding DVD is a great leap above previous ones, including the Mac version, which I reviewed in the September 2008 issue of Bird Notes.
There are so many improvements that the program now comes in two disks rather than one, offering a wealth of information on 957 species of birds. The new species total is the result of adding 32 accidental birds not previously covered. The species are displayed in 2,850 photos and 708 songs, including alarm calls, chip notes and mating songs with sonograms. The photos themselves are of uniformly high quality and include many plumages of the species in question. As in previous editions, bird photos can be enlarged and even printed out. Birders could therefore make a notebook of target species.
Major enhancements of this update are the enhanced quality and great increases in the number of videos and maps. While only about 80 videos were available in previous editions, the Gold Edition provides 551 action videos of birds, 957 detailed range maps and 837 abundance maps. The range maps are greatly improved over maps in the older editions as they now include state boundaries (for Canada, USA, and Mexico) and Central American winter ranges. The range map for the Kirtland’s Warbler also depicts the Michigan counties in which this species breeds. I am told that these improved range maps are one of the major reasons Thayer Birding produced this new version of the software.
Another great feature of this (and previous) edition(s) is the ability to easily import the program’s bird calls into your iPod or other MP3 song player. The bird song is identified on your iPod, but does not have interfering voice-over identifications in the audio, which might scare birds in the field. Imported with the songs is a thumbnail portrait of each species. In my previous review I complained about the small size of these photos—but I have since learned that clicking on the center circle of an iPod enables you to enlarge the photos. Furthermore, many of the birdcalls have upgraded quality, an improvement available in free updates to the previous editions as well.
Amazingly, the Gold Edition allows you to import your own photos, videos, and song recordings, which integrate seamlessly, appearing everywhere—in quizzes, the field guide pages and even in side-by-side comparisons! Previously I mentioned that I used to build quizzes of the birds my students saw during my ornithology classes. Quizzes can be in several formats: flash card, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or random. (The program also comes with ready-made quizzes.) With this edition you can also make bird call quizzes. Because of the ability to now import photos into the program, you can build quizzes using your own photos, and not just those of birds. Imagine quizzes of wildflowers, butterflies, birds of areas of the world you plan to visit, or even people! A new feature is the ability to find species accounts by using banding species codes, those four-letter words that often irritate listserv readers. You can make quizzes and learn the codes if you wish. Quizzes can also incorporate the new range maps.
Beginning and intermediate birders will find the Identification Wizard very useful. By entering an unknown bird’s color, size, habitat and location the user will be shown a photo gallery of all the birds matching the entered data. The zoom-in feature and side-by-side photos facilitate accurate identification. Even if you never see the bird, you can identify it just by its song. For any bird, two very useful button clicks give you a page with similarly plumaged species or a page of closely related species. Advanced birders will enjoy being able to see photos of similar species side by side.
Using this software you can also keep your life list of when and where you see birds. I have not used this feature, having become wary of the possibility of losing a lot of work due to crashes of other list-keeping computer programs. Be sure to back up any such list or use a simple spreadsheet program (and back that up too)!
According to the Thayer website the system requirements include “Windows Vista, XP and 2000; 1 Gig RAM; DVD drive; 6 GB free space on hard drive; plus hardware and software required to support multimedia applications. Technical support requires Internet access. Loading the program into my computer was easy. I did notice that the program speed was greatly improved the second time I used it.
This review hardly begins to describe the usefulness and robustness of the Thayer Birding Software Gold Edition. I find myself in complete agreement with Thayer Birding when they claim “…this DVD a must-have for your birding library. This is the definitive edition of birding software!” The retail price of $169.95, therefore, is not outlandishly high. A comparable product covering European birds costs almost twice as much. This program is certainly worth the cost of a couple of nights at a fancy restaurant!