Two local men are helping beginning birders know their marks.
At the intersection where Karl Mechem's passion meets his profession, Bird Genius was born. His passion, for at least the past eight years, has been birding. But coming to the popular avocation relatively late in life, Mechem was struck by how difficult it was to learn bird identification.
As he writes in the description of Bird Genius, a digital app he developed, “Learning to identify birds can be daunting. Let's face it, they don't sit still, they're often tiny or far away, and they sometimes seem to look exactly alike.”
That's where his profession as a textbook writer and editor entered the picture. Mechem, a Downtown Columbus resident, began to envision the learning tools that always worked best for him. “Flashcards are still a very functional learning tool,” he says. “We've developed so many awesome technologies, but sometimes the basics still work the best.”
He put together a team and produced Bird Genius, a flashcard-style app for Apple products that helps teach bird identification. It includes about 500 of the 1,103 species listed on the official checklist of the American Birding Association. Those 500 birds are represented by more than 900 photographs, showing variations between male and female or spring and fall plumages.
Many of the photos used in Bird Genius were taken by Dublin resident Justin Cale, a birder and professional photographer who met Mechem while pursuing birds at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. Mechem eventually shared his idea for an app and sent out a list of bird images he needed. “I had an advantage in that I already had a lot of them,” says Cale, who works full time for the Ohio State School for the Blind and part time for Wildside Nature Tours, a travel agency that specializes in birding and wildlife.
Cale says he's particularly happy with the way his friend's app turned out. “You can modify the app and break it down by bird type, region. If you give it permission to track your location, it will provide a list of birds for that area you're currently in,” he says, also praising the app's multiple-choice quizzes.
“I'm proud to be a part of anything that provides understanding and promotes conservation and appreciation,” Cale continues.
Now that the platform is in place, Mechem says he'd like to develop similar flashcard-style apps for learning both tree and wildflower identification. Bird Genius sells for $7.99 per download, and Mechem says he hopes to build a version compatible with Android devices. “The learning curve to birding is really steep and intimidating,” he says. “I think this helps make it more approachable.”
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