World birds online: The top collections

2007 January 30
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — How do you find photos, videos, or sound files of a particular bird species? I used to get frustrated when Google Images turned up nothing and search engines spat back hundreds of pages of bird lists but no results with media files.

Times are changing now, but you do have to know where to look. Several sites and online projects have set out to collect multimedia resources on as many birds as possible, and some are doing a very impressive job. Of course, nobody will ever be able to collect pictures of every bird in the world, but it will be exciting to see how close some of these projects may come in the years ahead.

  • The Bird Database at BirdForum is a huge and very active database with photographs of 4,923 species* at the time I wrote this post. You can browse alphabetically by English name or do a simple search. I can’t find a way to search or browse by taxa higher than genus. Registered BirdForum members can submit photos for possible inclusion in the database, pending review by a moderator.
  • The Mango Verde World Bird Guide has collected photos, sounds, and video for 5,043 species so far. You can browse species by families or do a search. Photographers can contribute still images by emailing William, the webmaster. All the videos are William’s and he doesn’t say whether he accepts contributions. The sound files are mostly links he’s collected to other sites.
  • The World Bird Gallery contains photographs of 5,089 species. You can browse alphabetically by English name or by families. Unfortunately, the photographs are quite small and often badly pixellated, and there is no option to view a larger image. The site has not been updated in quite some time, which makes me wonder whether the webmasters are still accepting new submissions or not.
  • The Internet Bird Collection holds video footage of 3,292 species and boasts better search capabilities than any other site in this list. The project leaders accept video footage from the public but prefer it be physically mailed to Spain.
  • The Field Guide: Birds of the World group on Flickr is another attempt to build a library of world bird photographs. Over 2600 species are currently represented in the pool. The low barrier to entry means that the pool is flooded with images of common species (e.g., 320 photos of Great Blue Herons) and improperly tagged images, though the moderators try their best to stay on top of things. [UPDATE: I just discovered Alastair Rae's interface for the Flickr Field Guide, which lets you browse in taxonomic order by families. Thanks, Alastair!]
  • The Guide to Animal Sounds on the Net has collected links to bird sounds hosted on sites around the world. Navigation can be a little challenging, but it sure beats trying to find the sound files you need on Google.
  • And finally, I elected to include Birds of the World on Postage Stamps, which hosts a huge collection of world postage stamps featuring birds. You can browse by order and family or do a search, and Chris includes range maps on the species pages where the stamps are displayed. If a photograph isn’t available, perhaps you can find your bird on a stamp!

There are, of course, many other sites that host bird pictures, but as far as I know, these are the serious efforts at building world bird databases organized by species. If I’ve missed some, please let me know.

Now, what if you’ve gone through all the sites and still can’t find your bird? Well, even the top sites have only about half of the world’s approximately 10,000 species. Unfortunately, that means your bird might not be in any of the databases.

The positive side, though, is that each of us can help to help build these databases. I was thrilled to discover that I could contribute photos of as-yet unrepresented species, subspecies, and plumages.

You may think that you can’t possibly have any photographs that the databases need, but you’d be surprised. As of tonight, the Flickr Field Guide does not have a single photograph of a Chimney Swift! Olive Warbler and Rose-throated Becard are also missing. And that’s right here in North America. Those of you in other parts of the world have an even greater opportunity to contribute.

Enjoy these resources … and consider doing your part to make them as comprehensive as they can possibly be.

* Because each site uses a different taxonomy and because collections are growing all the time, precise numbers are not especially useful for comparing sites. That said, I’m listing whatever numbers the sites gave at the time I compiled this post. [top]

Related posts:

  1. Birdstack: World bird lists online for free
  2. Birds of the World
  3. Birds of the Equinox online
  4. Organizing all the world’s birds
  5. Top 10 Birds of the Decade

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