Nicholas Lund

nature and science

Can New AI Chatbots Like ChatGPT Help You Identify Birds?

There’s that quote from the movie Jurassic Park that goes: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.” In the case of Artificial Intelligence, or AI, I feel like scientists and just about every person on Earth has thought about whether we should and decided we shouldn't. But here we are, doing it anyway. To be clear, I'm not talking about I, Robot stuff (yet), but the various advanced online AI chatbots suddenly being released by tech

Birdist Rule #85: Write In Your Field Guides

I thought every birder did this. Do we not all do this? I chased some birds this winter, eventually finding my milestone 700th ABA Continental bird—a Common Gull in Eastport, Maine. Afterward, I shared some photos on Twitter of the handwritten notations I made in my Sibley field guide and got a lot of responses. Many birders said they do the same, and shared images of their well-loved books. Others had their own methods of keeping physical records. But some responses caught me off guard: What

Inside the Amazing Cross-Continent Saga of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle

The journey of the lost Asian bird started more than a year ago. Follow along as birders gather in awe and speculate on its next moves. At 10 pounds and with a 7-foot wingspan, the Bald Eagle is one of the largest flying birds in the United States. Yet the two juvenile Bald Eagles I saw perched in a tree in Massachusetts on December 20, 2021 looked like pigeons compared to the other bird on the limb with them: a Steller’s Sea-Eagle. Everything about seeing a Steller’s Sea-Eagle in New England i

This Birder Also Happens to Be One of the Best Skateboarders on the Planet

If you used a microscope to examine the overlap in the Venn Diagram between birders and professional skateboarders, you’d find just one man: Dave Mull. The 32-year-old Vermont native is one of the most exciting skaters in the sport, a daredevil with a penchant for creative and death-defying tricks like roofdrops and, uh, the “Manramp.” He’s also a real-deal birder: He gets giddy at the sight of a Townsend’s Warbler, he helped run a banding station in the mountains near his home in Los Angeles,

The University of Illinois Might Make a Kingfisher Its New Mascot. It should!

Update 9/22/20: The University of Illinois Senate passed the resolution 105 to 2, with 4 abstentions. Spencer Hulsey will now work with the chancellor on next steps to make the Belted Kingfisher the school's official mascot. I am afraid to even type this for fear of getting 2020 stink all over the words, but here it goes anyway: Something good might happen. It’s not a COVID-19 vaccine or anything, but I’ll take what I can get right now. Are you ready? The University of Illinois might adopt

One of These Birds Should Be Washington, D.C.'s New Football Mascot

The professional football team playing in the Washington D.C. region needs a new name. Gone is the racist slur they’ve been playing under since 1933, and in its place is, well, no one knows. The team is undergoing a “thorough review” of their identity, and is thinking through replacements. There are already fan favorites emerging, such as the Washingon Redwolves, and online betting houses are predicting institutional-type names like Presidents or Lincolns, along the lines of the Washington Natio

How to Pronounce 17 Tricky North American Bird Names

A wise person once said that you should never make fun of someone for mispronouncing a word because it means they probably learned it by reading. Birders can relate. We read all kinds of unusual names in field guides but rarely get the chance to hear them spoken out loud. And it’s not like the birds come and introduce themselves. Consequently, there can be a lot of trepidation when pronouncing a bird’s name in front of another birder for the first time. For example, when describing my excitemen

My Brief Reign and Embarrassing Fall as a Fantasy Birder

I was the king of the fantasy birding world on January 1, 2019. The first day of the inaugural Fantasy Birding Big Year competition had ended and I, your humble internet bird correspondent, was perched alone atop the leaderboard. Unfortunately, my lead would not last long. Eventually, hundreds of other players joined the game, and they were smarter, more organized, and more dedicated than me. I was quickly dethroned, and spent the rest of the year cursing and clawing my way across the continent

How Many Bird Species Does Santa Claus See On Christmas Eve?

The current world record for number of bird species seen in a single calendar day is 431, set by a team of birders working their way across Ecuador. It’s an incredible record, one that required exhaustive planning, a group of skilled birders at the top of their game, and a fair amount of luck in getting favorable weather and avoiding delays. It’s probably about as perfect a Big Day attempt as there can be. But, I bet it’s already been beaten. In fact, I bet it’s beaten repeatedly by just one m

The Best Places to See Seabirds Without Getting Seasick

Have you ever been seasick? It is—and please indulge me in a pause here for dramatic effect—THE worst. Being seasick is the absolute worst. So what can the sensitive-stomached birder do to see great seabirds without losing their lunch? Seawatching, of course. I’ve given you a general primer already, but seawatching is the great hope of land-lubbers who want access to pelagic species without having to board a boat. But not all seawatches are equal. Some spots are better than others, and some ar

How to Tell a Canvasback from a Redhead

When you’re all set on identifying Mallards and are ready for the next level of waterfowl, Redheads and Canvasbacks are waiting. These are stately diving ducks, with clean colors and dignified postures that tell you right away that they won’t be begging for bread crumbs. But the two species look similar—the drakes with coppery heads, dark chests, and light-colored bodies, and the hens a fairly uniform brown. So, some ID cheats are recommended. First, know that range maps won’t help. Both of the

Birdist Rule #96: Know Which Wrens Live Near You

Wrens aren’t our flashiest birds, but they more than make up for it with their big personalities. Small and brown, they rarely sit still, whether vigorously defending  their nests and territories, pecking for food on the forest floor, or just incessantly chattering away. They’ll get into shouting matches and physical confrontations with interlopers, including much larger species and humans, and even destroy eggs of other birds. In other words, wrens don't mess around. They’re also loud. Really

Birding Like It’s 1899: Inside a Blockbuster American West Video Game

The first time I see ravens, I flush them out of an alpine meadow carpeted with wildflowers. I pause to watch the flock fly off towards the distant, snow-capped peaks, trailed by their echoing croaks, when a man riding by on horseback bumps into me. Irritated, I shoot the man dead, and take his hat. So it goes in "Red Dead Redemption 2." Available since October, "Red Dead Redemption 2" (RDR2) is a video game set in an imagined version of the American West in the year 1899. It’s a massive releas

Can't Take a Birding Vacation? Try Google Street View Instead

I am the most well-traveled birder I know. In the past week alone, I have seen Torrent Ducks in the Urubamba River in Peru, watched an Ivory Gull fly over the ice floes in Nunavut, and witnessed a Black Kite alight on a perch in Queensland, Australia. I’ve watched tiny, endangered Cobb’s Wrens scatter under my feet on a beach in the Falkland Islands. I’ve seen condors soar in the Andes. I’ve been to all seven continents in the past seven days without getting a single immunization or enduring a

This New Guide Finally Simplifies Gull IDs

No family of birds causes quite as much heartburn as gulls. Just as I might convince myself that a stray plastic bag is a Snowy Owl, I sometimes also hope that a gull is actually a plastic bag so I don’t have to try to key it out. Those birds really get in your head. But what is it that makes the gull family such a feared foe? It’s not their diversity; there are only about a dozen regularly expected gull species in any one place, far fewer than the beloved warblers or even the cryptic sparrows.

Birdist Rule #43: Personalize Your License Plate With Something Birdy

Tasked with locating their mates among a dense mass of identical-looking birds, Emperor Penguins have evolved an elaborate vocal organ which can emit two sounds at once. Birders have it easier. Tasked with locating each other among the throngs of similar-looking cars on the road, we can just personalize our license plates. The other week I saw an out-of-state plate in a ferry terminal parking lot that read B1RDER, and I knew immediately that these people were my people. I didn’t even need to me

Learn the Fall and Winter Colors of These Common Bird Species

If there’s one thing you need to know about seasonal feathers, it’s this: Birds in spring are dressed to kill, while birds in fall are dressed to chill. During breeding season, birds employ all manner of seduction on potential mates, including beautiful songs, choreographed displays, and bright, crisp feathers. Like a fancy tuxedo on prom night or a few sessions in the tanning bed, many male birds put on their nicest duds each spring to impress. Once breeding season is over, though, it’s back

Where to Find the Rarest Swift in North America

The number one thing you should know about Black Swifts is that pursuing them always leads to an adventure. You’re not guaranteed that when seeing most species—no birder ever regaled you with the thrilling story of the time they saw a House Sparrow—but as one of the most mysterious and difficult-to-find birds in North America, finding Black Swifts is never a snooze. My first attempt to chase them involved hiking deep into and up a canyon in western Colorado. I was dripping sweat and breathing h

10 National Parks That Are Surprisingly Great for Birding

The National Park Service manages 417 of the most beautiful landscapes and important historical and cultural sites in America. Many of these national parks are world-famous for their wildlife. For birders, however, the most popular national parks aren’t always the areas with the largest bird diversity. A big plot of land does not guarantee a big list of birds. Features like high habitat diversity, whether a park is a migrant trap, and the “Central Park” oasis effect can all lead to a large numb

A Birder's Dilemma: Should You Name Your Baby After a Bird?

Back in January, my seven-month-pregnant wife Liz was a tornado of activity. She was setting up the registry, scheduling doctor's appointments, planning for the nursery, getting us on daycare waiting lists, and of course, carrying the baby. I, meanwhile, was sitting around, thinking about what we'd name the kid. It wasn’t as relaxing as it sounds. In fact, choosing a name for our baby boy, we learned, was next to impossible. Both of us made a list of names we liked, and then started culling. Fi
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