Like Pokemon, but for birds

The first thing you see when you open the app find the birds is an animated character with a small backpack and binoculars. The perspective quickly changes to a view through the binoculars. A black bird with a shiny orange beak then passes on the screen: the black oystercatcher.

Your goal as a birder is to explore Tofino and find 10 different species of birds. You also set out on an ocean voyage to find the elusive black-footed albatross – and are challenged to complete a conservation quest, ridding the ocean of plastic debris, along the way.

Tofino and the Pacific Ocean meet the Okanagan as British Columbia sites featured in find the birds. The game also features a habitat in Arizona, where users can search for the critically endangered California condor. And most recently, the game launched Japanese locations in Fuji, Hokkaido, and Okinawa.

In essence, says Adam Dhalla, it’s a kind of Pokémon for birds.

Dhalla, 17, who developed the game with his father, AJ, was responsible for designing and drawing concept art for all the birds.

He also provided information on bird behavior and habitat, knowledge fueled by more than a decade of birdwatching, a hobby he began in the winter of 2013 when snowy owls took to the streets of Vancouver in an unusual way.

Dhalla is a bit of a go-getter. He has already written a textbook on machine learning, spends his evenings writing a novel (a long poem about ants) and is the recipient of a full scholarship to the university of his choice (textbooks – the his or others – included).

His mind seems to be running at double speed, his speech shifting effortlessly from the specific structures of plant life around us to mathematical theorems to Dostoyevsky’s philosophy and ethics.

A teenage boy in a blue collared shirt sits on a log, looking to his right, holding a pair of binoculars.

Adam Dhalla searches for birds at Rocky Point Park, Port Moody.

As Dhalla’s passion for birdwatching grew – at one point he had seen over 900 different species of birds – his interest in nature grew as well.

“To be interested in all living things is to be interested in birds,” he says, as we pass through Rocky Point Park in Port Moody and he listens to the rustle of trees and signals the call of the sparrow. singer, “a dull little bird with a beautiful sound.

“Birds have been my pathway to caring about conservation. I went from noticing nature to caring about what threatens nature,” he says. “To conserve birds is to conserve the possibility that a better world exists.”

Soon Dhalla noticed that there were few other children who enjoyed birdwatching. He saw this as a sign of a more worrying trend: his generation could be in danger of losing the ability to slow down and connect with nature.

“Everything is bite-sized now,” he says. “And noticing nature is completely opposite to that. You have to stare at a bush for hours. You have to walk through the forest without headphones.

He also noticed that there were no bird watching games – that is if you exclude the hugely popular angry Birds.

He created find the birds to introduce users to nature with precision, without requiring the patience of a true ornithologist.

Dhalla hopes the game will encourage users to go out and search for the real-life versions of their pixelated and feathered friends – “screentime to greentime”, as he puts it.

And in some ways it was a success.

The game currently has around 10,000 users from over 47 different countries, with an average rating of 4.8 on the Apple App Store. In a survey, 98% of respondents who played the game said their interest in birds and conversation increased.

But Adam still struggles with the demands of time, especially in the gaming industry where success is determined by how engaged users are – basically, how many hours they spend using the app. .

If the ultimate goal of find the birds is to get people off the screens, then the success of the game will be very different from that of mobile games like angry Birdswhere eyeballs glued to screens are the general focus.

Two pink and gray birds flit around a cactus.  The sky is pink.

Two vermilion flycatchers, vibrant birds featured in the Arizona level find the birds.

This paradox reminds Dhalla of the height of his own birdwatching days, when his passion for birds turned into an obsession where he traveled the world for a single sighting.

AJ Dhalla remembers how people laughed when they saw Adam: a 12-year-old boy carrying a camera and lens almost half the size of his body.

AJ Dhalla also remembers running around Washington state looking for a Code 5: the birding term for a rare sighting. The bird was a swallow-tailed gull, its natural habitat the Galapagos Islands. Sneaking onto a beach just north of Seattle, Adam spotted its gray feathers and hooked black beak and added it to his “life list” of sighted birds. But there were also times when Adam and AJ piled into the car and raced down highways and across borders to see nothing in return.

“Between eight and 12 years old, Adam was obsessed with every bird,” says AJ Dhalla.

Adam’s obsession was not unique. Jonathan Franzen, one of the literary world’s most famous birdwatchers, once wrote for the New Yorker that to sight a bird was to feel “connected to a well-calibrated blob of speed.”

There’s also the Big Year, an annual birding competition where birdwatchers compete to see the most bird species in North America. The fiercest year was 1998, when one of the main competitors lived for three days in the Dakotas, surviving entirely on a jar of peanut butter and a bag of pretzels – just to see a single bird.

The Big Year is still a huge event, except technology has moved on. Where they once relied on pagers, birders now rely on Twitter for information about sightings, which are then logged into apps and celebrated, praised and envied on social media.

This frenzied bird watching has its downsides. AJ thinks of the carbon emitted when crossing borders or flying to Costa Rica. He also thinks about the stress caused by the sport – both for the spectator and for those who are watched.

“At the end of the day, it’s not good for conservation,” he says.

For modern birding and Dhalla application, tools from the modern era are used to spark interest in an old school hobby.

But both also suffer from the same setback: how do people deal with this technology’s tendency to push us to seek instant gratification, validation, and consumption?

In other words: go find the birds will it encourage people to get out, or will it only serve to further attach users to their screens?

Adam thinks the approach they’ve taken with the app will alleviate this problem. The game is slow and it is not unlimited. It is also non-profit and connects users to other organizations where they can volunteer in conservation.

Adam has also heard stories from older birders who have used the game as a way to connect with their children and grandchildren. After using the app, these users said, they all headed out into the forest together, binoculars in hand.

“We’re just introducing new strategies to help people who are already in conservation reach those who aren’t,” he says.

As our interview comes to an end, Adam says he has to show me something. He pulls out his iPhone and plays the call of the Swainson’s Thrush, a bird that migrates from Central America and arrives in British Columbia in May. He starts singing in June.

The sound is immediately familiar – a summery Vancouver soundtrack. Adam often hears it in the morning on his way to class. He stops and still listens, aware of being late but enjoying this precious moment.

“Birds make this world infinitely richer with their presence,” he says. “Many only notice them when they are gone. And if we lose them, what’s the point? Then everything becomes right angles and concrete.  [Tyee]

Comments are closed.