If life holds one truism, it is this: you gotta catch ‘em all. A major philosophical debate from my childhood was if given the chance, would you rather live in Harry Potter’s world? Or the world of Pokémon? Both posit that life truly starts at age 11, both have sentient, self aware creatures who can help and hinder you, both have fascists which you must defeat. Ultimately, my little brother and I decided that Pokémon was the way to go. You could truly set out on your own, exploring the countryside and making friends along the way. And instead of everyone you love dying like in HP, they just faint and then a red-headed clone brings them back to life. My love for Pokémon never waned, but my childhood fantasy that I could someday really be a trainer dissipated like the puff from a Koffing’s spout/pustules. Until I discovered birding.

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Majestic and adorable.

The eBird and Merlin Bird ID, both from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are 2 free apps that are functionally very similar to a PokeDex. Just like a PokeDex, the data you collect on birds in the wild goes to scientists. But these ones are at Cornell University, working to expand the scope of human knowledge about our animal brethren like so many tenured Professor Oaks. Once you’ve downloaded the apps, you can head out into the wild or heck, find a window, and your journey has begun. 

Once you spot a feathered friend in the wild, you’ll use the ID app. You’ll fill in a quick series of multiple choice questions about size, color, and location (ie, swimming vs. soaring). Then the app does its best to identify your bird. Mark the sighting in the app eBird and boom! You’ve helped science. The cozy familiarity of seeing a Pidgey is mirrored in the identifying of a house sparrow. The thrill of seeing an Articuno soar through the sky is not unlike the sheer joy of catching a great blue heron mid-hunt. 

It’s highly illegal to capture native species for domestication. So we probably won’t be training any birds to fight each other. We also don’t have Nurse Joy’s tech to revive anything or the ability to shrink animals down to fit in our pockets, but we can record our sightings and send them to real scientists doing real research to help the planet. So if your goal as a trainer is not to battle, but to bask in the glory of Pokemon/Birds, then go forth, and catch ‘em all.

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