For the Birds Radio Program: Last Minute Gift Ideas

Original Air Date: Dec. 23, 2003

Laura seems to be a procrastinator when it comes to gift-giving. (Date confirmed)

Audio missing


Christmas Gift Ideas

Now that it’s really too late to go running out for last minute Christmas gifts, I’m finally assembling my list of good gift ideas for the birdwatchers in your life. Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about the best bird software. My favorite CD-Rom is the one put out by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology titled Guide to Birds of North America, Version 3. It’s expensive, running $69.95, but it’s well worth it, with songs and distribution maps for all North American birds, several photographs for each, and video clips of about 90 species. For each species you can also read the entry for that species in the book, The Birder’s Handbook, and if you’re connected to the internet, can jump to information about that species from several websites. It has fun quizzes, superb screen savers, and all kinds of little extras.

Cornell’s Guide to Birds of North America has even more expensive companion software titled Birder’s Diary, which is a listing and record-keeping program. The North American version, which allows you to track all your sightings of 2,031 species of birds in North and Central America, costs $75, and the World version, which tracks the 10, 241 known species in the world, costs $140.

Now that digital cameras are making excellent bird photography easier, more lovely photos of birds are available. A couple of local people that you may not have heard about are selling wonderful photographs right now. Frank Nicoletti, who is one of the counters at Hawk Ridge, has been immersing himself in wildlife photography, and has produced a lovely display of wild bird photographs at Wild Birds Unlimited. Some are framed. Frank has a wonderful eye for detail, and is a patient observer so he’s captured some lovely moments with birds from warblers to owls and herons.

Another really cool Duluth nature photographer is Heather Odden, who has developed a series of works she calls “Flower Your Bliss.” She takes a regular photograph of a bird or flower, and then does amazing things with her computer. She gave me a host of Blue Jay photos, from only two original photographs. Thanks to her digital play, some look like exquisite Matisse paintings while others are gloriously electrified, in bright neon colors. They’re strange and amazing and wonderful.

Some people on your gift list may simply want the basics—a pair of binoculars or a field guide. The most cost-effective binoculars for all but the most constant birders are those in the middle price range—the jump in quality from $50 binoculars to $200 ones is enormous, but the jump in quality from $200 binoculars to $1000 ones is more subtle. Most people prefer 8-powered ones. They magnify the birds better than 7-power, and don’t magnify as much shaking and hand movement as 10-power, and also have a bigger field of view, so it’s easier to find the bird in the first place. The best field guide? Right now there are too many fine ones available to choose a best. My three favorites are the National Geographic, Roger Tory Peterson, and Kenn Kaufman guides. David Sibley has produced eastern and western versions of his huge guide, and these are small enough to actually be useful in the field. My only complaint about his guide is that it’s got so very much information about each species that there is room for only one or two per two-page spread, meaning it’s hard to compare similar species without thumbing back and forth.

By the time you hear this, it will probably be too late to get out Christmas shopping, but this may give you some ideas for how to spend any Christmas gift money you receive, or what to give to a birding friend who has a birthday coming up.