Originally created 02/05/01

Software that's a real 'tweet'



A new software item is for the birds - well, for the birders, that is.

(Birders are people with binoculars who do to birds what would get them arrested if they did it to people - spy on their most intimate moments, photograph them and publish the results.)

The product is Combinations YardBirds Series, and it runs on any Windows platform, from 3.1 to ME. It should delight birders as well as those who just want to know "what kind of bird was that?"

The producer, Ramphastos, is a small operation, but the software is first-rate.

It's very interactive and intuitive. If, for example, you want to know which birds winter in New Jersey, click on that state and that season and the answers are ready.

Each bird is shown in a detailed color illustration, and the page offers the option of more data, hearing the bird's call or opening a journal entry where you can record observations: "Saw chestnut-backed chickadee on statue of W.C. Fields" or whatever.

This is convenient for those who load their laptops with the software and take it into the field. The software's ability to do a drill-down search makes an on-the-spot identification of a bird relatively easy - certainly easier than thumbing through a book.

You can search a bird by name, by the kind of feeders that flip its switch - you name it. If it's about a bird, there's a hook for it. The information includes range maps, identifying characteristics, and state or province of habitat.

The software has novice and expert levels, and a slideshow feature that can be used for educational purposes or, when running in the background as a window, to drive your office colleagues nuts, since each slide prompts the bird's call.

So where did the name Ramphastos come from? Company president Paul Bunning explained that its logo is a toucan, adding, for the non-birders among us, that the toucan belongs to the Ramphastidae family, as in family, genus, species and other sleep aids from high school biology.

Installation went smoothly, but there was no uninstall module, and Windows ME, at least, didn't want to know about YardBirds in the "add-remove programs" module of the control panel. There's no Mac version now, but Bunning says one is in the works.

System requirements are modest indeed at a minimum 486 processor, 16 MB of RAM, double-speed CD-ROM drive, SVGA color monitor and standard sound card.

Bunning says the suggested retail for YardBirds is $54.95, which sounds pricey until you realize that it's a compilation of several previous programs costing $19.95 to $34.95. And it's upgradeable as new chapters are added, with shorebirds "wading" on deck. Upgrades cost $5-$10.

While it's available in a few hundred retail outlets, the easiest way to order YardBirds is by calling (888) 221-2473. (The Web site, http:www.ramphastos.com, at last look was a bit out of date. In a small operation, product is the priority.)

Bottom line: If you like looking at birds, look at this.