Illustration: Lilli Carré

Birding

If I Were a Robot, Here's All the Awesome Birding Features I'd Have

Eventually we'll all be cyborgs, so you might as well start thinking about it.

What will birding be like in the future? It’s impossible to know for sure. Climate change or nuclear war might mean that life lists top out at only a handful of species. Or, thinking positively, maybe a prolonged worldwide peace will bring about an awakened ecological understanding. Our planet’s bird populations will rebound, and once rare species will yet again flourish. Heck, maybe we’ll even bring back some extinct species so they can retake their rightful place on Earth.

Whichever version of history comes to pass, one thing is certain: We’ll all soon be cyborgs. With all this internet everywhere now and the smartphones and Google Glass, I see it as just a few more years until we’re all just individual digital brains uploaded to customizable lifelike cyborg bodies.

It might sound frightening now, but trust me it’s going to be great. We’ll all be able to turn ourselves into exactly the kind of cyborg birder (known then as “cybirder”) we want to be. What will I become? Check it out:

Mega Telescopic Eyes: Of course, the most important cybirder upgrade is telescopic eyesight. Forget having to lug around heavy binoculars, scopes, and tripods, with telescoping eyes you can just zoom right in on the bird you want! Zoom will ratchet from 8x (for pelagic birding trips) all the way up past 60x. Auto-stabilization is standard, but an extra fee gets you heat- and night-vision, perfect for finding owls and nightjars.  

Expandable Bird Blind: We’ve all had birds flush and fly away before we could get a good look, but those problems are soon over. At the push of a button, a bird blind will burst out of your back like an airbag and envelop the cybirder in full-body, bird-fooling camouflage. Different styles will fit different habitats, including bush (woods), big rock (beach, desert), and trash can (urban birding).

Rocket Legs: Travel is currently the most frustrating aspect of birding. You know the birds are out there, but it’s too expensive to just pop up to Nome, Alaska for a weekend trip, you know? Thankfully, the entire lower half of my cybirder body will be made of rocket legs that’ll let me travel fast and far, anytime I want to. I have no idea how I'll fuel them, how loud I’ll be, or how I’ll be able to walk around when the jets aren’t running, and I don't really care. I just want personal fast travel. I’ll let scientists of the future work out the details.

Ayyash-y, the Gull Assistant: Just because you’re a technobiotic cyborg doesn’t mean it’ll be any easier to identify gulls. Thankfully, I’ll have help. When I start trying to identify a gull, a small animated version of expert gull-identifier Amar Ayyash will pop up into my peripheral to give me tips about molt schedules and primary mirrors. It’ll be sort of like Clippy, the cartoon paperclip from old versions of Microsoft Office, except actually useful.  

Onboard Bird Feeders: Having a digital brain means that you’ve freed up a lot of space on your body that was previously needed for bones and guts and stuff. I’ll have hollow arm tubes with little drawers for bird food, allowing me to attract birds instead of having to go find them. I’ll have the normal seed and suet, but also a wooden section to attract woodpeckers, a thorny bit so shrikes have a place to skewer lizards, and a few segments for rotting meat and fish to attract vultures and gulls. The smell won’t bother me; I won’t have a nose.

Chest Nest: But why stop with just feeders? My hollow chest cavity with customizable entrance hole will be the perfect size for roosting owls or nesting Bufflehead. I’ll just have to make sure no raccoons sneak in there. I can replace my kneecaps with gourds for Purple Martins and maybe put a little crook near by ear for tiny hummingbird cup nests. Birding in the future will be the best, because the birds will come to me!

Ball Neck: Frankly, our current human necks really limit our ability to see birds. They get sore when we keep craning them to look at warblers in the treetops, and we can only turn them 90 degrees in each direction. Not good enough. My neck will be replaced with a ball joint, like the one I have on my tripod, that’ll allow me to easily scan around a full 360, and look up and down with ease. Problem solved.

Birdsong Translator: In the future we’ll know a lot more about how birds communicate and will be able to translate their songs and calls into language we can understand. Out in the field, it’ll give amazing insights into bird behavior, but you can also turn it off when you’re sick of hearing birds just say, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” to each other, or “Hey, baby, come mate with me! Hey, baby, come mate with me!”

A Break from Bathroom Breaks: Okay, so this isn't really a feature, but it's definitely a perk. Since we’ll all just be brains uploaded into a cybirder exoskeleton, we won’t eat or drink in the same way we did when we were humans. This will be convenient, as it will relieve us of having to interrupt our birding to go find a bathroom. Instead, the biodegradable oil that lubricates our moving parts can simply be drained and replaced at a more convenient time. Perfect!

Those are all the robotic modifications I think I’d want on my future cyborg body. You’ll notice, though, that I won’t install anything that just outright tells me what the species is that I’m seeing or hearing. I feel like that’s crossing a line. Even as a rocket-legged, owl-housing, camouflaged-as-a-trash-can cyborg dripping with rotten meat, I’d still need to work out the identification on my own. I mean, otherwise it wouldn’t really be birding, would it?

Nick Lund is the founder of the The Birdist, and is a regular contributor to Audubon. You can read his column, The Birdist's Rules of Birding, here

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