| Review: Hardware and Software, November 1996|
Identifying the avian cackling in your campsite or the little brown jobs swarming around the feeder on your deck--often a befuddling endeavor--just got easier. The tower of ratty field guides that bird fanciers wade through, matching photographs, drawings, and taxonomic charts to make a positive ID, now can be replaced by a single, authoritative CD-ROM: The National Audubon Society Interactive Guide to North American Birds (Alfred A. Knopf, $56.95). At once exhaustive and user-friendly, this compendium contains nearly all the bird-specific texts (including 723 birds) from Audubon's 13-book series of guides to North America. Available for both Windows and Macintosh, the CD-Rom takes full advantage of its electronic medium, with video clips that show birds performing aerial courtship, finely detailed photographs, and stereo recordings of 700 birdcalls. Other features include a trip planner so you know where to go to spot, say, an olive-sided flycatcher (Maine's Acadia National Park), and a program that lets you turn your life list into a customized database. And for the avid birder bent on self-improvement, there are timed tests by which you can gauge your ability to match a shriek to a shrike and a kee-kee to a killdeer. Of course, if you want to use this guide in the field, you'll need a laptop.