Wednesday, August 17, 2005

New Birds Added August 14, 2005

Here are the new bird added to the Percevia Birds of North America database on August 14, 2005.

Common Cuckoo Breeding Male

Common Cuckoo Breeding Male

Fork-tailed Swift Breeding Male

Fork-tailed Swift Breeding Male

Groove-billed Ani Breeding Male

Groove-billed Ani Breeding Male

Mangrove Cuckoo Breeding Male

Mangrove Cuckoo Breeding Male

Oriental Cuckoo Breeding Male

Oriental Cuckoo Breeding Male

Plain-capped Starthroat Breeding Male

Plain-capped Starthroat Breeding Male

Smooth-billed Ani Breeding Male

Smooth-billed Ani Breeding Male

White-eared Hummingbird Breeding Male

White-eared Hummingbird Breeding Male

White-throated Needletail Breeding Male

White-throated Needletail Breeding Male

Xantus's Hummingbird Breeding Male

Xantus's Hummingbird Breeding Male

Sunday, June 26, 2005

New Birds Added June 26, 2005

Here are the new bird added to the Percevia Birds of North America database on June 26, 2005

Gilded Flicker Breeding Male

Arizona Woodpecker Breeding Male

Golden-fronted Woodpecker Breeding Male

Buff-collared Nightjar Breeding Male

Great Kiskadee Breeding Male

Common Pauraque Breeding Male

Ladder-backed Woodpecker Breeding Male

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Breeding Male

Rose-throated Becard Breeding Male

Three-toed Woodpecker Breeding Male

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Improvements to Percevia June 2005

In the last month we have made a number of significant improvements to Percevia. Be sure and check out the new rating system on the species account pages.

1. Revamped the GUI in several ways for example the group menus are on the left now and they remember the last group you opened if you come back later or use the back button.

2. Moved the Match window to the top of the screen and changed the way it works so it now presents the matches using "paging" like Google does. You no longer have to wait for all the birds to fill up the window. You can click a link to see all the birds if you want.

3. Added a rating system to the bird species accounts so you can now vote on the quality of the illustration as well as leave comments about the page. Please when you visit a bird page let us know how we are doing on the illustrations and content. It takes just one click to vote.

4. News: The North Dakota Department of Health West Nile Virus Surveillance Program is using Percevia to identify birds.

5. We now have 778 birds in the database, so we are almost done with North America. We will begin adding European birds in a few weeks and convert our units to the metric system (English units will be there too).

6. Added a FAQ where you can read a discussion about where Percevia came from, and how it differs from other web sites that claim to offer searching. This should also clear up some confusion about the non commercial and free status of this site.

7. Added a new attribute called "Readily Eats" which contains food items for a large number of birds.

8. Created a Forum for asking questions about a bird you want to identify, leave suggestions and more.

Friday, June 24, 2005

New birds added for June 2005

Here are the 24 birds we have added to the database so far in June 2005:

And here are the five birds we added last week:

Gilded Flicker Breeding Male
Gilded Flicker Breeding Male

Golden-fronted Woodpecker Breeding Male

Golden-fronted Woodpecker Breeding Male

Great Kiskadee Breeding Male

Great Kiskadee Breeding Male

Ladder-backed Woodpecker Breeding Male

Ladder-backed Woodpecker Breeding Male

Rose-throated Becard Breeding Male

Rose-throated Becard Breeding Male

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Search When You Know a Field Mark

The best way to find a bird using the Percevia search engine is when you have noticed a few of the birds field marks. Field marks are attributes of the bird like color, shape, pattern and so on.

Search When You Know a Field Mark There are two steps required when searching with field marks:

You pick a field mark.
You select a value for it.
Repeat Until Found.

Search for a Bird. For example lets say we saw a bird in our backyard that looked like this, and that it was eating at our bird feeder:

Lets also say all we noticed is that this bird had a kind of crested crown, like a spiked hairdo, and we also noticed that the color of this crown was very dark, maybe black.

Okay now look how easy it is to find that bird.

First a word about the interface. Note in the illustration below there are two basic windows.

Match Window. The window on top always shows the first six birds in the database, the rest of them are hidden but can be seen by clicking See All Matches. If you click that now it will display all the birds in the database, which is a lot, so hold on. We only show six to keep things from getting overwhelming.

Field Mark or Attribute Window. The window below the Match window contains all the field marks you can select for your search, which will narrow the number of birds in the Match window. These marks are divided into groups, and you can open a group by clicking on its name. The default group is called Common Characteristics.

Lets go back to finding our bird.

2. Since we saw this bird in our backyard we can start by picking the Backyard Feeder attribute. Select the check box Yes, then click on the Next button.

The search engine will now reduce the database down to just birds that feed at backyard feeders which surprisingly is a very small subset of the over 800 birds in North America. Birds like a lot of variety in there diet.

1. You can see this above the Match window message 61 Matches. Note also the six birds that are displayed have changed, now you are seeing the first six which feed at feeders. At this point you could click on Show All Matches and see all 61 birds. Maybe the one you want pops out at you. If so you could click on it and its species account page would appear in the browser, with illustrations, field mark information, its call or song to listen to, etc. But that is still a lot of birds so lets use the search engine to narrow it to a much smaller list.

2. Also note the small history list at the top of the Match window. This lets you know what you have selected so far, it shows the name of the database followed by Backyard Feeder. There is one more new window that has been added. Its called Specified Criteria and is located at the bottom of the Attribute window. Its a detailed description of what you have selected, showing the name of the Field Mark and the values that have been selected so far. At any time you can click on the Edit button and go back and change what you selected.

We are making good progress. With just a few clicks we have eliminated hundreds of birds.

Pick the Head Pattern. The head is a great place to start when trying to identify a bird so lets select that as our next attribute to narrow the search. Click on the Pattern group and then click on the Head Pattern field mark (icon). This will bring up the values for the Head Pattern field mark as shown below.

1. We now see the various head patterns. Note the one called Crested or Plumed. That is the one we want, so we click in its check box which will select it.

2. Click the Next button.

Pick the Crown Color. Remember we noticed the crest was dark, so lets use Crown color to find just those birds that have a black crown. So begin by opening the Head group.

1. Click on the Crown color icon.

This will open the color choices for the crown. Note that there are a limited set of colors. Percevia has eliminated colors that will not help narrow the search. Its one of the cool features of the search engine.

1. Select Black and click the Next button.

Found it - Steller's Jay.

After clicking the Next button the search engine eliminated all birds that feed from backyard feeders which have crested black crows. It found one bird, the Steller's Jay and so it presents the Species Account page for that bird, as shown below.

There are several tabs at the top of the page for learning more about this bird. Here is what they mean.

1. Species Overview. Basic information about the bird, including description, range and habitat, a link to listen to the call, a range map, and more.

2. Identification. Extensive details about the size, shape and colors of the bird.

3. Behavior. How the bird lives, its lifestyle, feeding, breeding, nesting and so on. Links to web sites about the bird, number of eggs, egg color and much more.

4. Portrait. A full size color portrait of the bird that you can print out.

5. New Search. Restart the search from scratch.

6. Glossary. Definitions of bird terminology.

7. Print it. A printer friendly version of this page.

Now try to find a bird yourself.


Search When You Know a Bird's Name

I want to tell you about some cool changes we have made to Percevia to make your searching more enjoyable. First lets take a look at the three ways you can search, using the bird database as our example.

Search When You Sort of Know a Bird's Name. At the top of every page is something we call Quick Search. This simple looking text field is actually magical. With it you can enter the enter the name of any bird, even if you dont know exactly how to spell it, and the software will try to guess what you mean and automatically present a list of likely names to choose from in a drop down menu. Here is how to use it.

1. Select the database you wish to use from the drop down menu called Select Database. In this case we selected Birds of North America (there are several others, including a Laptop Buyer's Guide, World Facts, etc.) but we will ignore them for now. However they work the same way.

2. Type the name of the bird you are thinking of in the field called Search Term.

Thats all there is to it.

As you type your name a drop down menu will appear under the Search Term field with a list of the birds the seach engine thinks you are looking for. If you keep typing the list of possible birds will grow shorter. You don't have to type dashes. This effect is often called autocomplete. At any time if you see your bird on the list you can click on the name and the species account for that bird will appear in your browser in a new window.

What could be more simple?

Friday, May 27, 2005

New changes to Percevia

About a week ago I posted a message to a number of birding newsgroups about some changes we made to Percevia, our bird ID engine

That message generated dozens of replies from the lists, almost all positive, for which I am most grateful.

Who would have thought a kindergarten teacher would present the most obvious flaw in the program? She pointed out that the Match window that shows the birds you have found was hidden away at the side of the search page, so she did not notice that it was being updated! We took her observations and several other’s from this list and revamped the interface again. The changes we made might seem subtle but I believe that they make a huge difference in the usability of the program, and make it more suitable to young people who are not so savvy of internet applications, yet who see things we as adults miss. Who was it that said youth is wasted on the young?

Changes we made from list feedback:

o Moved the match window to the top of the browser.

o Added a history display at the top of the attribute window so you can see your progress in searching.

o Put the QuickSearch box at the top of the screen in the banner area. Here you can enter the name of any bird in the database and the system will attempt to autocomplete the name of the bird you are looking for. Click on that name and the species account page opens. We are using a technique called asynchronous client side access, which is something that Google has pioneered. It allows instant responses to your typing without having to wait for the server to respond. Give it a try and you will see what I mean.

o Added a drop down list so you can switch to a different database to search (we have several).

o Made the point to start more obvious (Begin Here – Select an Attribute.

And here are some of the prior developments:

o Side by side Comparison Grid: Example of four birds:

o Online tutorial/help:

o Blog:

Thanks to everyone here for the continuing support. If there is any thing else you want me to change just send me an email directly.


Mitchell Waite
Sausalito, California

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Size Question

A person asked about using the Size attribute:

"In the size attributes, is there a better way to visually express bird size than the images used? A friend using that attribute refused to select medium because she knew what she saw was not a duck."

The Size attribute presents five images representing one of five sizes, Large (16 - 32 inches), Medium (9 - 16 inches), and so on. The image itself is symbolic, it doesn't mean you are picking a duck when you select Medium for example. Its just represents something in that range. Perhaps there is a better way to represent size? Actually there already is.

But first a caution. There are some weaknesses with the Size attribute. Its is fine when you know the bird falls into the middle of one of the size ranges, but what if its on the edge of a range?

A better attribute to use is the one called Length Range. This is found in the Body Group. There is also a similar one called Length which is found in the Extras Group. Length Range represents all the different sizes a particular bird can have, for example a sparrow might be between 5 and 6 inches in length. The database stores two values for almost every bird. The Length attribute is a single number that represents the average length of a bird.

Visually on the page these attributes present two "sliders" -- one called Minimum and one called Maximum. You slide each pointer to the closest value you believe the bird's minimum and maximum size is, then click Next. You can see the actual values appear in small boxes to the right of the slider. Thus if you think the bird is between 8 3/4 inch and 9 1/2 inch you can move the sliders to these positions.

In doing so you will isolate birds that are either an average size between those two numbers, or in the case of Length Range, actually vaires in size between those two values.

By the way when you use the sliders you will notice that it is not a linear representation but rather skips some values. Thats becasue it represents the actual values in the database. This is a very slick feature as you can't pick a length value that does not exist.

I hope this clears up using Size vs Length for identifying a bird.

Of course that does not help your friend who is confused by the duck. Perhaps we need to add a footnote to the images that they are symbolic.