Hadeda, the most common bird spotted during a national lockdown challenge. (Getty)
  • More than 1,200 South Africans are taking part in a lockdown challenge to see who can spot the most birds.
  • The frontrunners have identified more than 200 species since the start of the lockdown, with one participant who reported 58 species seen from the balcony of his Amanzimtoti flat.
  • The challenge is hosted by the popular South African birding app, Birdlasser, which is now growing across the world.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider's home page.

One way of beating cabin fever during the national lockdown is by embracing your inner ornithologist and taking part in a countrywide bid to identify bird species. 

So far 1,200 South Africans have joined the popular birding app BirdLasser’s South African Lockdown Challenge to see who can spot the most individual species during the national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Most participants are reporting from suburban gardens, and there are also a significant number who spot birds from their flats. One participant in Amanzimtoti has, to date, identified 58 species from his apartment balcony. The latest top count from a garden is 134, from a participant near Polokwane, using a scope from on top of his roof.

The frontrunners – who are mostly based on farms or nature reserves – have spotted more than 200 species each – with Manyoni Private Game Reserve near Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal, boasting six of the top 10 spots.

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No prizes for guessing which species currently tops the most-spotted list: it’s the noisy and much-derided hadeda, with more than 1,800 sightings, according to BirdLasser data.

Johannesburg-based mobile developer Henk Nel started BirdLasser along with a former client, chartered accountant Will Harris, in 2014. After Nel was retrenched from an American company in SA, he shared his idea to build BirdLasser with Harris, and they created an app to log bird sightings.

From the start, they wanted an app “for Africa by Africans”, Nel says. This means, primarily, that the app is free and does not use much data  – unlike other international apps, which feature pictures and other data components which make it uneconomical for African users.

You can even use BirdLasser without a SIM card and in airplane mode. Your data is backed up to the cloud once you open the app while connected to wifi.

So far, more than 14 million  bird sightings have been logged on Birdlasser, and the app is growing fast outside of Southern Africa – particularly in Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya – as well as in India – and now also in Europe and Australia, Nel says.

According to Harris, BirdLasser is now the second biggest collector of birding data in the world. “It is the only major engine that collects bird data at geo-located level of accuracy – this is technically hard, and very important for conservationists,” says Harris. Every bird sighting on Birdlasser has GPS co-ordinates attached to it. (The app’s name comes from "bird" and "atlassing", which is a specific protocol used by scientists to record data sightings.)

BirdLasser is also compatible with the massive American birding app eBird – sightings on BirdLasser can be uploaded to eBird.

The BirdLasser data goes, for free, to conservation projects like BirdLife South Africa, the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2, as well as other bodies across the world.

Birds are the greatest indicators of the state of nature, and correctly recorded sightings (via GPS) provide hugely valuable conservation information, says Harris.

While in lockdown, you can also contribute to a bird census which is currently run by University of Cape Town PhD student Jessleena Suri, who is studying bird populations in urban areas in South Africa.

As part of the study, she is asking South Africans to note which birds they spotted in their gardens during a period of ten minutes, preferable at least once a week, between dawn and around 10:00.

To take part, click on this link to fill out a short form or email jessleena.suri@gmail.com.

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