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November 2021   |   Volume 23 No. 1

Twitter Alert

Given social distancing, more and more people are leaving the city at weekends and heading for the countryside. A new bird-watching app could help them not only get next to nature but get to know it too.

Developed by the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) and Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS), HKBirds is an iOS app designed to help users observe, identify and record birds, and to share their findings too.

Principal Lecturer Dr Billy Hau coordinated the project and explained that a large part of the incentive was to make people look up from the flat screen of their mobile phone and observe nature as it is, while also recognising that inevitably nowadays they will return to the flat screen for information and sharing.

“The aim is to promote the appreciation of the birds of Hong Kong, and the target audience is the general public and school students,” said Dr Hau. “Under COVID-19, more people are going to the countryside. We hope that the app will facilitate the public to know more about the birds of Hong Kong. In addition, they can record and share what they find, making it a great platform for learning and knowledge exchange.”

The SBS is a long-term partner of HKBWS – indeed, many graduates work there – and they have collaborated frequently in the past. Pictures on the app came from the HKBWS archive, contributed by the society’s members. The text was drafted by the project team, based on an older version of the app and the HKBWS archive, and tech know-how was provided by HKU’s Department of Computer Science.

Song, habitat, morphology

HKBirds is available for free download worldwide and includes information on the appearance, song, habitat and morphology of the birds themselves, as well as information on migration habits, tips and code of conduct for responsible bird watching. There are also directions to the best places to visit to see birds in Hong Kong.

“The response has been very good,” said Dr Hau. “The app was launched on June 28 and more than 1,600 downloads were recorded in the first five days. The app ranked second and third in the Reference Category of iPhone and iPad App Store respectively on July 3, 2021, and the app is rated 4.9 out of 5 in the App Store.

“Statistics show that, in addition to Hong Kong, the downloads came from various places including Japan, Taiwan, the US, the UK, Macau, Mainland China, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Panama, New Zealand and Italy.”

For the future, the HKBWS will maintain and update the app. Dr Hau and his team are currently discussing the possibility of developing an Android version.

Download the HKBirds mobile app on App Store here.

We hope that the app will facilitate the public to know more about the birds of Hong Kong. In addition, they can record and share what they find, making it a great platform for learning and knowledge exchange.

Portrait

DR BILLY HAU

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