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Bird Idol

Bird Idol

Bird Idol is an interactive song building program that was designed by Dr Karen Spencer (University of St Andrews) and Dr George Lovell (University of St Andrews). The game allows you to build a song out of 9 different sub-units (also called syllables) and pretend you are a male bird. These syllables have been recorded from real birds and players get the chance to construct a real canary song. Players can compete against one another for the affections of a female canary. In order to win the player must choose a song that best attracts the female. This can be achieved by choosing song characteristics that reveal the quality of the male, specifically, a selection of syllables that are complex and energetically demanding to perform.

Launch ’08 Bird Idol


This program was designed to introduce the basic concepts of pitch, frequency and song complexity to younger students. Older students have found this useful in understanding the ideas behind sexual selection and the evolution of mate choice. It is aimed at students and teachers alike, and was showcased at the Charles Darwin Award Lecture given by Dr Spencer as part of the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s National Festival of Science in York (9th – 15th September 2007).

Bird Idol was featured on BBC Radio 4’s The Material World on 13th September. Ahead of her lecture, Dr Spencer spoke to Quentin Cooper about her research, and played Bird Idol to illustrate the point!

The implementation added rich graphical content, animation, and an interactive interface design in a fun and lively way, in order to capture and retain students’ attention and to add humour.

Instructions for Use

A set of simple instructions are availble in PDF format in the Bird Idol Instruction Manual. These include both a getting started guide and some clues as to how to maximise your male canary sexiness!

Downloadable Version

If you foresee situations in which you may want to use Bird Idol in a situation where there is no internet connection, then you can download the AIR version.

If you have never installed an AIR application before, you will need to first install the Adobe AIR Platform. This only needs to be done once for all Adobe AIR applications. Once the the AIR platform is installed, you can open the downloaded file BirdIdol.air, and you will then be presented with the dialog on the right.

At the time of publishing, Adobe AIR was extremely new and publishers could not be ‘verified’. When installing, Adobe AIR warns users that the application may access your internet or hard drive. I can assure you that Bird Idol does neither.