Online network spreads the joy of birding
(published 9-2-04)

One of my goals for this column is to share resources that can make birdwatching even more enjoyable. I’ve written about our local birding clubs, for example, and I’ve recommended some good books and useful Web sites. This time I’d like to tell you about an online community known as IBET, which stands for Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts.

The name is a little misleading—IBET is not some sort of intellectual think tank for birders. Yes, thoughts are exchanged, but the network is mostly used for reporting local bird sightings. The “what, when and where” is valuable information for birders who want to see more species, including the truly rare ones that occasionally visit the Chicago area.

As of mid-August, IBET had 588 registered members according to Sue Friscia, a birder from Alsip who founded the list-serve in 1985. Her motivation? “I was obsessed with knowing what everyone else was seeing and didn’t want to miss anything,” she says.

Devoted IBET users don’t miss much, that’s for sure. News travels quickly on the network, often leading to spur-of-the-moment birding opportunities that are too good to pass up. A few years ago I was in my downtown Chicago office when I noticed a fresh IBET posting about a least bittern at North Pond in Lincoln Park. The secretive marsh-dwelling species had been spotted about an hour earlier. What the heck, I decided, it’s Friday afternoon. So I grabbed my binoculars and dashed out the door to catch a northbound bus. I was on the scene 20 minutes later and, fortunately, so was the bird—in plain view, perched on a low branch just above the water. It was the first least bittern I’d ever seen, and IBET made it possible.

The network is valuable in other ways, too. It’s a place to ask questions and get answers, and a place to share birding stories that might otherwise go untold. Plus, at any given time, there’s usually a spirited discussion going on about some aspect of the hobby. For example, a recent exchange focused on the merits of field guides with illustrations versus those with actual photographs of birds. (For the record, most participants seemed to prefer illustrated books.)

The number of daily messages posted to IBET varies greatly by season. During the peak of spring and fall migration, when waves of non-resident birds are moving through the region, the network may receive 40 or 50 postings a day. That’s information overload for many of us. But if you read just a fraction of the messages you’ll get a good sense of what birds to watch for at different times throughout the year—and even what to expect in your backyard tomorrow.

So, if you’re a computer user and you want the latest local birding news, give IBET a try. Membership is free. To join the network, send a blank e-mail to, wait for the response, and then follow the instructions. (Note: “ILbirds” is the group’s formal name for registration purposes but users still call it IBET.)

Reiter is a Glen Ellyn, Illinois, resident who became hooked on birding about 10 years ago. He can be reached at

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