BIRDS IN SALEM

COLUMN: Artificial intelligence doesn’t know much about Oregon birds

The cover of this “Oregon” bird book has a clear image of the European Goldfinch on it. A handsome bird, related to, and nearly the same size as our American Goldfinch.

That bird is likely present in Oregon less once every quarter-century. The Oregon Bird Records Committee has exactly zero accepted records of this species in Oregon, ever. 

The breeding population of the European Goldfinch that is nearest to Oregon lives in Portugal and Spain. That’s well over 5000 miles away. This is a non-migratory species.  In other words—the bird on the cover shows the weakness of computer-driven selection and design. 

We hominids aren’t perfect, but I am still a better birder than your laptop and its AI software. I am so clever I would put an Oregon bird on the cover of an Oregon bird book. Maybe choose the Oregon state bird, that gorgeous soprano, the Western Meadowlark.

The book was “authored” by Vivek Khokher.  He is not a member of the Oregon Birding Association.  There are six entries on LinkedIn using that name. Each of the six names gives an address in India. Two claim to be technically adept, one a “digital creator.” That Vivek does not claim nor admit to creating books that sell online.  With the right software, these print-on-demand publications could be easy to produce. There’s little up-front cost once you establish an Amazon account. All sales can be direct online, the buyer covers everything once the software is in the system at Amazon. Free images can be copied from a huge list of websites, blogs, etc. 

The price of all the Vivek Khohker titles is $13.99 from Amazon. Kindle eBook: $4.99.  Yes, titles—other potential hits include: “Blueberry Farming,” “Plants of Maine,” “Birds of Michigan” (the cover image on that one is a European robin, not even a close cousin in America!), “Galapagos Wildlife,” “Precision Agriculture,” “Plants of Alaska,” “Radical Mycology,” “Mint Farming,” “Birds of Hawaii,” “Avocados Farming.” I think it is safe to assume no BODY is paying attention. The title given on Amazon in text often does not match the title in book cover image adjacent.

Many Oregon birders share an email collective. We share sightings, complaints, puzzles. That’s how I learned of the Vivek publishing empire. Here’s what one fellow birder concluded: “I suspect this is part of the rather recent trend of using artificial intelligence engines (ChatGPT being the most well-known example) to ‘write’ a book. The user then slaps their name on it and puts it on Amazon, hoping to get a few clicks here and there, probably mostly Kindle purchases for a couple of dollars, and thereby somehow make a fortune.”

Another birder comments on this book’s contents: ”Instead of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it mentions ‘The Malheur Public Natural Asylum.” The Klamath Basin is referred to as ‘The Klamath Bowl Public Shelters.'”

The Amazon summary of the book includes: “’Quills of the Pacific Northwest’ offers a rich embroidery of birdlife found no place else.” Sound good? I can conclude by pointing out the book has garnered two Amazon reviews; each is a 1 on the scale of 1 to 5, the latter being the best.

For information about upcoming Salem Audubon programs and activities, see www.salemaudubon.org, or Salem Audubon’s Facebook page.

Harry Fuller is an Oregon birder and natural history author of “Freeway Birding” and the newly-published “Birding Harney County.” He is a member of the Salem Audubon Society. Contact him at [email protected] or atowhee.blog. His “Some Fascinating Things About Birds” column appears regularly in Salem Reporter.

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Harry Fuller is an Oregon birder and natural history author of three books: “Freeway Birding,” "Great Gray Owls of California, Oregon and Washington," and "San Francisco's Natural History--Sand Dunes to Streetcars." He leads birding trips for the Malheur Field Station. He is a member of the Salem Audubon Society, and leads bird trips locally. Harry has just published a new book, BIrding Harney County.