There are many choices of birding software available on the market, many of which are quite intricate and allow the user to log detailed information of every sightings and make detailed trip reports. Some people however, really only want to keep track of their frequently-changing lists and for this SWIFT is perfect for both the world lister and those who keep more modest lists.
At $59.99 SWIFT is about the cheapest option that I've reviewed for list-only software and well worth the price.
The SWIFT birding software is predominantly a list-based application that runs on both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows (64-bit is found in many new Windows7 machines) and can be run on a Mac OS X 10.5 and later using the Boot Camp windows partitioner.
SWIFT is available to download from the internet, or as a mail-order DVD and is easy to install. It also comes with a 40-page pdf users guide which acts both as a manual and tutorial.
The software is well supported by the developers and updates for any minor bugs are produced, tested and released quickly.
SWIFT is not a single-user application. After installation, any number of birders may use the software on the one computer by creating their own accounts. Lists can be updated privately and then compared to each other 'publicly' (within the bounds of those on the computer).
The list structure in SWIFT is tree-based, in that at the top of the tree is ones life-list and all other lists are branches off that, so one might have a British list, a county list and a patch list, all of which would be a single branch on the SWIFT list-tree. If a user sees a life tick on their patch and adds the species to their patch list, the species is automatically added to the lists further up the tree - to the county, British and life lists in this case. By simply hovering over the list on the 'Home' page the number of species on that list, plus those that have been dated as being seen in the current year, are displayed to the user.
One feature that I've grown to detest in birding software is the amount of initial time and effort it takes to input your lists when you start using the software. Many birding software tools insist on dates and locations of every species, and if it's just lists you want to keep, you might not be all that bothered about keeping such details. In SWIFT, inputting long lists is quick and easy using the 'simple sightings' function. The user creates the lists they want, goes to the preferences and selects which regional lists they want to use (from North America, South America, Asia, Australia, Oceania, Europe, Africa and Antarctica) and then simply tick off the species they've seen. The user also has the option to view bird names as Latin names or Common names and also name them by Clements, British Vernacular or British Vernacular UK.
If the user wishes, they can still put dates with their sightings, either initially, or on an individual basis after they have input their initial sightings. If I had one complaint here is that there are still a lot of birds to go through to get some country lists (e.g. inputting a Hong Kong list requires one to trawl through a list of all the bird in Asia), so being able to restrict the lists further would be nice (although obviously not essential). You can also add lists into the middle of the tree, so for example if you had an ABA list and a state list that you had populated with birds and you decided that you wanted to add a lower-48 list, then you can just create the list, stipulate that it's a sub-list of ABA and that your state list is a sub-list of the lower-48 list. The lower-48 list will then appear between the ABA and state list.
Another feature of the lists is that you can date restricted lists, so for example if you were going for an ABA year list, you could make an new sub-list of your ABA list called ABA 2011 and restrict all sightings between 1 Jan 11 to 31 Dec 11.
SWIFT is not all just about lists. A user may enter more detailed sightings, such as daily records from various sights (for example the list of birds seen one day at your local patch), add information about the sightings, export your sightings to eBird, spreadsheet and produce various reports of lists in pdf).
For the detailed sightings a user might create a dated list (e.g. 7 Dec 2010) under one of their lists and then add sightings for that day. Before adding the species to the day the user can click on 'notes' and put in any notes that one might want to include about the day (weather, time spent in the field, notes on some of the species seen, etc). The only problem with this feature is that if you went back to add some species to your list and you wanted to add more information, you can't do it when you update your list of species, as a blank notes page will be presented and this will replace your original notes. To update your notes you must go to the sightings screen and edit them from there.
A number of checklists can be produced with SWIFT and exported in pdf or xls. You can pick from a number of different types of lists to produce, list-based lists (i.e. sighted species on a certain list), a sub-list-based list (i.e. sighted species on a certain list plus all sub-lists below it), date-specific lists, a list of new birds for every previous year, plus a number of other lists. So if you want to view all the species from all the various lists you have in your Norfolk list, then you just click on 'Listed Species by List (including sublists)', then click on 'Norfolk List' from the 'List' field and you will be presented with all your Norfolk-based lists, each one starting on a new page. You can add your favourite checklists to a 'Favourite checklists' tab. Unfortunately, this only adds the type of list you want to make, rather than the drilled down version with the data in, which seems a bit pointless as there are only 8 types of checklist to choose from in the first place. A better way to handle this would be to make the favourites list an actual list with given rules (e.g. all the sub-lists of my Norfolk-based lists).
You can also create charts and graphs of species, such as how many species from various families you have seen vs species in those families that you haven't seen, or a graph of how many new species you saw each year.
For those of us who worry about keeping our lists safe, there is a backup feature in SWIFT where the user can make a copy of their data and store it wherever they like (e.g. in a separate folder on your computer or a memory card for storage at a physically remote location).
There are a number of other features in SWIFT that make it a very useful tool for not only maintaining your lists but also for displaying the information within those lists.
Currently there is only one major drawback with SWIFT, which is that it currently doesn't handle splits and lumps. The developers assure me though that they aim to address this issue and it will be included in SWIFT by early Jan 2011. They aim to introduce a Taxonomy modifications screen which will bring down taxonomy updates and allow the user to allocate sightings of old lumped species to the new split species.
Another feature that would be great would be to list all the unique species seen on a certain list. For example if you use the example earlier where you added a lower-48 list in between your ABA and state list, you can currently only list the species you have entered in the list directly, or every sub-list of that list, so if you had a New York list and and a California list which are both sub-lists of your ABA list, if you added a 'lower-48' list between the ABA list and CA/NY lists, you can not click on lower-48 and ask for all the unique species between your CA and NY lists (although you will get a count of species on the home page). This would be a really nice feature to be seen as an addition to the 'checklists' page (i.e. 'List unique species by list').
Once the taxonomy update is brought into use, SWIFT will probably be the best list-based birding software available on the market. It is well supported and I definitely get the impression that the developers of SWIFT genuinely want to know how they can make it better for users and act on features that can be improved or that don't work after major releases. In the few months I've used the software, I've noticed that any bugs reported were quickly addressed and new updates released after testing.
You can find out more about SWIFT from their website at: http://www.swiftbirder.com/
All the best,
P.S. If you'd like the chance to win a copy of SWIFT, you can enter the Christmas Mystery Photo challenge, where we have 10 copies of SWIFT to give away.