One of the best resources for bird watching has always been the many guides available in book form. The Sibley Guide to Birds, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, and Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, as well as many others are referred to as field guides because you can carry them with you to identify birds in the field. These guides have pictures, information on habitat, and identifying clues regarding size, color, and sounds. So much valuable information and I read these guides like novels.
These days most people are never without their smart phones. Besides being used to communicate, these devices are mini computers that can also navigate and educate. There are apps available to download to your device for anything you can imagine and birdwatching is no exception. These birding apps have all the information of a field guide, plus some unique features like playing a bird’s call or recording the call to identify. There are apps that can identify a bird by a photo that you have taken with your smartphone or your camera and some apps will even use your birding information to add to their database for their research.
Finding the apps that work for you may take some trial and error. Many of the people with whom I go birding use eBird by the Cornell Lab to keep their life list of bird species. This is an app from Cornell University that will use your data for research. It is amazing to go to their website to see how your information is used to show migration patterns of these birds. However, for identifying birds I use Audubon Bird Guide by the Audubon Bird Society. I can quickly search for a bird by even a partial name or bird type. This app will show me photos, a map of locations during the year, written description, and audios of the bird’s calls. This app will also search birds by descriptors, even though I do not use that feature on this app. If I want to identify a bird by descriptors I go to my Merlin app, also from The Cornell Lab. This app uses my location, date, size of bird, colors, and activity to make you a list of possibilities. This app can also use a downloaded photo to generate a list of possibilities. I have never had much success with photos that I have taken with my iPhone, but if use a decent camera, it works very well.
All the apps mentioned above are free to download, but there are really excellent apps that are available for a one time fee that have even more features. With Bird Song Id USA Automatic Recognition & Reference for $4.99 you can apparently record a bird’s song to identify. Sibley’s Birds 2nd Edition at $19.99 is an app that I have been eyeing for a year. I have the paper field guide and love all the information it provides so I can only imagine that the app would be just as good. In fact, the new edition provides a not only the “compare” feature, but also a “similar to” feature to assist in identifying your subject!
My only complaint with using a smart phone as a field guide is that there is generally no WiFi in most areas that you will be birding and the glare on the screen sometimes makes it hard to see the photos. The information available through these apps is still incredible even if you only use them at home.
Additionally, there are apps for bird lovers that are just fun. Dawn Chorus by Audubon is an app that lets you make a wake up alarm using a bird call chorus that you select. Daily Bird is a day by day calendar that highlights a new bird each day with a short descriptor.
Search “birding” in your tablet or smartphone app store and see if you might benefit from some of these apps. And let us know if you have a favorite birding app that others might enjoy!
Submitted by: Joleen Ardaiolo