A Guide to Best Birding Apps By Marj Rines, Naturalist, Mass Audubon
If you are suffering from a little cabin fever why not get outside and do a little birding? Today’s smartphones offer a wide variety of tools that can add both to the fun and to your learning.
There are a wide variety of field guide apps that are available, but let’s make life simple and talk about two: The Sibley Guide to Birds ($19.99) and iBird Pro Guide to Birds ($14.99). Both offer “light” versions for free with a limited number of species, and it is worth downloading both to play with the app before making your choice. Both have a feature that lets you answer questions about a mystery bird to narrow down the possibilities. Both have an extensive collection of songs and calls.
It’s fine to play the song of a species you already know, but what happens if you haven’t any idea what it is? Song Sleuth (free) and Bird Song ID USA ($4.99) both allow you to record a song and (supposedly) identify it. Both offer illustrations of birds as well as their songs. Both have serious limitations, but as technology is likely to improve, future updates should include these improvements.
One of the most popular apps among beginners is Merlin (Merlin Bird ID app) (free). If you see a bird you want to identify you are guided through a series of questions and at the end it offers you a list of possible species. This technique is only marginally useful, but if you took a photograph of the bird it is remarkably accurate. Merlin has the added benefit of letting you download a nice library of bird songs and calls on your smartphone at no cost.
Once you’ve identified the birds you’ve seen you might want to start recording the information you’ve collected. eBird.org is a citizen science database of bird sightings throughout the globe. You can enter your data online, or download the eBird app (free) and enter your data in the field. It allows you to organize your lists by location or time.
Don’t overlook online resources as well. Facebook has a number of groups dedicated to helping people identify birds they have photographed. A quick search on the Facebook page such as “what bird is this” will lead you to four or five of these. And don’t forget analog resources as well – once you get serious there’s nothing to replace a good old-fashioned identification book.