If you enjoy watching birds and have a smart phone, there are some wonderful apps that will enrich your birding. Whether you want to figure out where to find interesting birds in the area, or if you want a field guide in your pocket so you can figure out what that bird is in front of you, or even if you just want to keep a log of what birds you’ve seen, there are apps that will make things easy for you. The wealth of birding resources that you can fit in your pocket is amazing. These are the four apps that I use every week.
Note: I have not tried every birding app that is available. To date, I’ve tried six. These are the four that I personally have found to be the most useful. Some are free, some offer a free lite version and others must be purchased outright or via a subscription. I’m using these on an iPhone. Most also have Android versions and may offer other versions as well. (Check their websites for version options.)
eBird Mobile is a free app from the folks at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Its purpose is to help you keep track of the birds you see, both for your own records and as part of the lab’s citizen science projects. To use it, you’ll need an eBird account (also free) which you link to the eBird app.
eBird keeps track of what species you see and when and where you see them. It lets you keep lists of birds you’ve seen this month or this year or for your life list and can break those lists down by county, state/province, country or region of the world. You don’t have to use the eBird app to enter your checklists, (they can be entered on the eBird website), but the app makes it portable.
When you want to log birds that you see, you open the eBird app and select a location. You can pick from a recent location, from a map, from an eBird Hotspot or one of your personal locations. If you don’t have good internet access, you can also create an offline checklist. Then you give it a start date and time (which defaults to the current date and time) and then you can begin entering birds.
The app presents you with a list of likely birds in your area. (You could also view all birds or birds you’ve already checked on this checklist.) To add a bird to the current checklist, you click on the species name and enter the number of individual birds of that species you see and any comments you’d like to make. To go quickly to a bird on the list, you can enter the first few letters in the search box.
When you are done birding in that location, you click on Review and Submit. This lets you look over the list so you can check that you didn’t miss anything. Then you answer a few quick questions about your birding session: whether the checklist is complete and includes all the birds you identified, whether you were traveling, stationary or if it was an incidental observation, how many people were in your birding group, how long you were birding, distance traveled and any comments you’d like to add. Then you submit it.
Now your list goes to eBird. You can review checklists submitted through the app but you can’t edit them within it. You can use a browser on your computer or phone to sign onto your eBird account to look over your sightings, edit checklists or explore other people’s sightings.
If you are an eBird user, this app is very handy. If you always have your smart phone in your pocket, you’ll always have a quick way to keep track of the birds you see!
eBird Mobile App Website: http://help.ebird.org/customer/portal/articles/1848031-ebird-mobile-apps-overview
BirdsEye Bird Finding Guide
BirdsEye is another app that can be connected to your eBird account. This one is a collaborative project between The Cornell Lab and an app developer. Its purpose is to help you find interesting birds nearby.
When you open BirdsEye, it connects with eBird to see what birds people have reported recently. (While there are a few things you can do with it offline, you pretty much need an active internet connection for this app to be useful in helping you find birds.) Then you can see lists of birds that have been reported nearby, at locations you’ve previously checked as favorites, or by locations near you on a map. You can also search for specific birds or check Rare Bird Alerts. I particularly like using Favorite Locations so I can see what birds have been seen there recently before I head out birding.
Then the app presents you with a list of birds. The list can be filtered by all birds seen nearby, by recent birds seen, or by birds you personally need for your life list. (Because the app connects to your eBird account, it knows what you’ve seen and what you seen.) You can also filter the list by distance and time frame. (I like filtering it to birds seen in the past week.)
The list itself shows a picture of the bird which you can click on to see photos of the bird. There is a bar chart next to each bird photo, showing what months that bird has been seen at that location and how abundant they tend to be in those months. If you click on this, you can see a map with locations in the more general area where the bird has been seen. Or you can get some brief information about the bird with tips from Kenn Kaufman on where to look for this species. There are sound recordings available as well.
With this app, you can either get the free version or you can pay a membership fee. The fee varies by what area of the world you want to cover. I’m using the North America Membership but you could also get memberships for specific regions of North America, for other parts of the world or for the entire world. “Memberships unlock unlimited access to BirdsEye content, including photos from top bird photographers around the world, text from regional experts and ornithologists, and sightings data from eBird. For the World and North America memberships, we are also able to provide access to a collection of sounds covering most species in the United States and Canada, from the Macaulay Library.” I’d say, try a free membership or try a paid membership for a month for the area where you’ll be birding and see if you like it, find it handy and want to continue.
While you could get the bird sightings information this app provides from the eBird website, BirdsEye is a handy portable way to access it wherever you have an internet connection. (I find the eBird website itself challenging to use on my small smart phone screen so this app is useful in the field when I’m away from my computer.) I do find that this app can speed up my battery use, so I tend to check it as needed to decide what birding spot I’d like to visit and then turn it off when I’m not specifically accessing it.
BirdsEye Website: http://www.birdseyebirding.com
There are quite a few bird ID apps out there, but iBird Ultimate is the one that I’ve been using and I’m very happy with it. This is an app that you need to purchase. They offer a free version that has forty common birds so that you can try out the app and see if it looks like a good fit for you. There are several versions available for purchase, ranging from a version with 235 birds typically found at backyard feeders to the full Ultimate version with 940 birds of North America. There are versions for the UK as well. This one is a one-time purchase rather than a monthly fee.
iBird is a powerful app with a wealth of information inside it. You can search for bird species by picture and name (either common name, band code or Latin name). Clicking on a bird on the list opens up the information available for that bird, with full color illustrations and photos (usually several photos per species), detailed descriptive identification info and field marks.
You can also see Range maps, hear how the bird sounds, view a list of similar birds, see information about the birds’ ecology (whether it is threatened or not), behavioral information, info on the bird family and interesting facts.
To help you narrow down the list to birds that are more likely, you can set search perimeters like Birds Around Me or other location, shape, size, habitat, color, song or call, body or head specifics, flight details, and more. You can go even farther and narrow the Birds Around Me by season. You can also mark particular species as Favorites so you can get to them quickly.
I use this app every time I go birding. It is incredibly useful. I like that you can download the app’s contents to your device so that you can use it even if you don’t have an internet connection.
iBird Website: http://ibird.com
Warbler Guide App
In spring and fall, birders’ minds turn to warblers as their migration brings them through our areas. But warblers can be tricky birds to identify. If you are pretty sure what you are seeing is a warbler but are having trouble narrowing it down, the Warbler Guide app will help you out. This is an app you need to purchase and is for iOS devices only.
When you open the app, you are shown thumbnail pictures of all the different possible warblers. You scroll down the page to see them all. You can swipe horizontally to see various views of the bird: side, head, 45 degree angle, underneath, under tail or 3D. This is cool because when you are trying to ID a bird flitting around quickly in a bush, you don’t always get the typical field guide view of the bird. So for example, if you are looking up into a tree and all you can see is the underside, you can use that view to narrow the possibilities. You can then click on a particular warbler to get more information about it.
You can use the app’s settings menu to set the default view and to set the season: spring/summer or fall/winter. You can also set the general part of the country: northwest, southwest, northeast or southeast. When you set the default view to 3D, you can use your finger to move the bird around so you can see him from all angles. This is really fun!
You can also see other similar warblers, look at more information on ID’ing that particular warbler, check out their songs and calls, look at photos of the bird including different ages and sexes, and look at range maps.
If you aren’t sure which warbler it is and want to narrow it down so you have fewer to browse through, the app has a powerful (and very cool) filter to help. In the main window, you tap on the filter icon and you are presented with a diagram of a bird. Click on a part of the bird diagram to filter for that body part. So for example, if you are looking at a bird with a yellow head and a black tail, you can click on the head and choose yellow and then click on the tail and choose black. Then you tap the filter again and the possible warblers are narrowed down to two, a Wilson’s or an Orange-crowned. If the bird is singing, you can also use sound as a filter, choosing song quality, pitch trend and/or song sections. Go back to the filter view and press the reset button to start over.
This is a clever app. Yes, it has a narrow focus of helping you identify warblers and so it is not going to replace a broader field guide app. But if your focus is on just that, it’s a fun and helpful way to go.
The Warbler Guide App Website Page: http://www.thewarblerguide.com/app
(PS: Please forgive the less than ideal screen pictures in this post. I took them in quick and dirty fashion while outside on a spring day when pollen was coating everything! But hey, that’s birding for you!)