Apps, books, and collegiate websites to assist with fall bird ID

Migration stretches on for a long time in the fall. We get shorebirds starting August and then warblers, vireos, nighthawks, and orioles move through our region. Many of these birds are shifting from the bright breeding plumage marks to duller grays, browns, and dingy yellows. Warblers and vireos especially can be challenging since they aren’t even singing their distinctive breeding songs. But there are a few of apps that can help. Of course there are the traditional field guides out there, but sometimes fall birds require more work.

One is the free Merlin app from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can either answer a series of questions about the bird like “What were the most notable colors?” and “Where did you see it?” The app will create a list of possibilities and is surprisingly accurate. If you like to digiscope images of birds or traditional means of photography you can also submit photos and the app will attempt to identify it.

An app that has grown in popularity is iNaturalist. Not strictly a birding app, it encourages people out-of-doors to enter in a sighting of anything alive and wild that interests them from plants to insects to bird and animals. If you don’t know what something is, you post a photo or description and members of the naturalist community will identify it for you. You get help with identification and you help contribute to real time maps of biomes around the country. You must create an account to use it, but is free and contains no ads.

If you’re interested in birds of prey, the Raptor ID app from Hawk Watch International offers stunning pictures and HD video of hawks, harriers, kites, falcons, eagles and vultures. It really gives you a sense of their flight patterns and the text offers an idea of how to separate tough birds like Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. If you prefer books, Jerry Liguouri’s Hawks At A Distance and Hawks At Every Angle are two of my go to references for autumn.

If you are looking specifically for warbler identification help, there is The Warbler Guide app from Princeton University Press. This app gives you several views of the birds, including a 3D rendering you can move around to see the bird at every angle, because let’s face it, we don’t always get that textbook view of the bird, and sometimes we only see a flash of a face and view of a bird’s butt. You also can color in a warbler with the general colors you noticed and the app will produce a list of possible candidates. As an advertisement for the app Princeton University Press offers free “quick reference” PDFs or JPEGs that you can download to your devices of warbler profiles, under-tail views or just the faces of the birds.

They make cool screensavers. If apps aren’t your thing, it is available as a full color book. No matter which you choose, make sure to check out the fall migration of the Blackpoll warbler. It is infamous in the birding community. This book is worth it for the belly laugh you’ll have when you see that map.

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