Smartphone birding apps that every birdwatcher should own

I teach workshops about smartphone and tablet apps that will help enhance your nature experience. I really enjoy it because apps update all the time, so my program is never the same twice. I created one for the National Park Service in early November and have another one set on Dec. 15 and already at least three apps have had major updates. Some of the updates have been smoother than others, and the price range varies widely.

Second-edition Sibley app

This is the professional birder’s app. It’s my personal favorite field guide and the app I use the most, especially because the illustrations include easy diagnostic notes with the illustrations. My favorite feature is the easy side-by-side comparisons that the app allows. So if you are looking at a grebe on a lake and you’re not sure if it’s a horned grebe or eared grebe, you can see the differences easily. The features on this app include all the updated and new illustrations in David Sibley’s second field guide.

A feature I really like is that you can search for birds by banding code, a simple four-letter code that makes searching for birds so much faster. The app has an updated “smart search” feature to help you narrow down an unknown bird and also codes to let you know what is common and what is rare. The new app is separate from the old one, so you are purchasing a new one, but for now and at least the next month, it’s only $9.99. This is a steal, and once all the fixes are complete, it will be worth twice that.

Audubon app

This is a free photographic app with lots of fun features. The smart-search feature is great as you can narrow your list of birds based on location, time of year, habitat and even tail shape. I especially love that you can search for birds based on song or call type; so many birds fool us that way. The app also works with eBird, so if you think you may have seen a Barrow’s goldeneye, you can open up the app to see if any have been reported in your area recently. You can also check within a species for what other birds might be mistaken for it.

The current update in Apple is a little buggy, especially when tapping buttons, but here’s hoping that it will be fixed in future updates. Again, the app is free, but you must have an account to use it, which will lead to some emails from Audubon. But you also get access to lot of recent birding articles within the app.

iBird apps

This is an app with several versions, from a free local app to a hardcore pro version that is almost $40. They’ve gone to great effort to update their illustrations over the years and are much more realistic than they were even three years ago. Each illustration includes a link to an online Flickr album with photos of the birds as well to help you confirm I.D. Many beginning birders find this a less intimidating starter app.

The interface is one of the easiest to use and operate without reading the instructions. If you start with the free app, you have various packages that you can purchase, including a bird photo I.D. app. This is a waste of money since the free Merlin app or iNaturalist will do, too, and with surprising accuracy.

All of these apps keep a wealth of information in our pockets via the illustrations and photos of birds. They also include multiple songs and calls of each species and up-to-date information on where to find them. We can now keep an insane amount of bird knowledge in our pockets.

Categories: Sharon Stiteler

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