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If you enjoy watching birds and have a smart phone, there are wonderful apps that will enrich your birding. They can help you figure out where to find interesting birds in the area. Or they can be a field guide in your pocket so you can figure out what that bird is in front of you. Even if you just want to keep a log of birds you’ve seen, there are apps to make it easy. The wealth of birding resources that you can fit in your pocket is amazing. These are my four favorite birding apps that I use every week.
Note: I have not tried every available birding app To date, I’ve tried six. These are the four that I personally have found most useful. Some are free and some offer a free lite version. 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.)
What is eBird?
eBird Mobile is a free app from the folks at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Its purpose is to help you log 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. You can break these lists down by county, state/province, country or region of the world. You can alternatively enter checklists on eBird’s website, but the app makes it portable.
When you want to log birds that you see, you open the eBird app. The first screen gives you a choice of starting a new checklist or looking at your past inputs. Click Start New Checklist and then select a location. Pick a recent location or 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. Give it a start date and time (which defaults to the current date and time.) Then begin entering birds as you see them.
The app presents you with a list of likely birds in your area. To go quickly to a bird on the list, enter the first few letters in the search box. Note: If you click on the checkmark at the bottom, you can also view all birds or birds you’ve already checked on this checklist. This can be handy if you want to add more to a species you’ve already entered.
To add a bird to the current checklist, click on the species name and enter the number of individual birds of that species you see. Or alternatively, type a number, a space and then a species name in the search box and then click on the name in the list to enter both at once. You can also add comments and breeding codes.
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.
Your Birding Track
eBird has now added the option to include your birding track on the list. The tracking option is cool. It’ll keep track of your distance for you and you’ll be able to see the path you followed on a map.
You need to set your phone to always allow eBird to access your location for this to work. I turn this on in my phone at the beginning of a birding trip and turn it off after. Normally I leave it set to just allow location when I’m actually using the app.
The app sends your list to eBird. You can review checklists submitted through the app and can now edit within it even after you’ve sumbitted it. Alternately, 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 birds you see!
BirdsEye Bird Finding Guide
What is BirdsEye?
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 finding 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 need.) You can also click on the little filter icon at the top right to filter the list by distance and time frame. (I like filtering it to birds seen in the past week.)
Information on the Birds
The list itself shows a small picture of the bird which you can click on to see more 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.
Free or Membership
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 and added Mexico when we took a couple trips there. 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 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 eBird’s 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 at times speed up my battery use. So I tend to check it as needed to decide what birding spot I’d like to visit or want to double-check on birds seen recently when I am there. Then I turn it off when I’m not specifically accessing it. On longer birding trips, I sometimes carry a battery charger in my birding bag.
iBird Ultimate / Pro
What is iBird?
There are quite a few bird ID apps out there, but iBird Ultimate is the one I use and I’m very happy with it. This is an app that you need to purchase. They offer a free version with forty common birds so that you can try out the app and see if it is a good fit for you.
Originally 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 were versions for the UK as well. This is a one-time purchase rather than a monthly fee.
Due to changes Apple made to the app store last year, iBird versions have since been consolidated. The equivalent version now is iBird Pro.
Note: I received a note inside the app just today saying that previous iBird Plus and Ultimate app owners like myself can apparently now continue to get our updates by getting iBird Lite. This version will recognize the Plus or Ultimate app installed on our device. That should then give us access to our North American birds in the Countries menu. See help.ibird.com if you are in this situation. (I haven’t tried this yet.)
iBird is a powerful birding app with a wealth of information inside. You can search for bird species by picture and name (common name, band code or Latin name). Click on a bird on the list to open information on that bird. This includes full color illustrations and photos (usually several per species), detailed descriptive identification info and field marks.
You can also see Range maps, hear how the bird sounds and 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, set search perimeters. This includes: 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. This means you can use it even without an internet connection.
Warbler Guide App
What is Warbler Guide?
In spring and fall, birders’ minds turn to warblers as migration brings them through our areas. But warblers can be tricky birds to identify. If you are pretty sure you are seeing is a warbler but are having trouble narrowing it down, the Warbler Guide app helps you out. This is an app you need to purchase and is for iOS devices only.
Using Warbler Guide
When you open the app, you are shown thumbnail pictures of all the different possible warblers. Scroll down the page to see them all. 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, say 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, 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, click on the head and choose yellow. Then click on the tail and choose black. 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 to help you identify warblers. 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.
There is also a book version. You can buy The Warbler Guide book on Amazon (Kindle or flexibound versions are available.)
My Favorite Birding Apps
So there you have it. These are my four favorite birding apps. I use them constantly. If you are a birder, be sure to check them out. Have Fun!
(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!)
More Cool Birding Tools
Also see my post on How to Choose a Birding Bag.
Or if you check my Gift Ideas for Birders and Bird Watchers post.
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