The ease of taking a quick picture or video with my iPhone when I see an unfamiliar bird has rekindled my interest in birds and led me to look for birding apps. I don't qualify as a serious birder, but thanks to bird field guide apps for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, I can identify a bird while it's in front of me—instead of trying to remember how it looked hours later while I search through a book.
In this article, I review the four most popular field-guide apps for North American birds. Each has a printed equivalent that serves as the app's ancestor. Three of the apps are also available in a "lite" version for free or a much reduced price; these simpler versions have reduced feature sets or include fewer birds. Several of the apps draw data from eBird, a website for reporting and looking up recently spotted birds based on location, and these apps also provide a way for you to contribute to eBird. Birders can search for current bird species to learn where they've been seen, or learn which species have been spotted in particular locations. All four of the bird field-guide apps include images of the birds, descriptions, and information about bird behavior and range, along with digital audio of the birds' songs—something that often makes the app more useful than a printed book.
If you're in North America and new to bird watching, winter is a great time to start. Both Project FeederWatch and The Great Backyard Bird Count (which runs from February 14–17, 2014) are sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Cornell's All About Birds and the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas bird count also take place in winter, and these organizations welcome both new and experienced birdwatchers. Take along one or more of the apps I cover here to help you identify and track your bird watching, and you're ready for every kind of bird from common to rare and obscure.
Audubon Birds Pro
Green Mountain Digital's Audubon Birds Pro is a $14.99 field guide to North American birds, developed in association with the National Audubon Society. On launch, you'll be asked to register for a free account on NatureShare (part of Green Mountain Digital), but a Cancel link is available, and you can log in using your Facebook credentials instead. Once you've registered, you can report sightings of birds to eBird via the app, and keep track of your sightings via lists.
Audubon Birds Pro's home screen offers several choices: Explore Birds, Find Birds with eBird, Add a Sighting, My Sightings, and access to the Nature Share Community. Let's look at the main screens for learning about and finding birds.
The Explore Birds feature is the key "identify this bird" part of Audubon Birds Pro. You can browse birds via shape or family name, or search by name for a specific kind of bird. Browse by Shape offers conventional silhouette icons for various types of birds. Once you choose a category (for instance, Perching Birds), you're offered a second screen of silhouettes. Select second- and third-level categories (such as Finch) to see a list of birds with thumbnail photographs and brief descriptions (see Figure 1). Tap a thumbnail to see a larger image; swipe to see other images showing sex and mature/immature variations. At the top of the species screen, a range of icons allows you to view a range map, hear the bird's song, read an in-depth detailed description, see a selection of thumbnail photos and brief descriptions of similar birds, share a thumbnail image and brief description of a selected bird (via email, Facebook, or Twitter), or report a sighting (see Figure 2).
Figure 1 Audubon Birds Pro's Exploring Birds screen.
Figure 2 Purple Finch listing in Audubon Birds Pro.
The Find Birds feature relays your location data to eBird via your Internet connection (you can use iOS GPS data), producing a list of species that other birders have reported in that vicinity in the last 30 days. Tap a bird onscreen, and you'll get a map of local bird sightings (see Figure 3), with a green pin marking your location. Tap a nearby location to discover what birds have been spotted there, with links to thumbnails of the birds and their descriptions. Audubon Birds Pro even offers a convenient list of recently spotted "rare" sightings.
Figure 3 Audubon Birds Pro's Find Birds screen.