Choosing the Best App for You
Which of the four apps—Audubon, Peterson, National Geographic, or Sibley—should you buy? One feature to consider is whether you prefer illustrations or photographs as identification aids. Audubon relies on photographs, while the others all use paintings. Ultimately, the choice depends on your personal preference in terms of layout, usability, and features. Look at the sample pages in iTunes and the developer's site, download the free or inexpensive "lite" version, and experiment with the app.
I don't think you can go wrong with any of these four apps. You might find that a reduced version is all you want or need, especially if you're primarily interested in identifying feeder visitors. Even a more dedicated birder will find all of these apps to be useful and interesting. Keep in mind that more geographically-specific iOS guides are available for local birding. These guides are especially helpful in terms of including only the species that might be seen in your area—California or New England, for instance—instead of all the possible birds of North America.
Nor are these four apps your only options in terms of bird field guides. The Mitch Waite Group's iBird Pro Guide to Birds, temporarily reduced from $29.99 to $19.99, covers 924 North American bird species. The iBird Lite Guide to Birds is free, with data on 30 birds. The iBird series includes a number of specific geographic guides, and all guides feature photographs.
A number of localized guides are available for North America and the world. The BirdGuides app from Warners Group Publications PLC offers guides for Europe and South America, including Birds of Britain & Ireland (271 species), Garden Birds of Britain and Ireland (48 species) and Birds of Brazil (1,800+ species). Birds of Northern Europe includes bird names in 15 languages, covering 352 species of birds regularly seen in Northern Europe.
For worldwide travelers who bird, BirdsEye apps for various locations and BirdLog (from BirdsEye and Birds in the Hand) are both worth investigating. These apps are meant for the dedicated global bird watcher. Use the BirdLog to list your sightings, track your life list, and connect with other app users. The BirdsEye apps can locate hot spots and provide data regarding rare sightings of birds. Both apps rely on data from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
From Stevens Creek Software, the $2.99 Count Circle app is for birders participating in the national Christmas or Breeding Bird counts. It uses GPS data to pinpoint your current location for the official reporting circles used in these counts. Stevens Creek also produces Birdwatcher's Diary, a $12.99 digital life list of all the birds you've ever spotted.
Many other useful and interesting birding apps are available for iOS, but don't try searching for them in iTunes by using bird; instead, try birding or bird watching. Anything else might result in a flood of Angry Bird titles.