One of the best things about birding is being in the great outdoors. With so many of us glued to our devices, it’s easy to say that we should get off our phones and get outside. The truth is, you can enhance your birdwatching experience thanks to apps on your phone or tablet. I was reluctant at first, grasping at my strict rules about regulating my use of devices. But, I have found these four apps helpful as a birdwatcher.
Merlin Bird ID
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology created the Merlin Bird ID app in 2009. The lab’s mission was to create an interactive tool that would help people identify birds. Whether a beginner or an experienced birder, there are times when you’re just not sure what you’re looking at. Merlin Bird ID helps.
When you open the app, you have three options. You can click on ‘Start Bird ID’, ‘Get Photo ID’, or ‘Explore Birds.’ When you click ‘Start Bird ID,’ the app asks you where you saw the bird in question. You can choose your current location or click on map and zoom in to the exact spot you saw the bird. From there you will click on the date you saw the bird, the size of the bird, its main colors, and what the bird was doing. After entering your answers, the app will create a list of possibilities to help you identify it.
If you choose to open ‘Get Photo ID’ the app will ask you to download a file to get started. Once the file is downloaded, you have the option of taking a photo of the bird or choosing a photo from your library. After choosing a photo, the app will ask for confirmation of the location and the date the bird was seen. You will then be shown a list of possible birds that fit the description of the bird in your photo.
Clicking on the last option, ‘Explore Birds’ will yield a list of birds found in your particular area. In addition to photographs of the birds, you have the option to hear the sounds each bird makes. There is also an option to look at a map that shows you where that bird is found year-round, during migration, and during the breeding season.
PROS and CONS of Merlin Bird ID
PROS: This app is overall very informative, easy to use, and thorough. I have been using it for the last two years and it has helped me distinguish different birds when I was unsure. Merlin has been called the most updated field guide you can carry. It’s complete with pictures, sounds, and tips that help you identify three thousand species.
CONS: You may not wish to download the large files needed to use it.
The National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology created Bird Finder back in 2002. The observations and hotspots data are provided by eBird in real time. The app was made possible by collaborative efforts with birders who submit sightings to eBird as well as photographers who shared their photos on Flickr.
Upon opening the app, you will see a map of your current location. Underneath where your location is listed you will see the option to Find Birds as well as Find Hotspots. Clicking ‘Find Birds’ will take you to a listing of birds that have been observed in your area as well as the times and dates they were spotted. Clicking the ‘Find Hotspots’ option will offer you a listing of locations in your area as well as the extended area. These hotspots are listed by name which will enable you to narrow down your field. When you choose a location, you will see again see a listing of specific birds spotted in the location you chose with the time and dates they were spotted. You also have the option to click on icons marked ‘nearby’ and ‘species’.
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‘Nearby’ takes you to the specific locations in your area or extended area so you can narrow down your search. Choosing ‘species’ will give you a detailed listing of birds native to your location. When you click on any of these species, you will see pictures and a map of your location with a circle showing you where the species was spotted.
PROS and CONS of Bird Finder
PROS: Bird Finder gives a thorough breakdown of birding sites in your location. Furthermore, it breaks down some of the lakes by specific areas and boundaries, making it easier to narrow down my search to figure out if a bird I’m thinking I spotted may even be found there. The pictures found when you click on ‘Species’ are also useful.
CONS: Unlike the Merlin Bird ID, you cannot upload your own pictures for the app to help you identify a bird.
Birds Near Me
Billed as the bird guide for everybody anywhere in the world, I downloaded this app last year. I was thinking seeing birds and hearing their songs from anywhere in the world might be like armchair traveling for a birdwatcher who doesn’t often get away.
This app is powered by eBird, so the information is accurate. Like most apps, it includes the ability to find hotspots. However, I was hoping that I would be able to see hotspots outside of the United States. This was one reason the app appealed to me. Unfortunately, around March 2019, the app was revised and is no longer able to find sightings of birds around the world. It does have a feature marked with a star called ‘Notables’ where you can find notable sightings near you, a feature I enjoy.
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PROS and CONS of Birds Near Me
PROS: The biggest pro I found was a feature called “Notables.” It gives you a listing of birds sighted in your area. If you click any one of the species, it will take you to a map where it was spotted. There is an option to click ‘Details’ where you will be able to see a color photograph of the species, listen to recordings, and read a fairly detailed summary about the bird.
CONS: If there are lot of sightings on the map, it appears crowded. It’s not as clear as I’d prefer. I also felt I spent a lot of time clicking back and forth between ‘Hotspots,’ ‘Near Me,’ and ‘Notables’ and seeing the same information. It’s not as navigable as other apps.
Audubon Bird Guide
If you had to choose only one app to enhance your birdwatching experience, go with the best. That would have to be the Audubon Bird Guide app. It’s an award-winning field guide with information on more than 800 bird species at the touch of your finger!
What’s more, this app was created for beginners and experts alike. It enables you to identify birds, keep track of the ones you’ve seen, and find new birds in your area. Knowing the app has been downloaded over two million times erased any hesitation I had. One feature I love is called ‘Bird Alert.’ It lets you receive daily notifications on your phone or tablet when a bird you’ve been hoping to see has been spotted near you.
Like other apps, Audubon Bird Guide can help you identify birds by color, size, and details like their tails. It provides a list of potential matches relevant to your area and it’s in real time. It offers thousands of photos and 8 hours of audio clips of songs and calls.
There are also multi-season range maps and in depth summaries provided by renowned bird expert Kenn Kaufman. The ‘Sightings’ feature was recently redesigned to allow users to keep a record for every bird they spot. Another feature I have not found on any other birding app is the ability to share photos. The ‘Photo Feed’ lets users post their photos so other app users can see your best shots. It’s a great way to brag a little about your sightings!
PROS and CONS of Audubon Bird Guide
PROS: Audubon has been the source for anything bird since 1905. The audio clips of songs and calls are very clear for an app. I’ve had some in the past that were hard to distinguish or hear clearly. ‘Bird Alert’ is another big pro for birders, especially new birders trying to find birds. The ‘Sightings’ feature is also a big pro for me.
CONS: There is so much to explore, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I must be honest and say that I could use a little more time to take advantage of all this app has to offer.
Find the App that Works for You
A visit to the app store on your phone or tablet will show you hundreds of birding apps for you to try. All four of these apps are available for free for your phone or tablet. With so many apps to choose from, I recommend trying a few at a time to get the feel of them.
Find what works for you. If it’s frustrating to use, delete it. If you feel it’s glitchy or takes too long to load, delete it. With so many choices, we birders can have as much information as we want at our fingertips. Like anything else you plan to use, take your time and find what you like. At the rate the world of apps is moving, something even better will come along at any moment.