With over 47 million enthusiasts in the United States alone, it’s easy to see that bird watching is an exciting hobby. With one of these apps and a few other supplies, you can begin your eggs-sighting bird journey today!
For anyone new to bird watching, it’s a great way to get outside and connect with nature. The hobby is beloved even by celebrities like Paul McCartney, Wes Craven, and former President Jimmy Carter. Seasoned bird watchers call themselves birders, and enjoy taking their binoculars, field guides, and birding apps with them wherever they go. Seeing a bird you’ve never seen before is fun, and these apps can help you learn how to recognize them by sight or sound, and keep track of every one you’ve seen.
Update, 2/17/22: Double-checked all picks and links still good.
The Audubon Bird Guide for North America (Free) is a terrific choice for novice and seasoned birders alike, with its easy to use interface and arsenal of information. The National Audubon Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of birds and other wildlife (as well as healthy ecosystems). Named after famed ornithologist and naturalist John James Audubon, the organization has made all of the information they’ve collected about birds available for free.
The app itself is a wonderful field guide that’s easy enough for novices to use and robust enough for veteran birders to rely upon. It has information on over 800 species of North American birds. With it, you can quickly and easily identify birds by entering all the data you observed. It also lets you learn more about any birds you identify or any you search for. There are over 3,000 photos of birds you can browse through as well as over eight hours of bird calls and songs to listen to, multi-season maps, and in-depth informational texts.
Integration with eBird (which we’ll cover in detail down below) shows you nearby birding hotspots and real-time sighting updates from other users. Plus, the Sightings feature lets you keep a running record of every bird you’ve seen whether it was on a dedicated birding trip or in a casual situation. Audubon’s website also has tons of resources on how to get started with birding, from what supplies you’ll need to learn how to identify birds.
If you’re looking for a field guide that offers detailed bird illustrations and audio clips, iBird Pro Guide to Birds ($14.99) is the app to choose. It’s one of the most comprehensive and in-depth birding apps, and it’s just as helpful for new bird watchers as it is for experienced birders. The app’s identification tool is an in-app purchase that automatically identifies any bird from a photograph taken by your device.
iBird offers illustrations and photographs for all 900+ North American species, and each illustration is a high-res composite HDR drawing of the bird in its native environment. iBird does make a point to include photos of male, female, and juvenile birds, along with subspecies, whenever possible. It also has an impressive library of over 4,000 call vocalizations and bird songs, and many birds have multiple audio files available to listen to as well as phonetic text and vocalization information. You can even listen to similar-sounding calls. This is great if you are trying to narrow down a bird you’ve spotted or learn specific bird calls. You can also shake your phone when the app is open to hear a random bird song.
By far, the app’s most impressive asset is its powerful search function. You can filter searches by 35 unique attributes, including location, shape, size, habitat, color, family, order, and even conservation status. It also has maps for different bird types, showing where they most commonly are throughout the year and during migrations. iBird is an ideal field guide to have at hand, and its advanced features make it worth the costly price tag.
Merlin Bird ID (Free) is a terrific app to have if you don’t want a full-on field guide and are mostly looking for a bird identification tool. Designed by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, the app can identify birds simply by photo or by answering five easy questions like “What were the main colors” and “What size was the bird” to narrow down the possibilities. Then it shows you the best matches accordingly, complete with pictures of males and females, and an audio clip. You can also click the “This is My Bird!” button if it is, in fact, your bird.
The app provides maps for each type of bird, showing where the areas in which they are known to live or migrate, and is stocked with audio clips of bird calls and songs with visual audio waves so you can get a better understanding of them. Merlin Bird ID also features an Explore Birds section where you can see birds common to your area, along with a photo of each and a simple calendar showing the months in which it’s common for them to be there. Its large database features over 40,000 photos of birds and 15,000 songs and calls, and it contains information on birds around the world compiled by ornithology experts.
If you’re serious about ornithology and mastering bird sounds, you’ll need an app like Larkwire ($14.99) on your side. The game-based app was created to help bird enthusiasts of any age and skill level learn birdsongs efficiently and effectively, and it pulls from a database of over 300 calls (with multiple calls for certain birds). It keeps track of your progress and lets you pick up the app right where you left off, so you can practice at any time. Larkwire is available on the web and for iOS users, and it’s as informative and easy to use as it is emu-sing.
Get the bird’s eye view on where the birds are near you with eBird (Free). This app is also designed by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, and it makes it easy to see the latest local sightings, find hotspots near your home or anywhere you travel to, and be connected with the world’s largest birding community. You can even contribute your own sightings to help keep listings as up to date as possible and to help out ornithologists.
eBird lets you make notes for each of your sightings, including how many of each type of bird you saw, and you can type in your own notes like “larger duck brown head” or “mostly active over cut grass meadow” in the notes section. The app keeps a running list of all the birds you’ve ever seen and noted within the app, with monthly and yearly breakdowns, and tracks each of your exploratory journeys via GPS and displays it on a map so you can keep track of where you go birding each time you go out. eBird has integrations with Merlin Bird ID and Audubon for more precise tracking of sightings.