Birdwatching App Puts a Comprehensive Birding Guide in Your Pocket (Review)

Screen capture. iBird

Birds often get overlooked as an important piece of our environment, and for those who aren't birding enthusiasts, unless specific birds land on the endangered species list, or are used in anti-wind or anti-solar arguments, are almost invisible to many of us. But as a common element in both the city and the country, birds can offer us a glimpse of nature, and even cheap entertainment, no matter where you live.

Like most people, I enjoy seeing and watching larger wild animals, but it's much more likely that on any given day, I'll see more birds than any other kind of wildlife, and because they're such an integral part of ecosystems, and a harbinger of environmental change, birds can serve to connect us to our environment in a way that's both accessible and fun.

I'm not really a birder, although I do enjoy their antics and company. However, I do like to know more about my environment, including the names and habits of the birds that live around me, so I often pull out my Audubon Field Guide to Birds to find out more about my fellow feathered friends, and to share what I've learned with my kids.

Because I like to travel light (and because going anywhere with kids means quadrupling the amount of stuff you bring with you), I don't carry the bird guide with me, so I end up having to try to remember what the birds looked like and sounded like when I get home and can look them up in the book. But I don't have to rely on my memory anymore, thanks to a powerful and comprehensive birding app called iBird.

iBird Pro, which is the best selling birding app currently on the market, includes photos, illustrations, full descriptions, range maps, and even recordings of the birds' calls, for over 900 species of birds in North America and Hawaii. iBird Pro is like the Audobon Bird Guide on steroids, with an interactive and digital twist, and it just might be the most useful app I've had on my phone in years.

One of the most powerful features of the iBird app is its advanced search function, which allows users to search for birds using a number of parameters, which can make almost anyone a pro at identifying the species they observe by drastically narrowing down the number of possible species.

For example, if I see a new bird in my backyard, I can specify that I'm searching for birds often found in New Mexico, then enter the shape of the bird I'm observing (such as perching, or tree-clinging, or hawk-like), the size, the type of habitat the bird is in, the colors (prominent, primary, secondary, and breast), the bird's song type, its wing shape and flight pattern, and quite a few other attributes (if needed), and then all I need to do is look through the search results and match them up with the bird itself.

iBird's search functions are ridiculously powerful. Seriously. There are so many advanced search options, you'd have to try really hard to not identify the birds you see or hear with this app. Once you've narrowed down the possibilities, the details found on each listing in iBird, including the bird's range, its physical characteristics, clear sharp photos (which are zoom-able), taxonomy, interesting facts, and listing of similar birds, makes identification a snap. And for power users (power birders?), notes and photos can be attached to each listing, which can help build your personal bird lists and track your sightings.

Another feature that I found to be really useful is the bird call recordings, and although some say that playing the calls to attract birds just piss them off, I think that being able to listen to the bird calls to learn to identify them can be a great asset to any birder. And you certainly can't listen to bird calls with a paper field guide book...

"iBird Pro Guide to Birds is designed to satisfy the demanding needs of advanced birders and professional naturalists. It offers comprehensive identification, behavior, habitat and ecology information, twice as many search attributes as iBird Plus Guide to Birds, hand-drawn illustrations, professional photographs, range maps, and playable calls for 926 North American and Hawaiian bird species. - iBird

Viewing and searching for birds with iBird on a small smartphone screen is really handy when out in the field (and requires no cell or WiFi connection to use), but when you get back home and want to dig further into the information or see the photos in a larger size, you can use the iBird iPad app for that, and any notes will be synced to and from the smartphone app.

The iBird Pro app is priced at $19.99 (temporarily reduced from $29.99), which might seem high, but then again, all of the other similar birding apps that I've seen cost anywhere from $10 to $20, and considering how comprehensive it is, and how convenient it is, I believe it's well worth its price.

[Disclosure: I received a free review version of iBird Pro, but all opinions here, as well as any factual errors, are mine alone.]