6 Best Birding Apps for Beginners
We're all familiar with the stereotypical image of the birder, juggling a field guide, notebook, binoculars and camera. These days, though, birders have it much easier: Birding apps for tablets and smartphones make spotting and identifying birds easier than ever.
We checked out the available North American birding technology and found six apps that are intuitive and easy for novices to use — and offer extensive information and additional features for experienced birders as well.
No matter what your current skill level, these apps make it easy to track your finds and increase your bird-based knowledge.
These apps draw from the bestselling "Peterson Field Guide" series of books. You can choose from three different “levels," depending on your needs, interest and budget.
Peterson Birds of North America, $14.99
This full version provides everything you want to know about 820 different birds, including color illustrations and nest/egg photos, comprehensive searches by name and state, songs and calls, range maps, checklists, additional species information (molting, anyone?) and a cool species comparison tool.
Peterson Birds Pocket Edition, $0.99
This version covers the same 820 birds, but includes fewer details about each one. The core functionality is still there, though: comprehensive search, illustrations, songs and basic information about each species.
Peterson Feeder Birds of North America, free
A great way to get your feet wet in birding, this free app offers extensive information, illustrations, audio and comprehensive search for 160 birds you might find at your backyard feeder.
Peterson Birds apps, available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, free-$14.99.
National Geographic Birds
The National Geographic Birds app, which was named one of School Library Journal’s Top Apps of 2013, draws on robust information from its companion book, National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.
The app includes nearly 900 North American species and 3,000 full-color illustrations to help you identify birds in your area. Search functionality allows users to search and sort by name, location, size and color. Videos help you learn to recognize bird songs and calls, while more than 800 range maps allow you to keep track of specific types of birds.
Beginners will benefit from the app's quizzes, which test birding knowledge. The app also covers basic information about being a birder, including gear recommendations, community guidelines, lingo, etiquette and more. And out in the field, the “My Journal” section allows you to keep track of sightings, life lists and other data.
National Geographic Birds, available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch for $9.99.
Sibley e-Guide to Birds
Another well-known nature guide series offers itscomprehensive information in an app for a variety of platforms. The Sibley e-Guide to Birds covers 810 species with a whopping 6,600 illustrations, showing birds perched and in flight from different angles. These images accompany detailed descriptions, including subspecies, regional variations, measurements and weight ranges of North American birds.
Sibley also offers 2,300 audio recordings of songs and calls, which will help you identify and compare similar species.
Search functionality allows you to search by name or filter by state, province or most commonly seen species. Detailed range maps help track birds, and your own personal sightings log ensures you can keep your life list at your fingertips when you have a species to add.
For novices, Sibley offers a free “lite” version with 20 species, which is a good way to test the app before you buy.
Sibley e-Guide to Birds, available for iPhone and iPod touch, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 8 and BlackBerry for $19.99.
Audubon Field Guide for Birds
In this app, the Audubon folks bring us information about 771 North American species with details on behavior, habitat, life history, nesting times, number of eggs, nest location, family info, similar species and so much more.
More than 3,000 color photographs set Audubon’s guide apart from other apps, many of which use illustrations. However, most experienced birders agree that photos and illustrations are equally useful — it's just a personal preference.
The app's intuitive and simple search allows you to find a bird by shape and family. You can also search for a bird by its song type or pattern, which is an unusual feature in the birding apps.
Range maps help you track where the birds, including migrating species, are located in each season, and more than eight hours of bird calls and song audio helps you determne who's up in those trees, even if you can't see them.
Audubon Field Guide for Birds, available on iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android phones and tablets, Kindle Fire, HP Touchpad and Nook for $9.99.
Audubon Hummingbirds at Home
Today’s birding community relies on “citizen scientists” to help track and log bird sightings, migration patterns and more. Participating in this process is a great way to get into the birding hobby. Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home app calls upon newbies and experienced birders alike to help track hummingbirds, which coordinate their migration with the flowering of the nectar-bearing plants they feed on. If this timing is out of synch, it can be trouble for these little birds. Help contribute to their survival by logging your own hummingbird sightings, and by learning more about these birds and how you can help protect them.
Audubon Hummingbirds at Home, available for iPhone and Android, free.
All of the above apps are appropriate for kids, but this one is especially great for kids who love owls.
The Audubon Owls app offers information on North American owls, including photographs, characteristics, habits, endangered status and other cool facts. You can search by wing shape, how the owls fly, their calls, typical times of year they are spotted and where, actual location and more. Range maps provide migration and seasonal information as well.
Using the notes and photo album functions, you can keep track of your own owl sightings and life lists. And there are some fun games and quizzes that will help your kids build their owl knowledge.
Audubon Owls, available on iPhone and iPod Touch and Android, free.
One note of caution with all of these apps: Experts warn against using the birdcall feature when you’re in the field, as it can interfere with a bird’s natural patterns and behaviors, and some national parks forbid it altogether. So grab your headphones if you hope to compare songs and calls when you’re out in the wild.
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