Birds & Birding

Boucher’s Birding Blog: Apps for the Smart Birder — Which One Should You Use?

May 27, 2013


July 5, 2020

TNC's Tim Boucher is "a world-class geographic information systems (GIS) scientist wo uses satellite data to monitor the status of healthy and threatened habitats." He is also a bird-crazy map guy who has braved civil war and landslides to find and see birds. Photo © Dave Lauridsen for The Nature Conservancy

Need an app that helps you identify birds in the field? Don’t bother searching for “birds” in any app store. Unless that thrush happens to be angry, those dozens of Angry Bird apps that pop up won’t be of any use to you.

So here is my expert take on 10 iPhone birding apps — Audubon Birds, iBird Pro, National Geographic Birds, Peterson Birds, and Sibley eGuide to Birds and two newer additions, BirdsEye (North America)Merlin, the newish eBird app and the old Kindle app (all are also available on Android phones and the larger, tablet format). 

Since I last updated, I am pleased see there are now lots of local birding apps (such as Birding Trail and Birding Sites Phoenix), many new game/skill improvement/listing/hotspot apps (like Big Year Birding, the Biggest Week, Birds Near Me) and a plethora of international ones (Sasol eBirds of Southern Africa and The eGuide to the Birds of Australia/Indian Subcontinent/etc.)

For this review, I will be focusing on the things that birders need for identifying birds in the field:

  • Ease of use in finding a bird via image or search text function, for all from novice birders to advance birders;
  • The type (photo or painting) and number of images the app provides; 
  • How easy is it to listen to a song/call through the app (and how many songs it makes available); and
  • Whether the app allows you to compare similar birds and in which ways.
  • All 5 of these apps offer some bonus features — but generally, I am comparing basic features that all share. Of course, some things are a matter of personal preference, such as illustrations versus photos.

All of these apps need a lot of space (and a WiFi connection) to download (~500 MB+), but then you can use them offline when in the field, which is very nice. With new smartphones having lots of space, this shouldn’t be an issue, but older ones could struggle.

Photo © Devan King / TNC

Step One: Identifying a Bird

A novice birder spots a bird in the backyard and would like to identify it. First you need to narrow it down — big, small, hawk, warbler, woodpecker, whatever.

But wait! Audubon Birds is already helping you do that. You can browse by shape (duck-like, hawk-like, perching, etc.). That’s pretty nice for the novice.

Merlin treats you like a true novice — and leads you through a series of questions: location (allow GPS use), date (useful for season), size (with a series of useful images), choice of several colors, and what and where the bird was. It then creates a list of possible choices.

Hidden in National Geographic Birds is a way to something similar — filtering the search by color, size, habitat, etc. — that should help narrow your choices down. iBird has the same filter-type list, although a little more hidden under its search function, and Sibley eGuide to Birds also has a similar function under its Smart Search — though not as clever as Audubon’s!

Peterson Birds has already fallen behind the pack — it only has a family list that I have to scroll through, with icons. Hmmm…that Grey Catbird that the other apps quickly pointed to is not so easy to find with Peterson.

BirdsEye is not really set up for the novice — allowing you to either search for or scroll through birds that have been recently seen in your location (based on eBird), but you really have to know what you are looking at to find it. Likewise, the eBird app is for sending in eBird checklists, not for figuring out what bird you are looking at.

Step Two: Confirming the Bird

Next, assuming you think you might know what the bird is, how quickly can you find it to confirm? And what type of images are they, how many and (lastly, and the most subjective) how’s the quality?

Let’s graduate from the catbird to something more challenging — a Wood Thrush. It can be confused with a few other similar thrush species and has a song that can be similar to others too (that is the toughest test). And remember — in all of this testing, time is of the essence. The quicker you can get to a bird, the better!

And now for the reviews. I’ve reviewed them in alphabetical order to avoid playing favorites. Also, the apps do get updated every so often (once or twice a year), but mostly with new images and bug fixes — new feature updates are much rarer.

Photo © Devan King / TNC


While this one is free (which is a big plus if you just want to check birding out), it covers 400 of the most common species — which is most of what you can expect to see anyway if you are a novice.

Merlin uses only photos (a good selection), has a good representation of songs and calls (singing and chip notes) of each species (it is from Cornell after all!), and includes a good size map of each species showing ranges in the North American continent south to Panama using different colors for winter and summer ranges.

You are taken through a series of questions and given a list of possible birds to choose from (based, in part, records on eBird). You can also browse all the birds. It has a search input area at the top and an interesting scroll bar of different shapes of birds to choose from, which means that similar birds (think vireos and warblers) appear near each other.

I did find the bar a little annoying if my fat finger strayed onto it while scrolling up or down — I would get a big jump (especially if using my right hand! (Note to self: use left thumb for scrolling!).

A note on the birds not dealt with in this app: this app is aimed at the total beginner/novice. Many people will prefer a more comprehensive guide sooner or later. All in all, it’s a great guide for people who are just starting! Bonus Feature – did I mention it’s free?

Audubon Birds

Audubon starts up quickly and has a nifty little search box as the top of the screen. Typing in “wood t” quickly gave me Wood Thrush, and one tap took me to the bird (took about 3 seconds). Nice! I could also browse by family to get there (3 taps and some scrolling) — but quite a bit more slowly.

Once at the Wood Thrush entry, Audubon presents me with four good photos (NOT paintings), with a range of options at the top: map; voice (more on that later); description; similar (more on that later); share and sightings. Voice is VERY important to both the novice and advanced user. Audubon offers 5 recordings for this species! Excellent! Birds don’t sing or call the same everywhere or even seasonally.

Audubon also compares the species to 11 others — a good range of choices, in mostly the same habitats — which is good. You don’t want to be misled by a grassland bird when you are in the woods. Audubon does NOT give birds with similar songs.

Another thing about Audubon I like, the great use of the eBird data (a hidden bonus feature!). You can search for Nearby Birds or search for a rare or notable bird, both of which are very useful. It can even use your GPS location! And the best part? It is now free!

BirdsEye (North America)

BirdsEye is a unique product in that it sources a most of its information directly from eBird (much more so than Audubon) specifically where birds have lately been seen in your region.

Birdseye has recently changed, and is now a global birding tool – so it’s useful for outside the ABA region (depending on the quality of data of course). I tested the North America version of it. It has a fairly simple initial interface, “browse birds” the first choice, and typing “wood t” quickly brought up the Wood Thrush (including a small photo-icon) and its associated monthly abundance graph (and a red-line for the present date).

Tap on that and you get a description of the bird. Tap on the photo and you get more and larger photos. Once in the description area, you can share the sighting, view photos people have loaded, read the Wikipedia entry, see latest local sightings (sourced from eBird, which is very nice), and lastly, hear what the bird sounds like when singing. BirdsEye also has a small audio icon at the bottom, which gives you a couple songs and calls.

Note: when you are browsing birds, there are 3 tabs at the top — an “all” tab (in this case 1045 birds), a “recent” tab (birds seen recently in your area), and birds needed for your list (if your list is up-to-date on eBird).

Apart from “browse birds” it also has an option to look at favorite locations, your world and regional list (as on eBird), local hotspot lists, and nearby notable birds (in case you want to chase down a rarity). However, for some reason (probably operator error), I could not get it to work for my life or regional list even though my eBird list is up-to-date.

Bonus feature – BirdsEye allows you to search using the USGS 4-letter alpha/banding code (e.g. BGGN for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher). While this might not seem like much, try typing “Black-and-white Warbler” with your thumbs, not so much fun! It also trains you to use the 4-letter code when using the Birdlog and eBird app; just refrain from using them in conversation — telling others you saw a HOWA, KEWA and WEWA might confuse (and probably annoy) them.

Note the price change of BirdsEye, which has undergone a restructuring. Where you used to make one payment, you now pay less, but have to pay monthly. Most regions are pretty cheap, so it shouldn’t be a concern. This might work well for areas outside the U.S., where getting songs/calls especially can be cumbersome (I get mine from the terrific resource:

eBird Mobile App

Originally the BirdLog app, Cornell took it over, revamped it, and made it their own. The key for Cornell and the eBird project was to have a single, free and global data entry app for eBird.

If you use the web version of eBird, this app is a must. I use it a lot for eBird checklist entry — they have made it a lot more internet friendly, and are working on many nice new features, like linking to your individual eBird account and so forth. There are a number of checklist-input functions — including using recent locations, picking a hotspot from a map (you need to be online for that to work), creating your own personal location, and picking a nearby hotspot or searching for one by city or place. You can create a checklist for offline use, but you have to have created a checklist beforehand when online for this to work properly, and setting up future checklists (for trips where you’re birding beyond the reach of cell service) is also little clunky. But overall, if you keep a list, and use eBird (if not, why not?), then get this app. It’s a no-brainer.

iBird Pro & Ultimate

Next up — iBird Pro — the first birding app on the market! No muss, no fuss; either type in “wood t” or scroll alphabetically or taxonomically. Bingo, quickly to the bird in question — Wood Thrush. It’s a single (but decent) painting along with a range map, photos, sounds, similar species, field marks and other identification tips (bird specs), facts (notes), your notes, ecology, links to Flickr (more photos!), Birdpedia, etc.

There are only two vocalization choices for this species (one song and one call/chip notes, so adequate), but very importantly, iBird serves up two similar-sounding birds. Very nice! And iBird also gives the spectrogram for geeky birders who like to visualize the song. 13 similar-looking birds are listed, including some very unlikely European species.

iBird has done quite a few updates over the past year or so — like adding and updating the drawings, and added 3D force touch shortcuts for iPhone. Searching using the USGS 4-letter alpha/banding code (e.g. BGGN for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher) has also been added — just tap the button next to the search box to use it (it cycles through Common name/Band code/Latin name). However, even with all the updates, it’s basically the same app (which is nice).

There is now a more pro version — iBird Ultimate! It does smart searching of birds and has overlays of important field marks. Not worth the upgrade to me, but you might consider it if you are a first-time buyer.


I have included this not because it is a true birding app, but because it can be used as a simple reader of bird field guides. Recently, however, some new print/hardcopy guides have come out with a Kindle version (like Birds of New Guinea: Second Edition), and it acts pretty much like the print version of a book — each page (or part of a page) is separate. There is some simple searching of text possible (like any Kindle book). Simple, yet functional.

The other way to use Kindle, if you have many old field guides like I do, is to create a PDF of the guide (either scan it or take photos) and send it to your phone or tablet (dropbox/box is a good option because the PDF is likely be very large) and save it to and open with the Kindle App. Once done, it sits on your phone for you can zoom in on pictures and read text, look at other birds, etc. Interestingly, it actually works pretty well! Especially when traveling to other countries, where there might be more than one field guide, old guides, etc.

National Geographic Birds

National Geographic opens quickly and an extra tap brings up the text search box, where typing “wood t” brings up Wood Thrush. The layout is neat, uncluttered, with the paintings from the paper field guide. Though small, the illustrations can be enlarged with pinch-zoom. A map and sounds icon appear below the illustrations.

Sounds are adequate, with one song and one call for this species, including the spectrogram. Comparisons with the songs of three other species are available. Under visual comparison, only one species is given, and it is an odd choice — the Brown Thrasher. It is brown, but much larger than the thrushes and a different shape, whereas the other thrushes are much closer in appearance to the Wood Thrush and much more easily confused when seen in typical thrush habitat of dark wooded understory. So points off there.

The Nat Geo app is up to version 3.5 (Dec 2013), and nothing major has been done to it for a while except fixing bugs and correcting data.

Peterson Birds

The Peterson app has gone through a major renovation. That being said, even with a new initial layout, the functionality is still pretty much the same as before. Only two taps needed to get to text search, and typing “wood” gave Wood Thrush as the top choice. A large painting, as found in the paper guide, is displayed, above icons for sounds (only one song), map, nest, ecology and family notes. The very simple similar species section shows only the American Robin — which is nothing like the Wood Thrush. You can also browse species by family icons, where it is easy to compare birds and calls by just tapping on the images, or a plain text list.

Via access through the new layout (bird search or bird browse) you can do some fancy new searches by county, share sightings, export checklists, etc. Illustrations are still the same (from the field guide), but you can now do some nice comparisons with other birds and it has a shortcut for information. Scrolling through the new layout, I found an identification guide to all the undertail patterns of warblers – quite handy! There is also a new function that displays current birds in your neighborhood (it uses eBird data). It has also gone up in price — to $14.99!

Sibley eGuide to Birds

Lastly — Sibley. Two taps (either taxonomic or alphabetic; no fussy scrolling!) to the text search and typing “wood” gets Wood Thrush and an impressive array of large Sibley illustrations for each species to scroll through. On the right are two small, neat icons for voice and a distribution map. The song/call section has six recordings, the most out of all the apps. No sonograms, but most people don’t use them anyway. Downside — Sibley doesn’t have listed similar species for each species, either visual or aural. In the initial search area, the “comp.” button will bring up both visual and aural comparisons. Sibley has the most illustrations, and for many people — especially those who prefer Sibley’s artwork over photos — this is a popular choice.

Sibley hasn’t had a major update in a while, despite a new edition of the print bird guide. But then again, why mess with something that is working so well?

A Final Word on Cost and Birding Ethics

All these apps are fairly low-cost, so price is really not an issue. As I noted, Merlin is free, but limited to 400 birds. eBird and Kindle are free. BirdsEye is also now free, but has switched to an in-app monthly purchase scheme (depending on region – North America being $2.99 per month, and global $4.99 a month).

One very good app, Audubon, is also free! National Geographic is still $9.99. And Peterson is now no longer bare-bones in features, has undergone a major update, including the price, which has gone up to $14.99.

Sibley, iBird Pro and Ultimate are usually $20 ($40 for Ultimate). But these can be purchased for a lot less if you get them on sale.

Sometimes these apps get discounted to just a few dollars, so keep an eye out for those opportunities, especially in the spring!

Important! On the front page of Sibley, there is a little reminder for all app users: “Please consider the birds and other birders before playing audio recordings in the field.” This is to remind you that playing the recording of a bird’s call, especially in breeding season, may be harmful if done near the bird in question. And may be illegal in some National Parks. And is always illegal for endangered species. And it will annoy other birders. So just don’t do it, ok?

Join the Discussion

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  1. A comparison of these could probably at least allude to differences in their listing features. Sibley, which I use, isn’t the strongest option for someone who finds that catbird and wants to be able to add it to their list with a single click.

    At some point it’s almost too integrated, of course. Having clicked the button, do you want your data shared with other birders, distributed to avid twitchers who might chase your pin on that map? But we may as well contrast those approaches, too.

    Man, apps. I used to pack a special bag to have my big Sibley book along.

  2. Hi Timothy,

    Some great recommendations. I’ve been using BirdJam for a while but I see they haven’t gone to an all app format. I think it’s time to re-evaluate my birding app because BJ requires more work and is much more expensive.

    I’d be interested to know if any of your readers can cite the advantages of using BJ. I know it loads the Stokes’ data from CD but does that really matter?


  3. Listing: the only app that I think is worthwhile in the listing department is one I did NOT do a review on: Birdlog! Why? Primarily because it feeds your data directly into Cornell’s eBird citizen science effort (personally, I want my sightings to be of use to others). You can get both a North America and Global version, it can use your GPS to finds local hotspots, sets up lists, etc. And by entering date into eBird, you also get the ability to see your data using the website, look up other sightings, see maps, seasonality abundance, etc. I know, its another app, but until one my “top 5” goes that route (Audubon comes close, but still has its own listing feature), I will not use them for that purpose.

    BirdJam: I should review it! But… another App… maybe I need to do another blog post on “How to learn bird calls…?” I used to learn bird songs using the old-school tape-player method, which was tedious to say the least. The advent of CD’s made finding songs easier, and when the iPod arrived, I basically loaded up them (“ripped”) into iTunes, and all of them sorted by bird name in my song library. This is basically what BirdJam does for you (for Northern America) – just with many more options (including comparing species, multiple species per bird, etc). The website is pretty comprehensive, and for learning a group (such as warblers) it is probably quite useful. And no, I don’t think is matters that they use Stoke’s data.

    1. Birdwatcher’s Diary app for iOS also directly uploads your sightings data to eBird from the field. It adheres to and keeps up with all eBird protocols and preferences. It’s also a much more fully featured specialized database with lots of customizable options like creating a map for every sighting (or just the first of a species), backing up your archived lists to Dropbox ™, incorporating your own (or other’s) photos, using bird names in local languages, creating any subset of your life list that you want, instantly downloading state, country or your own created master lists, sending your list to Facebook, Twitter (w/map), your birding list serve, or to an email address. The basic functions of selecting a location, loading a master list, and ticking off species is really fast. Tim, as a reviewer I can offer you a promo code so you can see for yourself all that BWD can do. We’ve been supporting and updating it for over 3 years. Full info including a video and manual are available on the Stevens Creek Software web site: I should mention that 50% of the proceeds go to bird education and conservation organizations.

    2. I’ve used iBird PRO for several years now and have really enjoyed it. It can be useful for learning songs too – if you run a search (e.g. state, month, and habitat) you can play the slideshow which shows a picture of the bird along with the name and one of the recordings. You can change the settings some, but it seems to run through the species, the matched song (call, chip, singing) and photo/illustration at random. A wonderful tool for a highly visual person like me to see the picture of the bird while I hear the songs while I’m learning or to glance at the screen to check if I guessed correctly.

  4. I actually use iBird Pro and I’m pretty happy with it. As a novice birder, I can put in minimal search features (size and prominent color as well as area) and I pretty much can find my bird. I love that there are a lot of pictures and the songs as well. The only downfall is that it is a very large file so it takes forever to load. The bonus to this is that you don’t need a signal to use the app– which is a GREAT! bonus!
    I got the app on sale at a pretty decent price too — I want to say it was under $10.
    Thank you for the break down — I might actually add Audubon as well!

  5. I’ve used Sibley and Audubon, but Ibird remains my favorite. I’m in favor of using calls in the right circumstances, but I agree we should be mindful.
    Caveat: IBird crashes my Android from time to time, and several attempts to fix it have failed.

  6. I’ve been happy with iBird Pro. And yes, watch out for discount promotions – I was able to get the app for less than $5 instead of $20. I like Peterson Field Guides, but their app doesn’t offer enough. As for the other apps, they are adequate enough for most beginners.

  7. I have Sibley and Peterson on my iphone and over the winter got an android tablet. Decided to get iBird on that for a 3rd option, but I really don’t like it so added Sibley to the tablet. Other friends who started with ibird have been switching to Sibley.

    My primary use for any of the apps is sounds and Sibley is so much better on the various calls that I don’t really use the other two at all. And not much of a lister so the listing features don’t matter.

  8. Do all of these apps keep your life list? I presently have an outdated AVISYS.

    1. Someone asked if any of the reviewed apps let you keep a life list. This was an important feature to me and I found than none of the app did an adequate job of letting me keep my sightings. iBird was the most flexible cause it let me have multiple lists, but it only saved favorites and notes about each bird which isn’t enough for a serious birder. Recently I found a new app called iBird Journal which is the answer to me dreams. Its the first listing app I have found that is truly easy to use and powerful. Check it out. (its on sales)

  9. Lifelist… while all of these apps have some sort of listing ability, I suggest getting Birdlog (World or North America edition) – which directly connects to Cornell’s eBird program. This allows you can keep a global life list – edit/see it on eBird too – not having to worry about splits and taxonomic updates – and feeds into eBirds citizen science project. There is another called myBirdList, but I have not tried it yet.

    1. More: also found another called Birdwatcher’s Diary – also not tested…

  10. I recently got BirdTunes ( which is very useful for identifying and learning bird language. You might want to use this app with your headphones to minimize disturbance to the birds. You also might want to use your iPhone microphone and voice memo app to record any bird song you hear to ID later.

    1. I haven’t gotten around to buying it yet, but Larkwire has a unique method of step-by-step improving your ability to recognize songs and calls based on performance in “quizzes.” Anyone have it and what do you think?

      1. I have Larkwire and really like it. I haven’t used the learning feature a lot since I know many songs already, but it seems useful. I like using it to confirm or correct a song I think I’m hearing in the field. The bird songs are grouped usefully so you can compare and find the correct one among similar songs.

  11. I have Bird Jam, iBird Plus, Audubon, Waite’s, Bird Log, Songbirds and iBird Journal.
    For learning the songs, Bird Jam has been the best. The advantage to BJ is the ability to quickly compare different species. When I hear a Warbler in the field and need to figure out which one it is, (I might get confused between a Black Throated Blue, Parula and Prairie Warbler) this is the only app that is efficient at quickly clicking through them to listen to the songs. I find every app out there except this one to be slow and takes too many clicks to listen to the three species quickly. The only drawback to BJ is the lack of having multiple calls for each bird. It doesn’t seem like it would require that much for them to add a few to each. Being able to sort them into groups like Warblers, Sparrows, etc. is extremely helpful.

    Audubon is my favorite all around app. It has lots of songs for each species, but you can’t quickly compare 2 bird songs. I think it’s user interface is great, logical, easy. However, it’s having eBird built into that makes it amazing. When I visit a different region, I love that I can let it GPS my location and show me which species have recently been reported in the area. It’s a great way to help you narrow down a bird you’re trying to identify, because you’ll know what’s around you. I use this feature all the time.

    iBird is a good app but it’s user interface drives me crazy. I always search for birds by last name (warbler, woodpecker) but every time I try to search I have to again tell it to sort by last name. Why it doesn’t let you select this as a preference, I’ll never understand. Mitch Waite does this application as well as the Waite’s Birds. They both have this annoying lack of preferences. They don’t seem to have any way to filter out by region. I don’t want to have to search through the entire North American species, I want to be able show only Eastern. I find these two apps to be very robust and informative, but have too much info to be efficient. I don’t see a huge difference between them, but I only recently got the MWB app, so I might need more time.

    BirdLog is fantastic for quickly recording your bird lists. I use Cornell’s eBird so it’s very helpful. It could use a few user interface tweaks as well, but it’s fine.

    Bird Journal I just started using, it seems good for managing multiple lists. I don’t have enough experience with it yet to decide how much I like it.

    Songbirds I also only recently downloaded. It looks promising. The song quiz is silly and not really helpful, but I guess kinda fun. However, if you click on a bird, it brings up several different calls and also several similar sounding species. It also will show similar looking species. It doesn’t seem to have a search feature which is confounding to me- or maybe it does and I can’t find it, because it also doesn’t seem to have any instructions. You have to click on an image in their gallery and double tap to get the part with the similar species and range to come up. I think it’s new, so with a couple of updates, it has the potential to be a really good app.

  12. Thanks for a helpful article….I’m a rookie, so wanted to install the National Geographic app….it does not seem to be available for Android….bummer!

  13. I’ve just returned from a holiday in California, Nevada and Arizona and unable to find a bird book in any bookshop in LA decided to download an app. I looked at what was available and decided on Sibley. I had no experience of any American birds, other than the odd vagrant, and found Sibley to be a fantastic app for an American novice like me. I was able to quickly identify species and found the ability to filter states etc to be very useful, although finding a Zone-Tailed Hawk in the Grand Canyon was a surprise and according to the filter shouldn’t have been there. The Condor warden who I pointed it out to got very excited and confirmed my identification.

    My only slight disappointment was that you have to add the place where you had your sighting in the listing facility. A GPS facility for this might be good for those of us who don’t readily know where they are in your great country, but apart from that I would thoroughly recommend Sibley.

  14. Hi: I used Sibley on my Playbook and was well pleased. But the Playbook is a bit of a disaster so changed to a Nexus 7. Installed Sibley Birds of North America. Looked the same until I wanted to see the Latin names and they removed them! Talk about dumbing down. It certainly influences my decision about a bird id app.

  15. Nice reviews, with few mistakes. I like the use of the same species for each app.

    One error you might want to say Nat Geo has a spectrogram. From what I have seen only iBird offers a spectrogram display (also called a sonogram). Almost all others have the minimum amplitude display for the song.

    I also think you may have missed the depth of the iBird search engine…it has far more characteristics you can search on. I didn’t find the search as hidden as you did. I found this comparison table which is more exhaustive than your blog but more for geeks:

  16. What about an app that tells the bird by way of the song it is singing? If you hear a bird singing and record it to the app? there is an app that identifies songs on the radio, but would that kind of app be realistic?

    1. I’m an electrical engineer with 40-odd years of experience. Your request is spot-on! This concept is not particularly difficult with today’s technology. My wife is an avid naturalist. I will look into this idea and see what can be adapted to the benefit of birders. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Cornell and others have been working on this for some time. It would be a great Masters thesis.

  17. I have a Windows Smartphone 7.5. I can’t seem to find good apps other than Sibley for my phone. Any ideas? Help?

    1. Hi Robin. In case you have since upgraded to Windows Phone 8, my company Avelgood Apps recently released a field guide, called Twigle, for birds in North American and Europe and it is free to download from Windows Phone Store

      Twigle contains detailed information on bird identification, habitat and distribution, behavior, habitat and ecology for 205 birds of North American and 258 birds in Europe. It also includes high quality and HD photographs, and playable bird songs and calls.

      Twigle also includes bird song recognition. The app will record a bird singing and narrows down to the closest matches for the bird song.

      1. I have been looking for an app for my iPhone 4 that would allow me to record a bird song and enter it for ID. Couldn’t find your app on iPhone – any possibility it will become available?

  18. Very informative – both reviews and comments. I have been birding for (too many) years, and really don’t have any problems with visual identification, if I can set eyes on the little critters. I just take my bird book with me, either in my pack or in the car, and anyone I don’t immediately recognize I look up using field marks.
    My problem is identification by song. I lead a Christmas bird count group every year through a wooded state park, and we rarely see the birds. They are all up in the tree tops taunting us. Is there any consensus about the best phone (Android) app for songs? Also, I see an app called Thayer. Any comments on this one?

  19. Hi all – thanks for all your comments and suggestions. Much appreciated.
    For learning bird songs (the toughest part of birding for me – I think its like learning a new language) there are a number of birding apps that can help. One thing to remember though – there is no substitute for hard work here, no shortcuts, no app to do the id for you (not yet anyway!) – you have to work at it, over and over again. Also, what helps immensely is drawing up a list of birds you expect to see – and learn the most common ones. Then you will have a leg up on them, and be more attune to new or unusual birds.
    Ok – other than the birding apps in the blog piece, here are a few devoted to bird songs and calls:
    1 – BirdTunes (there is a paid and free version to try first) is a simple program that has lots of bird call and songs for each bird.
    2 – Chirp! Seems to have a lot more utilities – sorting by common birds etc. But fewer birds than BirdTunes.
    3 – BirdJam – get downloads of bird calls onto your iphone or ipod.A more traditional way of using bird calls (like ripping a CD of bird calls and loading it onto your ipod). Intuitive design and very comprehensive.
    There are also a number of different options for a desktop or PC too… you can see the full list here:

    Good luck and have fun birding!
    Tim Boucher

  20. So here’s my dilemma… I am a novice birder and the other day made the mistake of showing my boyfriend The Big Year. Now me, his brother, my mother (very competitive, that woman) and he are in a contest to see the most birds in one year. Now I have a super beautiful makes-my-life-sublime brand new Galaxy 4. I want to know: is there a way for us to keep track of all our birds and post each other about our sightings? What do you guys suggest? I was thinking of a private facebook page, but was wondering if any of the apps make it easy for me to share on FB about what I’ve seen… I’m lost here. Any suggestions?

    I hope that if you read this post you will go by my blog: and watch as the competition unfolds. The dialog, trust me, is worth it. For example: the boyfriend (twenty three years in between dates–yeah, it’s all Jean and Lionel around here, folks) and my mom are at odds with the Ivory Bill debate. (We’re in Mississippi, close enough for it to be extremely personal!) So when she submitted her first list yesterday, she listed her species and then, lastly, “Ivory Billed Woodpecker.” Now the brother totally bought this, but Chris knew she was pulling his leg. He’s a believer, she isn’t. I explained to him that yes, she had seen the bird because it was perched on Sasquatch’s shoulder. He said this could not be true because we are out of Sasquatch’s range here in Gulfport, MS. He stated that it was more than likely a pilated woodpecker on a black bear.

    And so it goes.

    So any suggestions how I can establish the competition where we’re not texting all four people constantly would be nice! Plus, The Man (as I call him) has been birding for 30 years and I feel like I’m sitting down to street chess with Bobby Fischer. (I AM JACK BLACK). I work from home and I live 15 miles from the Gulf whereas he lives 100 miles inland, so I have an advantage.

    Any suggestions as to how I can best keep up with my own list on my phone would be great. I’m a media manager and am never without it.

    Thanks for your participation, and any comments or suggestions as to I can beat the tar out of those whom I love best is greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Brownie

      Although there are a few options for listing – with some of the apps I reviewed having listing options – I think there is really only one way to go – the eBird direction ( Why? and how?

      Why? This is the easy part – you can keep your lists, summarize for the year(!), can see what others are finding birds in your area, explore all the data in many different ways, share lists with friends (not quite facebook, but maybe one day), and not just around the USA, but the whole world. And you can do all of this from your laptop OR your droid (or iPhone). And lastly, a bonus, you are contributing to citizen science. And eBird has just given us Merlin – there own birding app for the beginner!

      Ok – the how? Listing apps, unfortunately, are IMO a little further behind than the birding apps, so a little patience is needed when using them. Part of the problem is that the market no doubt is a lot smaller, but they are improving. With ebird, you can input data from your laptop, or better yet, you can buy an app for logging your lists – Birdseye Birdlog ( is the one to get.

  21. What about the apps Birds PRO and myBirdList?? They’re both contain great services and tools for birding and birdwatching, with identification’s guides, the possibility to create observation’s lists… Quite a pity that you didn’t quote them…All information hier : for Birds PRO and for myBirdList

  22. Thank you very much! This was very helpful! I’m sure we’ll very much enjoy one of those apps!
    Kind regards from Germany

  23. I am looking into getting a tablet to use for birding and want to know if all major birding apps can be run offline. I don’t want to be connected to the internet to operate the app in the field. I see nothing mentioned in the description of any of these apps about this, so the answer may be obvious to everyone but me.

    I assume you download a database to the tablet via internet and then run the app offline, but would like to confirm.

  24. Hi Jerry

    All of these apps can be used offline on a tablet. All of them need a fair bit of space (from 450Mb to 800Mb+) to run, but once it has downloaded, they run very nicely offline.

  25. Just added Merlin (free!) and BirdsEye for those that looking into new apps.

  26. Question: What bird call sounds like the beginning of the Happy Birthday song? My husband heard this a few years ago while in Alpine, NJ and has never been able to find anyone who knew. Can you help?

    1. We just heard this bird while camping at Palomar Mountain near San Diego, CA. Trying to find out what bird it is too. Did you find out? Definitely not the white-throated sparrow.

  27. BB – The only thing that I can think of that is even close is perhaps White-throated Sparrow. Download Merlin and play it – see if its close. Did he see the bird? That would help narrow it down too…


  28. Hi. Great convo here. My goal is to improve my song identification skills. In the interest of reducing pollution/waste and habitat loss, I am trying to keep my possessions, incl. electronic to a minimum. I have a laptop, but no other devices. Suggestions?

    Also, good to know folks are very conservative in using apps to call birds. I would suggest not using at all. Animals are under significant stress due to habitat loss, pollution and climate change. We are best to minimize impacting them further.


  29. Dear Women Observing Wildlife (and others interested in bird song!)
    There are some websites that have free resources for birders – but few of which allow downloading of songs and calls.
    The most popular site (and one I use) for downloading songs of birds is xeno-canto []. The site is attempting to get a recording of every bird in the world, and is well on the way (over 9000 of 10,000+ species). It is primarily set up for sharing of bird songs – including uploading your own recordings. It includes sonograms, ratings, remarks, etc. Most helpful. I highly suggest using (and contributing to) this site, its a remarkable collection.
    Cornell’s site – All about birds – [] is also very good, and includes life history, maps, and calls/songs of species for the USA (so far), including similar species. However, the calls are not available for downloading.

  30. There’s also Birdsnap, from Columbia University. They have a website ( and an iPhone app. One thing they do that the others don’t: If you upload a photo of your bird, they use computer vision to identify it! It works pretty well with high quality images, although you definitely need to confirm the ID yourself.

  31. Tim: Regarding your last statement in article: And may be illegal in some National Parks. And is always illegal for endangered species. And it will annoy other birders. So just don’t do it, ok? In particular… “always illegal for endangered species.” Do you have a reference that you could share? We have a (MI endangered)KIRA here at a state refuge. We asked the refuge manager to post a sign with the ABA (and supported by eBird) code segment stating “no playbacks” for endangered species. She did. The sign was gone shortly thereafter. Is there a specific reference dealing with ‘harrassment by recordings’ that I could forward to her in hopes that a permanent sign would be constructed? Thanks. On another topic, which app is best as far as audio ID?

  32. Dear Monica

    Here is some information:

    Under the Code of Federal Regulations, the definition of harrass is:

    Harass in the definition of “take” in the Act means an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.

    You can’t even do presence/absence surveys without a permit, much less use playback.

    However, federal law doesn’t apply if the species is state-listed only.

    I assume that KIRA is a King Rail? It is protected by the MBTA of course but the MBTA does not include the concept of harass. It prohibits take, which is defined as:

    Take means to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect. (With reference to marine mammals, see Part 18 of this subchapter.)

    It is not at all clear that “attempt to pursue” would include playback.

    But in any case, you should look at Michigan state law for species that are listed as endangered or threatened by the State of Michigan but not by the USFWS.

    PS – there is no really good Audio ID App at the moment (there is one right now, but its not very good) – its just too hard to discern which bird you are targeting let alone filter out other noises and then find all the variation within one species. It might happen or improve in the future, but IMO take away a lot of the fun of birding and learning.

  33. More on playback:

    NPS reg:

    § 2.12Audio disturbances.(a) The following are prohibited:(1) Operating motorized equipment or machinery such as an electric generating plant, motor vehicle, motorized toy, or an audio device, such as a radio, television set, tape deck or musical instrument, in a manner: (i) That exceeds a noise level of 60 decibels measured on the A-weighted scale at 50 feet; or, if below that level, nevertheless; (ii) makes noise which is unreasonable, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct, location, time of day or night, purpose for which the area was established, impact on park users, and other factors that would govern the conduct of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.(2) In developed areas, operating a power saw, except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit.(3) In nondeveloped areas, operating any type of portable motor or engine, or device powered by a portable motor or engine, except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit. This paragraph does not apply to vessels in areas where motor boating is allowed.(4) Operating a public address system, except in connection with a public gathering or special event for which a permit has been issued pursuant to § 2.50 or § 2.51.(b) Violation of the terms and conditions of a permit issued in accordance with section is prohibited and may result in the suspension or revocation of the permit.

    Code of Federal Regulations
    Title 36 – Parks, Forests, and Public Property
    Volume: 1Date: 2013-07-01Original Date: 2013-07-01Title: Section 2.2 – Wildlife protection.Context: Title 36 – Parks, Forests, and Public Property. CHAPTER I – NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR. PART 2 – RESOURCE PROTECTION, PUBLIC USE AND RECREATION.
    § 2.2Wildlife protection.(a) The following are prohibited:(1) The taking of wildlife, except by authorized hunting and trapping activities conducted in accordance with paragraph (b) of this section.(2) The feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentional disturbing of wildlife nesting, breeding or other activities.

  34. I can’t find where to get Merlin amazon doesn’t show it. where can I download for free

  35. I would appreciate any feedback on birds of South Africa apps. I have north and South America but South Africa apps,are very expensive and I need to know how user friendly they are. Can anyone help me. Final destination will be Krueger park .

  36. Hello! Do any or all of these apps have good info on the marine birds – like petrels, shearwaters and others that are rarely encountered on land? I work at sea and would like to know that I can look up the birds I see out here in addition to those found on land. Anyone have experience with this? Is any one guide better or more complete than an another? Thanks!

  37. Hi:

    I would like to let you know that we made two birding apps. Birds of Ecuador, Hummingbirds of Ecuador. Let me know if you are interested to get a couple of promo codes in order to take a look and make a review.


  38. I’m thrilled to have found you Timothy. I have been documenting the birth&growth of 4 Robins in the front yd.just below the top of a Yes hedge.Both parents extremely protective.I got photos of each after hatching and they came with the risk of having a robins beak poked into my scalp by a dive bombing dad.So the first 2 kids were gone 2 days ago& today the exquisitely crafted nest is empty.each bird had its primary feathers but was not flying,just hopping.Did mom move them,physically to a new local,perhaps fledgling, for flight lessons? Would dad have built a 2nd home while mom was giving birth? I am waiting to see if in future those babies recognize me from having seen my face several times a day 4 3wks. In 1984 while living in Dallas I owned a severe macaw& befriend a blue&gold ihand fed a jenday conure & owned a tiny africanbird can’t remember name of.

  39. I m looking for an app that will identify a bird song and show me a
    photo of it……does such an app exist ? …would it be compatible
    with my Samsung cell ? And or my AsusTransformer Book ?
    Thanks for your consideration

  40. Thank you for this excellent blog post and reviews of birding apps. I just returned from the East Coast where I visited the Manomet bird banding lab. While I never expected to be drawn into the world of bird watching I realize that I loved learning about bird migration and how birds ready themselves for the long trip south. I am keen to learn more and have downloaded two birding apps for reference in my area as well as places I travel to.

  41. Moved to the Shawnee National Forrest a little over a year ago. Love birds all my life. Love to learn the different kinds. Will you help me?

  42. I am interested in a mobile or ipad app specifically for use in Southern Africa. That is to say, it would need to provide in depth coverage of species indigenous to Southern Africa. Are there any suggestions?

    1. Hi – there are two good apps for birding in Southern Africa. I have tested the Sasol eBirds App extensively (just returned from a trip to Cape Town and Namibia) – which I found to be very good, with all the species, endemics indicated, sounds, distribution maps and descriptions (it’s made by the same people that created the Sibley Guide – so the layout will be familiar if you have used the Sibley App.
      Both the Sasol and Newmans have “lite” versions – so you can download and test which one you prefer.

  43. The iPad version of Audobon Birds is very nice as you say. It’s our “go to” source with it’s fantastic pictures and excellently detailed range maps. But the Android version is trash. It works differently; it’s similar enough to say “yes, that’s from the same company”, but the details of how you do things are much more dissimilar than required by the two different operating systems. But the worst thing about it is that it crashes ALL THE TIME!

    Also, neither of the versions will show you the map unless you’re connected to the internet. That is stupid; birds don’t only live inside the 4G network. I understand that they can’t show you eBird sightings, but it would be nice to be able to “pin” the sighting any time.

    1. Audubon Birds used to crash all the time for me. Not sure if it improved or it just needed a newer phone, but that issue resolved itself at some point. It has worked fine with S4 and S6 phones. Birdlog never worked right for android, but now the new eBird app is very smooth (even during beta testing).

  44. I’ve found that Regional Birds, which shows which birds are most common at your current location, helps me identify birds faster than the other apps I’ve tried. You choose the category of bird (e.g. raptors), and it shows the most common local birds in that category. So, it narrows down the choices of bird in a pretty intelligent and easy way.

    It’s here:

  45. Can anyone give me a recommendation for an app where you hold up your iphone which records the bird’s song and the app identifies the bird. I tried an app that did not work well.

    1. Hi – the app that I tried (Bird Song Id) that does this, I have also found to not work very well – it basically gives you a range of species to choose from. I don’t think this is the Apps fault – with all the variation of songs and calls, other birds singing/calling (including birds that mimic others!), background/foreground noise, I am not surprised it doesn’t work all that well (or differently put – it does the best it can do in the circumstances).

  46. Thank you for your review. There was only iBird when I bought mine so I didn’t even know of the others. I am searching for a way to interest a 20-year-old blind woman in birding by bird song. My iBird app has a good range of songs but there doesn’t seem to be a way to access them for the unsighted. Do you know if any of these are more visually impaired friendly?

    1. Hi – without testing this extensively (and assuming an unsighted person uses the screen reader function), I suggest loading up bird songs and calls into iTunes – as simple songs. Then they should be able to find and listen to the songs/calls. Also, there are some of the older tapes that they could listen to beforehand – which subset the songs into areas like eastern forests – and they could then learn these. Actually, sighted people should learn their bird songs this way too!

    2. For her, the CD sets Birding by Ear and More Birding by Ear might be the way to go. I pretty much wore out a set of each as a new birder, and they can be used in the car on the way to birding destinations. There is narration and some teaching about sound alike species, quizzes set in various locations (you would need to read the key), a booklet for each set, etc.

  47. Thanks for this post. I’m particularly interested in finding an app that tracks how many birds you’ve seen, what they are, where they were and when. Do you know of anything like that?

  48. Looking for an app that will ID birds near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Most end North of there… any suggestions?

  49. FYI, iBird Pro also allows bird code searches, and includes the codes on the screen for each bird. To search that way, type & (ampersand)before the code, for example: &bggn would bring up Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

    1. I loved iBird PRO for the android, but the last update for it was in 2013 so I don’t think it’s being supported for Android anymore.

      The real negative (for me), is that the data files that are 2Gigs and size must go to the Phone Memory, with no option for SD Card storage. This eats up too much critical space on most phones. Just an FYI.

  50. Wow.. really.. Plix didn’t make it to the list or you forgot about it? Awesome app.. let me share 200 pics with my parents in 3 min flat.. and got so many memories back in return!

  51. I tried Merlin through several updates. To me it wasn’t worth the cost (the time of using it, not the $0 price). That is because it does not work offline.

    You need a wifi or data connection to do searches. (I don’t have a data plan myself.) When I questioned the tech support person for this program at Cornell, it was like he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go anywhere they didn’t have a data or wifi connection.

    The second problem, particularly for an app supposedly designed for novices, is that you need to know how expert birders describe bird colors to fill in that part of a Merlin search. What color is a Northern Flicker, a Varied Thrush, or even a House Finch? None of the offered choices are obvious fits.

  52. Birder’s Dashboard is a great birder app. It has both a desktop and mobile UI and is free and non-commercial.

    It extracts data from eBird (and credits eBird). It shows you recent sightings for any location you choose and also allows you to search by species.

    Works for any state in the US and any province in Canada. (Has a special version for Washington State that shows sightings by county. The author lives in Washington State.)

    You can see the desktop version at but this webpage contains a link to the mobile version.

  53. Bless you, oh bless you for comparing all of these. I have been meaning to download a better bird app for some time and this is just what I needed!

  54. If you live in the UK, please try out spotter jotter app from the Google play store. It allows you to record your bird sightings and build up lists. It also has a library of bird songs and a bird identifier engine. It’s an independent app and free!

  55. Are there any apps you would recommend for use in south America and the Caribbean?

  56. Gee, awesome critique’s! Thank you, from a real down home novice. Praying that the next time I buy another pair of binoculars, the invisible person who inhabit’s my home will not steal those, too. These people are expensive and have excellent discerning taste.

  57. Hi everyone!
    Exist any smart bird app that works like shazam or soundhound – if you dont know certain birdsong, you may record it for a few second and then app over the bird database calls recognized it and assign it to specific bird? It would be very helpful in the field 🙂

  58. Great review, Tim…….very entertaining, very informative, and well laid out. You are an excellent writer!

    —– David M. Bird, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology, McGill University

  59. Looking for a good application for to ID birds mainly by song. I need to create my own checklists for multiple sites that I plan on using again and again. I need to ID birds mostly by songs but use illustrations to ID birds (when can see them) for those birds that can be difficult to distinguish by site; examples Empidonax flycatchers or gulls. If anyone has any recommendation I would be glad to hear your input. Thanks

  60. Downloaded BirdSnap so I can take a pic of a bird and ID it right away. App doesn’t work. Know of any
    That IDs a bird via a pic that I take? Thanks.

  61. Merlin does not include the Burrowing Owl, in its
    Southeast Region.

    I live in Florida, and have seen them.

  62. Hi Tim

    Thank you for this. Are there any apps that let you keep a record of a bird sighting once the bird has been identified?

    Thank you.

  63. Audubon did something to there app in the last few days where Nearby Observations is the same list of birds as Notable and Rare…both within a 30 mile radius of the point of observation. This leaves out the many common birds that have been seen in the area, and for a newcomer or someone who just hasn’t located all the common birds it doesn’t work well. I always like to see what’s coming through the area whether they are common or rare. What’s the point of having to categories if they list the same birds?

  64. I just downloaded Audubon Birds. But I can’t seem to use it offline. It always says “eBird users have not observed this bird in the last 30 days”. What good is this app out in the woods? VERY disappointing because (with wifi) the app looks great.

  65. I live in Maine and am going to do a big in state year. In the past I had a spreadsheet on an old laptop to keep track of the birds I had seen throughout the year. It worked well and it eliminated possibly checking off the same bird twice. Is there anything like this for an IPad. The spreadsheet allowed me to have birds names in the left side column, the list included about 325 birds, and if a out of range bird showed up I could just type it in to that column. The other columns were for place and date seen. Thanks for any help you can provide. I really do not want to join ebird at this time so I was hoping for something for an IPad.

    1. Hi Leon, This response is from Tim Boucher “Other than using excel for iPad, not really. Sorry. I do however, highly recommend you use eBird, it does all you want and more, and keeps a tally of your birds, allows you to keep yearly lists, etc. Happy birding!”

  66. Thanks for this updated blog!! I teach a bird field course every year and every year I can send students here to review apps before buying. And you have a lot of other great tips (like PDF’ing fave books). Thanks!

  67. The eBird app lacks one critical capability…typing in the first few letters of a bird when recording into the list! Have to scroll down down down before reaching yellow warbler.

  68. Hi Tim, and thanks for all the information. We’ve used Nat Geo app for years now, but they appear to have abandoned it: no updates, and it has ceased to work with the iOS 11 update to iphone. Do you know of any plans, or way to contact them? Thanks.

  69. Clearwater Audubon Society would like to highlight your ‘Boucher’s Birding Blog: Apps for the Smart Birder — Which One Should You Use?’ article in our next edition of the WingBeat. We would also pingback to your article online and your twitter.

    Could you please reply with an ‘approved’ for partial republish and pingbacks?

    Thank you for your consideration,
    Meichelle, WingBeat Editor

    1. Hi Meichelle, Yes, if you credit Tim and pingback to us, we approve. Thank you for sharing this post!

  70. Thank you For this very informative outline and guide to birding apps, I really appreciate it.

  71. Is there one that can identify by reccognzing the actual sound a bird is making?

  72. I would like to find a SIMPLE TO USE app for recording my bird sightings. I DO NOT want to input time of day, phase of the moon, latitude, longitude, temperature, wind speed, cloud conditions, nearest hotspot etc. Just the name of the bird & a brief description of date & location. The latter two should be optional. Any ideas?

  73. I must be doing something wrong because I have the Audubon app installed on 2 ipod touchs and Peterson on an android and none of them work without wifi. As far as I can tell I have downloaded everything bit of data. What gives?

  74. Do any of the apps allow you to narrow down your searches by region? This seems like such a helpful and basic function!
    I am a fairly competent birder in my own neighborhood (the Olympic Peninsula, WA), but we do see a good number of the species of warblers & other that are fairly common east of the Cascades, etc. I really would love to set a filter to use a PNW list of warblers, vireos, sparrows, etc. most of the time, rather than the whole North American list!
    I am using the Audubon app & field guide, and cannot find any way to set a filter on the field guide searches.

  75. Are there any bird call apps. available that can be loaded onto my iPod Touch Gen. 4, or are already pre-loaded onto an iPod Touch Gen 4? If so, where can I purchase? I had Bird.Jam (about 400 Eastern U.S. bird calls/songs were preloaded onto the iPod by them) for 7 years and loved it, but accidentally deleted the Bird.Jam App. and can’t get the songs that are on the provided DVD’s from Bird.Jam to load into iTunes (and then onto the iPod). Please note that Bird.Jam is no longer in business.

    Also, are there any other devices available where 400 or more Eastern U.S. bird songs are already pre-loaded? If so, where can such a device be purchased?

    Thank you.

  76. Looking for the best app which listens to the bird, then brings up a photo of the bird and its name

  77. Are there any apps where you upload a picture of a bird, and it identifies it for you?

  78. Is there an app that allows you to identify a bird simply by taking a picture of it on your phone?

  79. Update?? Really? NatGeo birds app hasn’t been on the table for iphone for a couple of years.

  80. Is there an app that can take a picture I take with my camera and have the app identify the bird? Thank you, Robert

  81. Great article, thanks Timothy
    Have you considered trying Birda,
    Birda is a field guide, listing tool and community all in a single app. It’s a bit like Strava but for birdwatching. Birda has really fun stuff like badges and challenges which are a great drawcard for younger birders 🙂