Smartphone Birding

In the past few years, smartphones have made big gains into birding since one small device can now be used to share information, take photos, record songs, and supplement or even replace printed field guides. There are so many birding apps and products available now that I thought it might be helpful to share some favourites.

Many of the major field guide publishers have created app versions of their books. While I’m always on the hunt for free or inexpensive apps, good birding ID apps can can get expensive, though they are well worth the price considering that you’re getting a whole field guide that takes up virtually no space, and weighs only as much as your phone. You get text as well as search functions, range maps, illustrations, and multiple songs and calls in the palm of your hand. There are also great apps, often free, not specifically meant for birders but which can be very useful in the field and handy to have.

A good list of bird apps can be found hereand there are some more in this past post here. Although the Collin’s Bird Guide app covers European birds, it’s my absolute favourite. I even use it for looking up species that can be found in North America. It’s well designed, with comprehensive information, and the functions and features are top-notch.

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A good North American equivalent is the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America. The app hasn’t been updated since last May, so hopefully a new version is in the pipeline with updated taxonomy, new species, and some of the changes from the second edition of the printed book.

The BirdsEye app helps find nearby birds by showing you which ones have been reported to eBirdand also shows birding hotspots from all over the world. This was the app I used most during my Banff trip in January, because it helped me to find lots of new species and excellent birding locations.

Great to pair with the BirdsEye app is the eBird Mobile app, available for free at both the App and Google Play stores. The eBird Mobile app lets you submit your birding checklists from the field in an easy format.

Raptor ID app was just released in February by HawkWatch International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The app covers 34 species of North American diurnal raptors with almost 1,000 photos, videos, range maps, links to interactive seasonal eBird maps, and vocalizations for each species.

The Merlin Bird ID app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the perfect app for young or beginning birders who are looking for an interactive way to ID birds. Users answer five questions about the bird in question, and then the Merlin app provides a list of possible matches. The app includes songs and calls, as well as multiple photos for each species covering 400 species across North America. The app is at the App and Google Play stores for free.

I like tracking my movements when birding to note the distance and length I bird. I’ve found that exercise apps are the best for this, and the two I use the most are MapMyRun and Strava.

For counting gulls at landfills or Snow Buntings in a field on your Christmas Bird Count circle, a tallying app can make counting a breeze. There are various apps available for iOS and Android devices. The one I use is called Tally Counter.

Orienteering apps are very useful for birding, especially if you want to know the latitude and longitude for adding to your eBird checklists or field notes. The free Coordinates Lite app is good for plotting both. If you need more in an orienteering app, try Spyglass, which has a high-tech viewfinder, milspec compass, gyrocompass, tactical GPS, speedometer, sniper’s rangefinder, and inclinometer among other things. For birding, use the apps to determine your distance from a bird or to find the precise location of a rare bird.

When I’m away from my laptop, I use the Inoreader app to keep up to date with the birding blogs I follow. Some other RSS apps are Feedly, Flipboard, and Bloglovin’ which are free and available for Apple and Android devices.

I don’t do much blogging through my phone, but I have the WordPress app downloaded for the times I’m away from my laptop. Blogger also has an app. I’ve found the WordPress app bit wonky but it’s good in a pinch.

Smartphones are perfect for recording bird calls for identification purposes and submitting sound recordings to databases like Xeno-Canto. You can use your phone’s default recorder, but for better quality recordings the RØDE REC app is $8.49 at the App store. For capturing high-quality sounds, try an external compact mic.

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A Clark’s Nutcracker photo I posted on my Instagram account

For birders interested in pairing optics and smartphones, digiscoping is an ever-growing activity. I’ve written an introductory post about this photography technique and the photo editing apps you can use to help improve your photos.

With a phone, social media platforms are always at hand making it easy to stay up to date with rare bird alerts, Facebook bird groups/pages, and birding Twitter accounts. Instagram is also a great app for sharing bird photos and seeing what others are posting. I post some bird photos to my general Instagram account and some of my favourite birding IGs are kojobirder, lovingfornature, petersownbirds, nickparaykoimages, and phoneskopebirding to name a few. You don’t need an Instagram account or a smartphone to follow someone’s account.

If you have any apps to recommend, please let me know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Smartphone Birding

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