Free Apps That Will Make Birding More Enjoyable

eBirdAndroid & iPhone

Official Description: eBird Mobile makes it easy to record the birds you see in the field, and seamlessly link these observations with eBird–a global online database of bird records used by hundreds of thousands of birders around the world.

This free resource makes it easy to keep track of what you see, while making your data openly available for scientific research, education, and conservation.

eBird Mobile is the only app that passes information directly from the Android device to your eBird account on the web.

Review:  If you use eBird to log your bird observations, then this is a must have app.  Simply open the app, sign into your eBird account, and log your sightings.

The application does all of the other work for you.  It uses your mobile devices gps to note your location and distance traveled and your phone’s clock to note the start and stop time. 

When you are done, answer a few questions, and hit submit. 

Ease of use:  Good

Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Merlin Bird IDAndroid & iPhone

Official Description: Merlin Bird ID helps you identify birds with ease. This app is a digital field guide with more than 80,000 photos and sounds, plus maps, and ID tips! Merlin is the most fully featured and global bird app available, and the only one enabling both sound and photo identification powered by AI.

Review: This free app has become my go to birding identification app, replacing my very good Sibley birding $20 app.

    The app is very easy to use, but requires a little set up. After downloading the app the user will have to go to the upper right and tap the three lines to open the menu, then scroll down and click the Bird Pack link.  This will generate a list bird packs the user can load into the app.  Select and install the US and Canada pack.  I have used the Australia, Ecuador, Brizil, and Namibia packs.  All are just as great as the US and Canada pack.

    Additionally, if you sign into your eBird account under the same menu, the app will place a small check mark next each species you have observed.

Ease of use: Very Good

Score: 5 out of 5 stars

GoBirdAndroid & iPhone

Official Description:  Discover and identify birds around you, for free, anywhere in the world. Find the best bird eBirdhotspots. Find rare bird sightings in your area. Review the map of where a particular species has been spotted.

Review: The app uses your  phone GPS to determine  your location and provides a list of  eBird hotspots in your area.  It also provides a list of recently observed birds, based on recently submitted eBird reports. 

This allows the user to filter the information based on date (1-30 days) and distance by (1 to 31 miles).  Users can further filter the list of birds to show only rare birds.  It has a built in bird field guide, but the user interface needs some work.  I find it much easier to use the Merlin bird field guide.

I used this app extensively while on a trip to Colorado to locate birds.  As noted the app only allows users to obtain reports from a max of 31 miles from their current location.

I would rate it higher if that could be increased to 100 miles. 

Ease of use:  Very Good

Score 4 out 5 stars

Sibley Guide to HummingbirdsAndroid & iPhone

Official Description: The Sibley Guide to Hummingbirds app is a comprehensive guide to 19 North American Hummingbird species. All the detailed hummingbird artwork from David Sibley’s Guide to Birds Second Edition is included as well as thorough descriptions and distribution maps.

Review: The free Sibley Guide to Hummingbirds is a paired down or lite version of the Sibley Guide app, which costs $20.  However, instead of covering all North American birds, the free version limits information to just hummingbirds species.

The app has all of the identification information on hummingbirds that you would find in the paperback field guide.  Additionally, it also has audio files of each hummingbird’s calls.  The app also allows users to view the plates from two different species via a split screen, which can assist users when attempting to make a tricky identification.

The app’s content is great. However, the user interface is not intuitive, especially for the audio files and the split screen function.  Additionally, the app doesn’t have a easy way to return to the home screen, often times making it easier to simply close and restart the app than to hit the back button multiple times.  For these reasons I deducted 1.5 points from the score.

Ease of use: Okay

Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Raptor IDAndroid & iPhone

Official Description: HawkWatch International’s Identification Guide to Raptors” puts expert hawk identification content in the palm of your hand.

In this guide to North America’s 34 species of diurnal raptors, you’ll find nearly 1000 annotated photos, and cutting edge identification video for each species, geared toward helping you identify raptors in flight. If you’re just getting started with birding, this app covers the basics; if you’re already an expert hawk watcher, this app covers all the variation that can lead to identification confusion, even among the most seasoned birders.

Review:  Raptor ID delivers on ALL of its claims. In fact, it probably sells itself short in the official description. 

The information provided for each raptor species exceeds that of most field guides. 

For example, the app contains narrated videos of the raptors in flight, with the audio pointing out field marks as the video displays the same.

The user interface is very intuitive, and as a result there is basically no learning curve.  Simply start the app and enjoy. 

If you are trying to identify a raptor, this should be your go to mobile app.

Ease of use:  Very Good

Score: 5 out 5 stars

FirefinchAndroid & iPhone

Official Description: As a precursor to the eagerly anticipated new app by celebrated ornithologist, author and artist, Faansie Peacock, the FIREFINCH team proudly presents this collection of more than 130 species. This app includes all Southern African seabirds, plus the Marion Island specials that occur outside the SA nautical limits.

FIREFINCH features Peacock’s masterful illustrations, depicting birds as you really see them at sea. The plates are complemented by a carefully curated collection of pictures by top bird photographers, with annotations that bring the images to life.

Review:  There is no doubt that this is the best sea bird field guide app at that exists. While it only lists birds seen in South Africa, it still has value for a sea birder in the United States because many of these same birds are found here.  The plates are things of beauty and the identification tips are very informative. 

HOWEVER, this app has an AWFUL privacy policy.  The privacy policy acknowledges they collect your name, address, email address and even banking information.  If you have installed it on your phone I recommend that you immediately uninstall it. UPDATE: The privacy policy has been updated so that it no longer lists that it collects banking information, but they collect other information, such as your IP address and also share this information with 3rd parties. Still awful. And, despite the reply to my review on the Google Play store – claiming they only collect email address to allow someone to login to the app – their own awful Privacy Policy refutes that claim. I will update if I notice they have changed their Privacy Policy.

This is sad as it is otherwise a truly outstanding app, and if the app creators respected user’s privacy more, it would easily be at least a 4-star app.

Ease of use: Very Good

Score: ZERO out 5 stars