Wednesday, June 05, 2013

My Two Favorite Nature Apps

As part of the 2013 WordCount Blogathon, all participants are asked to write about our favorite apps on the fifth day.

Naturalists today are fortunate—we can easily carry an entire library of nature guides in a pocket, choosing from among the dozens of apps currently available for smart phones and tablets. As part of my work docenting at a nature park I use six or seven such apps. Here are my two favorites.

IBIRD. The nature app that I use the most and recommend the most is iBird, one of the most popular apps around. IBird comes in several versions, including regional (for several regions) and Pro. There are versions for Windows, Kindle, Android, iPad, and iPod/iPhone. The one I have is iBirdWest, for iPod/iPhone, which currently lists at $9.99 but is often on sale for much less.

iBird 6The iBird West cover

This app is incredibly useful. I always take it on the bird walks I lead, usually  with a paperback birding guide as well. Because it is so lavishly illustrated, with photos and drawings, it’s great for showing birders new to the area what a particular bird is supposed to look like.

When I’m on a bird walk myself, the app helps me identify unknown birds, especially wen I have a general idea what category they belong to. Among the wealth of information given for each bird is a link to other birds that are similar. The app is relatively easy to search, and allows for creating a list of “favorites” for those birds you want to look at often.

Possible brown-crested flycatcher 6-24-2010 8-55-32 AM 786x788Ash-throated flycatcher. Or is it a brown-crested?

I also use iBird to help identify birds by sound, when I’m not quite sure what I’m hearing (I will write more about birding by ear in a future post). For example, I have trouble remembering the differences between the calls of a brown-crested flycatcher and an ash-throated. iBird always comes to the rescue, but perhaps I need an iBrain so I could just remember those calls once and for all.

PETERSON BIRDS. My other principal birding app is Peterson Birds of North America. I find this app more difficult to use than iBird, but it does one thing iBird does not: it displays like birds together on one “page,” much like a paper bird book, making it much easier to choose from among, say, several similar warblers. Unfortunately, this excellent app is currently available only for iPad and iPhone/iPod. It was selling for $14.99 on iTunes at the time of this review.

Peterson hums Hummingbird page from Peterson Birds

I find that iBird and Peterson complement each other, and am glad to be able to carry both of them. Both apps offer plenty of background information on the birds they list, including behavior notes and distribution maps. Each app also allows you to enter sightings, so you can keep a constantly updated birding list.


  1. If I ever get a smartphone, I know what I'm buying first to put on it!

    1. If you mean iBird, you won't regret it, even if it's not on sale.