Sure, you recognize a robin, cardinal or blue jay when you see one.
But when you hear a beautiful birdsong from up in the trees as you take a walk in the morning, do you know what kind of bird is warbling? Technology has the answer in the form of phone apps that listen to bird calls and identify the species.
Using these apps “is super fun and adds a dimension to your birding that was not available a decade ago” without extensive training using your own ears, says Jack Dumbacher, curator of ornithology at the California Academy of Sciences. “We are primarily visual creatures and use sound secondarily, so just learning to focus on sounds and take the time to learn what each sound might mean can take a lot of time.”
Don’t worry about the apps failing in remote areas. They’re self-contained in your phone, so even if you’re on an out-of-the-way mountain with no Wi-Fi, they’ll still work.
Merlin Bird ID
This free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can identify nearly 1,000 birdsongs. If more than one bird is chirping during a recording session, you can select a portion of the audio to identify.
Another option allows you to ID more than 7,500 species of birds through photos or by answering a series of questions.
The main mission of this $4.99 paid app, developed by a small team of natural and computer scientists, is to ID birds by their calls.
Just open the app, point your phone toward the sound and press the big button on your screen. After recording for 12 seconds, the app spits out its top matches, and you can compare its sample calls and photos to the bird you’re hearing or seeing.
Picture Bird: Bird Identifier
This app has sound and visual ID features. But for true enthusiasts, it also offers feeding guides, identification tips, articles on how to attract birds and more for $39.99 a year.
One advanced feature is a photo-enhancing tool for when you can’t get close enough for a clear snapshot. The tool sharpens the photo and narrows the identification down to a few options.
Smart Bird ID
With free and paid options from $2.99 to remove ads to a deluxe version at $39.99 a year, this app not only identifies feathered friends but also adds a bit of social media value: Birders can like and comment on other people’s photos as part of an international community.
Designed by a birder, the app features information on more than 1,000 birds in the United States and Canada. It tells you what species others have spotted nearby, offers bird quizzes and includes photo, video and song resources so you have multiple options for identifying birds.
The paid version has no ads and unlocks even more bird sounds. It also has unlimited IDs and extra quizzes.