Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Sibley eGuide to Birds App for Android

I have finally entered into the decade of my peers and now have a phone that gives me the ability to enjoy apps!  I'm still a cheap son-of-gun so I chose to go with an Android powered Samsung Intercept on the VirginMobile network - which has an unlimited data and text plan and 300 minutes for just $25/mo.  Finally there are some apps I can review myself!  I, like you, can still look forward to plenty of iPhone and iPad reviews from Jim Lyons and Scott Tuthill in the future.

Sibley's field guides have been my favorite go-to guides.  There are several great new field guides which I use regularly too, but Sibley's guides are always my first resource.  Downloading the Sibley eGuide to Birds was naturally my first choice.  Now that I've had a couple of weeks to get familiar with the app and test it in the field I feel prepared to share my thoughts about this really cool tool.  I've also been using the Audubon Birds App which has served as a comparison, which app I will review here soon.

Main menu screen of the Sibley eGuide to Birds in landscape/horizontal view.
The Sibley eGuide to Birds is like having all the great information and illustrations in the Big Sibley in a much more compact and portable form.  Plus, the app has super cool features that a book does not.  You can refer to Sibley's website for all the neat things this app has like how many illustrations and species, etc, so I'll just talk about what I like about it, how I use it, and what improvements I recommend for the next version.

Scrolling thru the taxonomic index, headings appear in larger font to help you 
Navigating my way through the app is very user-friendly and intuitive.  I tested it out on my wife and 10-year old and they too were able to quickly find specific things I threw at them.  I really like and regularly use both the taxonomic and alphabetic indexes.  I can find whatever species I am looking for in seconds.   The scrolling functionality and display on the indexes is great.  Sibley's illustrations and text are familiar to Sibley field guide owners and easy to scroll through with the swipe of my finger.  You can even zoom in on the images for a closer look.

Having all the bird songs and calls embedded in the field guide is a really nice.  Printed books just don't have that ability.  There is a good assortment of songs and calls for each species.  They are labeled as to where in North America the recording was made which I find to be enormously helpful as birds in different regions have some variability in their calls.

The range map is available with the tap of your finger on the map icon - and I still like Sibley's color-coding system better than any other field guide out there.  It's nice that you have the ability to enter your own sighting notes for each species, including the date and location, which I used to write in the margins of my first Sibley guide.  I wouldn't use this type of feature anymore since I am so devoted to entering all my sightings into eBird, but I still like that this tool is there and available should I want to employ it.

While in one of the indices, with a quick selection of the the "eye" icon in the pull-up menu, I can select two bird species that I want to compare.  This is a great feature that I was afraid would be lost in the eGuide version as compared to the books.  Here the screen splits and scrolls independently which is wonderful.

Suggestions for the next edition:

Main screen in vertical view
Fat-fingering is a big problem for me on these small electronic devices with touch-screens.  I tend to click on the wrong items frequently.  App developers can help people like me by spreading out the choices a bit, or making them larger.  For the Sibley eGuide in portrait view (the device held vertically like a phone) the items on the menu screen are a wee bit small.  In landscape view (the device held horizontally - how you hold it if you have slide-out keypad) the menu list is just perfect for my fat thumbs.

Having the text on the same screen as the illustrations isn't necessary.  The current version has a split-screen which can scroll independently which is cool, but having the icon there to bring up the full text in its own screen is sufficient.

I tried out the Smart Search, where you select characteristics of the bird and it helps narrow down the possibilities.  I have to admit that I got frustrated with Smart Search after testing to see if it could help me identify birds.  For example, I plugged in a couple attributes for Cedar Waxwing, but it never came up in the narrowed field.  So, either Smart Search is meant for people smarter than I am, or its just not that smart yet.  I have come to the conclusion that I'd never really use that feature anyway, so why dwell it any more.

One other issue that I continue having is what are called a "forced close", where the app shuts down on me, sometimes with an error message and sometimes without.  I notice this happens only when I use the "back" button on my device (not in the app itself) and it will more often than not not allow me back into the eGuide without powering off the phone and turning it back on.  I'm not sure if this is a device problem, user error, or an app development issue.


The Sibley eGuide to Birds rocks!  It provides all the great attributes of Sibley's printed field guides with additional cool features.  Every birder, beginner to expert, will benefit from and enjoy this app.

This birding app costs $29.99, which is pretty expensive in the world of 99-cent smartphone apps.  But think about it this way...if you buy a field guide and bird song CD's separately, you've already spent more than $30 and you're missing out on the valuable convenience of the digital app on your phone.  There are other birding field guide apps out there for less money, but they just ain't Sibley!

*Disclosure: David Sibley, in partnership with the fine folks at reimbursed me for the cost of this app when I expressed interest in posting my review online.* 


  1. I've to take a look at it.. Seems to be pretty relevant!

  2. Really good review, Robert. I have Whatbird on my phone, which is also a Droid and I like it but I saw the Sibley app on Dawn's phone and liked it better. I may spring for it one of these days. My app also crashes on me with the "force close" button and I think there is a way to report that issue to the manufacturer of the app but I must admit I don't know how. Perhaps someone at the cell phone store can tell you?

  3. @Chris - The Sibley eGuide certainly is relevant and worth the look!

    @Kathiesbirds - Spring for it! It's it Spring afterall! That "forced close" is not fun to deal with. It happened to me three times today while I was studying Lesser vs Greater Yellow Legs and Franklins vs. Bonapartes gulls.

  4. Great review. I have Sibley's and love it.

  5. I am looking for an app so this was great info for me. A co-worker today raved about Sibley's, too.

  6. I will certainly look this app up...sounds wonderful. My son is researching bird blinds for an Eagle Scout build project. do you have any advise about bird blinds..any pros and cons of different styles of blind to observe and photograph birds from??? Thanks if you have time to answer
    -KAT- for Ryan Griffin (life scout troop 817)