Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Birding Apps: Feature Comparisons

With the recent release of the new National Geographic Birds app, I felt it time to update my feature comparison between the leading North American field guide apps. I thoroughly examined each app and checked to see if they each had the features listed below. If you discover errors, please let me know so that I can correct them. Because apps are frequently updated, I will have to update this list periodically.

Spectograms seem to be trending in the birding world these days, so I'd expect we'll see more of them included in our apps. NatGeo had all of these sound features.
I'm still trying to reconcile in my mind that in my survey more birders want photographs than illustration on their apps, yet only two apps use photographys. iBird takes advantage of both illustrations and photographs. iBird's illustrations have improved dramatically over past versions. Only Sibley has the extremely helpful ability to compare two similar birds on the same screen. NatGeo is the first to incorporate video clips.
NatGeo and Sibley both have range maps for subspecies which is pretty cool. All five of the apps have the ability to keep personal records.
Surprisingly, I could not find the ability in iBird to scroll through a taxonomic list, but it does have the ability to sort by common name and by family group. Update: Drew Weber from NemesisBird.com showed me that there is an on/off button built into iBird's family list for taxonomic order, so iBird does indeed have that ability, though not as easy to identify. iBird's search bar indicates that you can search by banding code, but in the half dozen attempts I made, it failed to yield results, so this feature appears to be currently broken. iBird is the only app taking advantage of linking to outside information dependent upon an internet connection for each species like flickr. I'd love to see apps link to Cornell's AllAboutBirds.com, but who knows if such groups could work together to this end.
Only Audubon Birds boasts the ability to find birds using eBird sightings. Birdseye is another app specifically designed for finding birds using eBird data, but is not principally designed as a digital field guide app. I put in some of the features that we birders dream about with hopes of app developers noticing and working to create the technology to fulfill our dreams!
Note: Features and comparisons were made on the iPhone 4S. I'm happy to correct any mistakes or point out differences between features on the various devices and tablets should there be any. Please let me know your findings in the comments or by email.


  1. In some ways, BirdsEye is a field guide. In "Nearby Birds," clicking on a species will give you a photo, description of habitat, etc. and give you a song and call. Thanks for the comparison!

    1. Perhaps I should really include Birdseye in this comparison. I really need to get that app. I love BirdLog and I use Audubon Birds to find birds with eBird.

  2. This is wonderful to see all pulled together. Thank you, Robert!

    1. Thanks! I hope folks find it helpful when trying to decide which apps to get.

  3. Hi Robert,

    Peterson does let users add photos to species details. In fact, we were the first app to allow users to do that. From the species detail page, tap on the thumbnail image showing film roll and then select an image from the device's camera roll. The photo will appear on the species detail screen.

    We also use eBird data, but not in the way that Audubon (and BirdsEye) do.

    First, the Peterson app's search by state and month is driven by sighting information from Cornell. Our search uses an aggregate of all eBird's sighting data, with likely vagrants and rarities removed. This means the lists generated from a search—any search in the Peterson app can be saved as a list—only show the most likely species a user is going to come across in that location at that time of year.

    Our second use of eBird data is in the species lists you can download from the Peterson Guides website. Lists are available for every county in the US and Canada and for every birding hotspot recorded in eBird. Users tap on a link on the website and the app automatically imports the list. These lists are also based on aggregated eBird data but unlike the state/month lists, they include a bar chart for each species showing sighting frequency for each week of the year.

    The idea behind our use of eBird data is that you create a list of birds ahead of time to help you research what you're likely to see in the field. Then you use the same list to record sightings when you're out watching birds.

    Nigel Hall
    Appweavers, Inc.

  4. Great comparison - I'll be linking to it soon.

    btw, iBird does have a scrollable, taxonomic list. From the Browse screen, go to the Family view. There's an option just below the search box to turn "Taxonomic" on or off.

  5. It is odd than none do the first of your Dreams, e.g. identify birds based on entered details. Years ago, someone showed me a 'guide' that consisted of a box of cards with holes. You picked characteristics and pulled those cards aside and slid the needle through the box and came up with an ID or a couple of possiblities.

    I played with it for an hour or or so, picking screwier and screwier birds. It did not do a bad job. With everything else phones can do, this does not seem to require that much computing power.

  6. Installed Smithsonian. A bit disappointed. The Sonagrams are not true songrams, but rather waveforms -- the show pattern and volume but not tone.