Citizen Science Test Drive: Apps for birding.

By April 4th, 2012 at 1:15 am | Comment 1

The first blog post in our new series titled “Citizen Science Test Drive,” (where we present first-person reviews of citizen science apps, tools and platforms) featured reviews of three nature apps by SciStarter contributor Lisa Gardner.  Today, we bring you Kate Atkins, a regular SciStarter contributor and avid birder. Here, Kate shares her list of personal, favorite apps for birding.  If you would like to contribute to this series and share your experiences with our community, email john@scistarter.com.

The best citizen science apps for birding used to be iOS-only. I’ve known many an Android birder to switch to iPhone or buy an iPod Touch because the apps on that side of the divide were so darn good. But with Android smartphones now commanding more than half of the market, the gap is starting to close.  Here’s the best of both worlds.

Finding Birds

birdseyeBirdsEye
iOS, $19.99
DemoApple Store
Figuring out where the birds are and when can be a challenge, particularly for new birdwatchers. Not so with BirdsEye from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

BirdsEye is precisely a bird-finding app, based on the citizen-driven eBird database. Want to see a specific bird? BirdsEye will show you the most recent, closest sighting and give you directions. Want to see what birds have been observed at a specific hotspot over the last 30 days? What rare or notable birds have been seen near you recently? Done and done.

Bird information is something of an aside, but it’s top-shelf sidematter: images from VIREO, sounds from the Macauley Library, and extra tips per bird from Kenn Kaufman.

While helping people find and view birds, this app also teaches newer birders which birds can be found where and when. Yes, this one is still iOS only, but an Android version is likely to materialize soon.

144409572Audubon Birds – A Field Guide to North American Birds
iOS $19.99
Android $9.99
DemoApple StoreAndroid/Google

The Audubon Birds app recently added bird-finding functionality via eBird to their existing field guide app.  Study birds at home, on the subway, or in the park, then go find and observe birds in the real world with a little help from your friends at Cornell and Audubon.

Recording Sightings

A good birder keeps field notes. A citizen scientist shares the data. Cornell’s eBird is the key crowd-sourced database, so the ability to either directly submit to eBird or to export lists in eBird format is a must-have feature for any logging app.

If you are not familiar with the project and wish to report your bird sightings using one of these apps, I strongly urge you to first create an eBird account and use it in a browser before taking the plunge with mobile data-logging.

birdseyelog
BirdLog
iOS, $9.99
Android, $19.99
Demo | Apple Store | Android/Google

Very simply, this app records and uploads sightings to eBird, from your fingers straight to Ithaca. I’d like to see it more deeply connected to my eBird account, but for base functionality and total simplicity, BirdLog is indispensable.

BWDRoundedIconBirdwatcher’s Diary
iOS $12.99
DemoApple Store

A nice option if you want the bells and whistles BirdLog lacks. This app is pre-loaded with US, Mexico and UK bird lists. Add your locations via GPS, and list for them again and again. Exports to both eBird and Google Map formats so you can easily share your adventures.

The developers have carefully crafted interactions for use in the field. Big day and group count usage is well thought-out, and as your list archive grows, the more fun it will be to study your own patterns. This app makes a compelling case to trade in your notebook for your phone.

Extensive feature run-down complete with screenshots here.

Study & Skill-building

Before, during, and after birding, reference materials and study guides are key elements to the birding life. Most marquis field guides have wonderful app versions with extra illustrations, photos, audio files and links to web resources.

Each is a little different, so it’s worth some thought before purchasing one over another. I’m partial to the Sibley guide for its illustrations, audio files, and side-by-side bird comparison, but beginners may prefer iBird for its guided search.

Field guides

Birding by ear

Honorable mention

  • Nemesis Code’s Bird Codes and Band Codes apps. If you want to be a real ace in the field, these apps will teach you the 4-letter banding codes for birds. Learning these will cut your data entry time, and help you interpret bands if you see them on birds in the wild.

I use some non-birding specific apps to enhance my days in the field. If you’re as phone-fiddly as I am, and like tramping around outside, find out what my home screens hold at Birding Philly.

  • http://twitter.com/nigelbhall Nigel Hall

    Thanks for the Peterson Birds mention, Kate. We also use eBird data. It’s part of our search algorithm and we have lists for every county in the US and province in Canada with aggregates of all birds ever recorded in eBird. Peterson app users can automatically import lists into the app from petersonguides.com. We also have a free Facebook app – apps.facebook.com/petersonbirds that lets anyone access the aggregated eBird data by county. You don’t need the app, or a Facebook account. Peterson Birds is also on sale al the moment for $0.99 (reg. $14.99). Quite a bargain.