Need help identifying a bird when out birding? Want to keep a quick list of all the birds you’ve seen while you’re out? Heading out to a specific birding spot and want to know what birds have been seen there lately? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that!

There are some really amazing and useful smartphone applications to help birders log, identify, and learn all about birds. In this Field Notes, we’ll break down a few of the most popular free birding apps as well as some that are handy to have if you want to pay a little bit.

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab

This is the essential free birding app! Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (and a team of over 5000 contributors from around the world!) to answer the fundamental question, “What bird is that?,” Merlin is geared towards beginner and intermediate birders to help them identify birds in many different ways. It pulls on information of over 900 million observations from the eBird citizen-science project.

Use Merlin to learn about what birds you’re most likely to see in your area when you go out birding.

Let’s say you’re looking to identify a tricky bird, just open up Merlin and press Start Bird ID. Merlin will prompt you to set up and download the geographic Bird Pack that fits best for where you are (note that you might want to download this before you head out because it can take some time when using data!). After that is installed, Merlin will ask you questions about the date and location, as these are some of the most important questions in identification. Next, Merlin will ask for descriptions of the colour, size, and behaviour of the bird which can be chosen out of the given options. Based on the information entered, Merlin will come up with a list of possible birds that fit best. Pretty neat, huh? It’s like having your very own pocket-sized birding expert! 

If you tend to observe birds through your camera and like to take photographs to help identify, Merlin can also help with that! Their Photo ID feature allows you to upload a photo and have the app automatically come up with a list of possible birds, with amazing accuracy.

Other neat features of Merlin include a stunning gallery of bird photography, curated audio recordings from the Macaulay Library, ID tips from birding experts, as well as the ability to save a list of all the birds you’ve identified if you have a Cornell Lab (eBird) account.

eBird

We’ve mentioned it a few times already, but eBird is the other half to Merlin (Merlin actually uses eBird’s database) that is essential for avid birders. It’s a great online resource as well as a mobile app. Managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird allows you to record your sightings, track how many species you’ve seen in your life or a given year, see what birds others have seen in the area, and help citizen science in the process!

eBird allows you to update your sightings easily while on the go. Photo by Bob Walker.

eBird is great for keeping track of birds while out birding, as it can track your time and distance travelled automatically as well as show you a list of likely birds for your location. You can easily update your sightings list with just a tap by the species name each time you see another bird. You can even set up alerts for rare bird sightings or for bird species that you haven’t recorded in a given region. If you’re looking for a new birding location in your area, you can use eBird’s Explore feature to discover birding hotspots near you by taking a look at submissions from other users. 

Additional App Resources

Birds Near Me: An app that uses eBird data to show what birds have been reported in a given area and timeframe. For example, you can see a list with details on all birds seen within 25km in the past 7 days. You can also view what’s been seen at nearby “hotspots”, or search for a species and see where and when it has been spotted recently near you.

BirdsEye: A very thorough paid app that offers full guides to birds in a given continent (or even worldwide). It gives you ID tips for a species, plus range maps and frequency charts that will help you learn when and where you’re most likely to spot it.

Lots of birding apps make it easier to identify birds while out birding. Photo by Thom Holmes.

Audubon Bird Guide: A free field guide app with information about North American species that helps you identify birds and keep track of the ones you’ve seen.

Sibley Birds: A paid app that is a digital version of the iconic Sibley field guide, with illustrations, detailed bird descriptions, maps showcasing winter, summer and migration ranges, and more. 

iNaturalist: Similar to eBird, this free app helps you identify animals and plants and lets you help citizen science by recording and submitting your observations.

We hope this app breakdown helps you discover some new ways to bird and new resources to improve your birding experience. Put those apps to good use planning your birding adventures with the help of our regional self-guided itineraries. Pick and choose where you want to go birding, stop for coffee, eat dinner, or grab local goodies to take home with you, making it even easier for you to support local.


Please be aware that travel restrictions are currently in effect all over BC. Until further notice based on direction from the PHO, all non-essential travel to and within BC should be avoided. Explore only your local trails and birding locations. Be mindful of the protocols put in place by local businesses.⁠

For more information about the latest Provincial Health Orders, visit https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/ emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19- provincial-support/restrictions