by Alexandria Simpson
Lately, I’ve been researching the various bird guide apps. I have narrowed my choices down to three major ones: iBird Explorer Pro, Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America, and National Geographic Handheld Birds. Since some young birders may be interested in purchasing one (or all!) of these, I have put together a brief comparative review.
(As of 5/21/2012, on sale for $2.99, regularly $29.99).
Currently, this is the best-selling bird guide app. There are several other versions besides “Pro,” including a free version that contains 30 species. It is touted as the best app for all levels of birding, especially beginner birders. iBird Explorer contains all the species found in the U.S., Canada, and Hawaii, including extinct birds, for a total of 924 species.
- Includes both illustrations and photos, with most species shown both perching and in flight.
- Full color range maps are included for every species.
- Has the best search function, including Latin name, songs, shape, leg color, wing shape, tail shape, bill shape and length, flight pattern, and several others.
- Best app if you don’t know the species name.
- Has more life history information, including conservation and cool facts for each species.
- Contains most species of the three apps reviewed here.
- Does contain some hybrid illustrations.
- Needs more female and juvenile illustrations.
- Needs more and better sound recordings.
The digital version of the much-beloved Sibley’s is not far behind the iBird Explorer Pro in popularity. This app is better for more experienced birders. Only ABA area birds are included.
- Over 6600 images with species shown perched, and in flight from above and below, with the most poses and variation.
- Shows major seasonal, age, and sexual variation.
- Subspecies and regional variants covered in detail.
- Detailed maps show winter, summer, and migration ranges as well as rare occurrences.
- Ability to compare similar species length, wingspan, and weight measurements.
- Detailed descriptions of songs and calls.
- Best sound recording selection with over 2300 recordings.
- Almost all species have many recording examples showing range of vocalizations.
- Can compare any two images, maps, or sounds, side by side on the screen.
- Can filter by state/province.
- Can search by distinguishing features such as size, prominent color(s), and shape.
- Very basic life list that stores sightings.
- Excellent illustrations.
- Can enlarge illustrations.
- Highlights field marks better than other apps.
- Unlike the print version, contains no hybrid illustrations.
- No photos.
- Harder to use if you don’t know the species name.
- Fewest species of the three apps reviewed here.
Nat Geo was the first bird guide app available for smart phones. It is also good choice for all levels of birding, but seems to be somewhat mediocre, without any really outstanding features. Like Sibley’s, it only contains ABA area birds, 867 species in total.
- Able to sort by location, size, and color.
- More than 1600 bird images and 650 range maps.
- Good-quality illustrations.
- Good species accounts with cool facts.
- Sound recordings aren’t as good as Sibley’s, though better than iBird Pro.
- Not as many search features as iBird Pro.
Although digital versions of my favorite field guides are easier to carry around, I’m definitely not throwing away my print field guides when I finally decide on an app. What do you think? What experiences do you have with apps?
About the author: Alexandria Simpson is an avid, sixteen-year-old birder from Santa Anna, Texas. While she wishes she could say she has been birding all of her life, instead she has spent the last four years making up for lost time. She wants to become an ornithologist and someday read scientific papers without falling asleep. Her photography, illustrations, and writings have won awards at local, state, and national levels. She currently serves as one of the student blog editors for The Eyrie.