We all have a favorite bird, animal or plant guide. Peterson is the best at drawing; Sibley takes the best pictures. Kauffman ties it all together; National Geographic makes a solid reference and Audubon is great for fast looks.
While these books will always have a place on the shelf or table, the depth of content and portability of smartphone apps and trustworthy (e.g. reaserch related or associated with a big bird organization you recognize) websites truly foster the next level of ecological acuity.
[I will cover apps for iPhones and iPads- these are tools I have available and find to be indispensable.] Like the shelf of guides they can replace out in the field, there is always room for another guide- and, generally speaking, cost significantly less than the least expensive print guide on your shelf.
- iBird PRO –
This app does it all: view photos, range maps, sounds, and similar birds, and search by band code, Latin/common name. The sound recordings are pretty good and can be looped individually or as a species playlist (good for playback in research situations). Similar bird songs are playable at the bottom of each species- great for learning and verifying nuances between similar songs. The illustrations are “ok”- better than what I could do (obviously) but nothing quite like Peterson or Kauffman. There are two more (add-on) engines in this app I have not used: the local birds function by GPS (BAM) and a “humanized” search tool to pinpoint the bird you are looking for (Percevia).
- Audubon Birds
Audubon Birds has come a long way, and generally will offer more of a comprehensive written overview on each bird- going into feeding, behavior, breeding, and habitat discussions. They seem to have added eBird integration (far, far superior to their “nature share” tool) which allows for both a mobile search into the unfathomably large user-based data set for local birds and a way to add your own data to eBird (though traditionally, the best way to do that is from a computer).
- Audubon Owls
This app is only a small vignette on owls; there seems to be more info geared solely about owls here than in Audubon Birds- photos, videos, tips, and tricks
- Merlin Bird ID
Despite the hardcore Bird Photo ID algorithms and location-based searches, this is geared toward those who may be starting out, and want to up the ante. You fill in a few parameters about a bird sighting (this will not help with bird sounds), then it will generate a list of probable birds. Supposedly, if you get a good photo of the bird on your phone (Digi scoping/Wi-Fi upload?) It can id the bird visually.
If you are truly doing an eBird list for your trip, try this app for basic, quick additions- but I would not rely on it for media uploads or anything too crazy. You can upload your checklist from the field then edit it later, though it is unclear if that is really a good idea in the scheme of data collection.
This is a list of the Bird apps I use on my phone, most getting use many times a week or even every day (iBird Pro).