Best Bird Identification Apps

Exploring the world of birdwatching has never been easier with the plethora of bird identification apps available today. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or just starting out, having the right tools at your fingertips can enhance your birding experience. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into some of the best bird identification apps, each offering unique features to aid in identifying birds from around the world. From detailed species guides to advanced sound recognition technology, these apps cater to bird enthusiasts of all levels. Let’s take a closer look at the top contenders in the world of bird ID apps.
Comparison of Bird Identification Apps
App Name Birda Merlin Audubon Sibley
Species Coverage Global Global NA NA
Species Reference Images
Species Description
Bird Sounds
Distribution Map
Fun Facts
Similar Species
Community Photos
Video
Sightings
Photo ID
Sound ID
App Store Rating 4.6 4.8 4.2 4.9

Best Bird Identification Apps with Global Coverage

1. Birda

The best birdwatching apps, Birda with screenshots from the Play Store and App Store.
Birda is rapidly becoming the go-to app for bird identification by birdwatchers all over the world and in recognition of this, the app has been awarded ‘App of the Day’ by Apple in 148 countries around the world. Birda is improving at a rapid pace, with updates to the app being shipped every two weeks. The species guide, while already one of the best available yet is still improving at a rapid pace.
Birda’s species guide is also completely free so given that it is as good and in some cases better than the paid species guide, it is an obvious choice for most new and experienced birdwatchers. While Birda’s species guide is free, there are some fun premium features such as private challenges, custom life lists, goals and more for those who what to get more from the app.

Species Coverage:

Birda’s species guide covers all 11,000 species globally.

Species Reference Images:

Good-quality species reference images are essential to bird identification and in this domain Birda excells. Birda species reference images cover the most gender, life stage, and seasonal variations, and new reference images are regularly added to the platform.

Species Description:

Birda’s species descriptions are really comprehensive and cover details on Identification Tips, Habitat, Distribution, Behavior, Song & Calls, Breeding, Similar Species, Diet & Feeding and Conservation Status. Having all of this information at the tip of your fingers is really handy as it negates the need for you to switch between apps or web resources to find information about a species.

Bird Sounds:

Birda’s bird sounds currently cover most species in North America, Europe and Southern Africa. Each bird sound is labelled by its sound type e.g. Song, Call, Alarm etc so that you can understand the behavioral aspects of each bird sound. Additional bird sounds are being added on an ongoing basis.

Distribution Map:

Birda’s species distribution maps have global coverage for each species and are fully vectorised so you can view each species map at any level of zoom. You will struggle to find an app with better bird distribution maps than Birda!

Fun Facts:

Speak to a birdwatching guru and they always seem to have hundreds of interesting facts about birds. Birda has gathered thousands of fun facts and added them to each species in the species guide. These facts are an awesome way to learn more about birds and build your knowledge base.

Similar Species:

One of the tricky aspects of bird identification is knowing which species are often confused with one another and then finding the subtle differences that differentiate the species. Birda makes this process a whole lot easier by showing similar species in its species guide.

Community Photos:

Birda’s users upload thousands of photos of the bird species they see. This in turn creates a huge resource of photos, all of which are integrated into the species guide. So rather than simply having a handful of species reference images to help you with your bird identification, you also have stacks of community images. Apart from being interesting to look at these images can also be a valuable resource for bird identification.

Video:

Birda does not currently have any video of birds on the platform, however that is expected to be introduced in the future.

Sightings:

The Birda community post thousands of sightings every day, many of which have bird photos attached. These photos form a massive resource for other Birda users and are displayed in the species guide for the relevant species. These sightings are also a valuable resource for seeing where people are regularly seeing a species.

Photo ID:

Birda has a really unique bird identification tool that leverages the human intelligence (HI) of their community. So, after posting a photo, rather than simply providing the answer (as AI apps do), Birda’s community votes and discusses what they think the species is. From a learning perspective, this is a much better learning tool as people are much better at learning when there is a two way conversation around the identification.

Sound ID:

Birda does not currently have any sound identification features, however there is a plan to integrate this feature soon.

2. Merlin Bird ID

Screenshots of the Merlin Bird ID app on the App Store

Merlin Bird Id is a popular bird identification app with a focus on using artificial intelligence to identify birds from photos of their sounds/calls. The app is however very weak in the sense of a traditional species guide which significantly limits its use to an AI only tool. Merlin is a free app and it is developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Similar Species:

Merlin’s species guide has global coverage; however, the AI sound and photo ID only have partial coverage. Merlin Sound ID is able to identify just over 1,000 species, with 540 of those occurring in the United States and Canada, 602 in the Neotropics, 284 in the Western Palearctic, and 239 species in India. Merlin Photo ID is able to identify over 8,000 of the world’s 11,000 bird species.

Species Reference Images:

Merlin’s species reference images are sourced from images submitted by eBird and images archived in the Macaulay Library. Being unisolated photographs of birds, the birds are generally not positioned and presented in a way typical of a species guide. There are also not always photos of the different genders and life stages. These issues make Merlin’s species reference images a little less useful for identification purposes.

Species Description:

Merlin’s species descriptions are limited to a short paragraph with no categories breaking down the description into useful sections. The lack of detailed information makes Merlin’s species descriptions of limited use for identification purposes and for learning more about any particular species.

Bird Sounds:

Merlin has good bird sound coverage for most of the world’s regions. Each bird sound is labelled by its sound type, e.g., Song, Call, Alarm, etc. so that you can understand the behavioural aspects of each bird sound. Bird sounds on Merlin are also labelled with the location where they were recorded to give you examples of subtle differences between birds in different regions.

Distribution Map:

Merlin’s species distribution map has global coverage for each species. However, the maps are stored as images and are not vectorised as they are with Birda. This limits your ability to zoom into a map to get a more detailed view of a species’ distribution.

Fun Facts:

Merlin’s species guide does not include any species-based fun facts, which limits the app from a learning and engagement perspective.

Similar Species:

Merlin’s species guide does not include any similar species information. Differentiating between different species is a really critical part of bird identification so this really limits the bird identification utility of Merlin’s species guide.

Community Photos:

eBird’s users upload thousands of photos of the bird species they see. This creates a huge resource of photos however, apart from the reference images, none of these images are integrated into Merlin’s species guide.

Video:

As with photos, eBird’s users upload thousands of videos of the bird species they see. This creates a huge resource of photos however, none of these images are integrated into Merlin’s species guide.

Sightings:

Unfortunately, Merlin does not support sharing sightings within the app, so you cannot see any sighting data from the Merlin community.

Photo ID:

Merlin’s AI photo identification model has been trained to identify around 8,000 species from all over the world. The model can be accurate for more common species (where Cornell has lots of training data) however as with most AI, it is not flawless and can make some pretty obvious mistakes. Not having any HI (human intelligence) in the feature is what lets is down as there is no substitute for an expert determining the real identification. From a learning perspective, just being told the species of bird in a photo does not help you learn as well as with HI-based identification as people are much better at learning when there is a discussion around the identification.

Sound ID:

Merlin’s Sound ID is able to identify just over 1,000 species with 540 of those being species occurring in the United States & Canada, 602 in the Neotropics, 284 in the Western Paleartic and 239 species in India. As with their Photo ID feature, AI-based bird sound identification is not flawless can can regularly suggest species that are just plain wrong. The feature would benefit from human input especially where the AI model is suggesting really unlikely species.

Best Bird Identification Apps for North America

3. Audubon

Screenshots of the Audubon Bird Guide app on the App Store

The Audubon Bird Guide app is a field guide and basic logging app that is developed by the National Audubon Society. It’s a comprehensive resource built for bird enthusiasts at all experience levels. The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation.

Species Coverage:

The Audubon Bird Guide covers over 800 species of North American birds.

Species Reference Images:

The Audubon app includes over 3,000 high-quality species photos in its field guide. While the photos are generally decent quality, they are unisolated photos and the birds are in a variety of inconsistent positions which feel lower quality compared to bird illustrations or isolated photos of birds.

Species Description:

The Audubon app includes detailed descriptions, provided by leading North American bird expert Kenn Kaufman. The description covers general aspects of each species, song & calls, range, conservation status, habitat, feeding behaviour, diet, nesting, eggs and more. These detailed descriptions are a fantastic way to learn more about birds and all the subtle aspects that help to improve your bird identification skills.

Bird Sounds:

The app includes over eight hours of audio clips featuring the bird sounds of different bird species, allowing users to learn and identify birds by sound. The bird sounds are categorised into various types such as songs, calls which provides excellent coverage for learning and identification.

Distribution Map:

It features multi-season range maps for each species, helping users understand migration patterns and seasonal changes in bird distribution.

Fun Facts:

There is unfortunately not a specific “fun facts” section in the Audubon app however the detailed species descriptions and articles within the app do sometimes contain intriguing and lesser-known information about bird behaviours and traits.

Similar Species:

Audubon’s field guide has a section on similar species, which helps users distinguish between similar species by comparing physical characteristics. This feature is a great resource for identification, especially for similar-looking species.

Community Photos:

Apart from the standard species reference images, the Audubon app does not show images posted by other users of the app.

Video:

The Audubon app does not show any video content in the app.

Sightings:

Audubons hotspot feature, within its species guide, shows a map with pins for every sighting of a species. This is a useful resource when you are trying to find out where people are currently seeing a specific species.

Photo ID:

While the app has species reference photos, it does feature a Photo ID system akin to automatic recognition from photos, instead focusing on manual entry criteria for bird identification.

Sound ID:

The app provides extensive audio resources but does not list an automatic Sound ID feature. Users can manually match bird calls to sounds in the database to identify species.

4. Sibley Birds 2nd Edition

Screenshots of the Sibley V2 app on the App Store

The Sibley Birds 2nd Edition app is a comprehensive tool for learning about North American birds, with extensive details on species through text, illustrations, and sounds. It lacks some interactive and social features found in other birding apps but excels in providing a rich educational resource.

Species Coverage:

The Sibley app covers over 930 North American bird species, each with detailed descriptions and distribution maps​​.

Species Reference Images:

The Sibley app features detailed artwork from David Sibley’s Guide to Birds Second Edition, which is an excellent resource to help users identify different bird species through visual comparison​​. There unfortunately no photographic reference images for the species which makes it difficult to see subtle details that may be missing from illustrations.

Species Description:

Each bird species in the Sibley app is accompanied by thorough descriptions that include a general description, information about their size and weight, sounds, status and habitat, subspecies, taxonomic notes, the species common name in French and Spanish and the species banding code.

Bird Sounds:

The app includes over 2700 calls and songs covering most species, which is a valuable tool for identification and learning about birds’ vocal behaviours​​.

Distribution Map:

Detailed range maps are available for each species and these are categoried into year-round, summer, winter, migration and rare distributions. These maps are static images, so unlike Birda’s vectored maps, they cannot be zoomed in for detailed viewing​.

Fun Facts:

While the Sibley app does not specifically contain a “Fun Facts” section for each species, the species guide descriptions do contain some interesting and lesser-known facts about the birds.

Similar Species:

The Sibley app includes a similar species section that shows similar species for side-by-side comparisons, helping users distinguish between species that might look alike​​. This feature however seems to be generated by other species sharing the same species family which means that some species in the list may look nothing like the species you are looking at. This is a pity as it erodes the value of the Sibleys similar species feature.

Community Photos:

Unfortunately, the Sibley Birds 2nd Edition app does not include community photos. Photographs of birds are an important resource for bird identification, so their absence is unfortunate.

Video:

The Sibley app does not provide videos; it is focused on still images and audio files for bird identification and learning​​. As with bird photos, video of birds is also an important resource for bird identification so it is a pity to see that they are missing from the app.

Sightings:

While the Sibley app has basic logging functionality, sightings cannot be shared with other users.

Photo ID:

The app does not currently support identification through users’ photos. It primarily relies on its detailed illustrations and descriptions for species identification​​.

Sound ID:

While the app includes an extensive catalogue of bird calls and songs, the app does not support an AI-based sound ID feature that automatically identifies birds by sound. Users must manually compare sounds within the app to identify species​​.

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