One thing about being the resident bird nerd in your friend group is that someone always seems to want you to identify a bird for them. On Instagram, my followers will sometimes tag me in photos they took of a bird, asking if I can help with an ID. Since downloading iBird Pro on my phone, giving them an answer has gotten a whole lot easier. Between the drawings, real life photos, and search features, I’m able to figure out what birds they’re looking at, which makes it a fabulous resource (and makes me look smart).
But it’s in the field is where iBird really shines. On my recent trip to the Goshute Mountains, I knew I had a high altitude hike to the Hawkwatch site, and since I was already carrying all the gear I’d need for a week on a mountain, I didn’t want to add the weight of a field guide – although I knew I’d want one as I’m not as comfortable with Western birds as I am with their Eastern counterparts. So I took a leap of faith, and left my field guide at home on the shelf. For a week I only used iBird Pro (Version 7.1), and I didn’t miss my heavy field guide at all. No physical guide can replicate the bird calls and real-life photographs that iBird uses.
Plus, since the entire app is stored locally on your phone, it requires no wifi or cell connection to function, so you can use it anywhere, any time. And since iBird Pro is available for both iOS and Android, there should be no users left out in the cold.
My iBird app got the most use in camp, where smaller birds flitted in and out of the brush around our tents. Some of them – like Mountain Chickadees and Red-Breasted Nuthatches – were easily IDed with a few clicks, but other birds gave me only a glimpse and a song. When I hear a call that I don’t recognize, I try to take a video – the mic on my iPhone has proven adept at picking up bird calls, and I’ve historically been able to make a decent recording of the the bird I’m trying to ID.
In the past, once I’d recorded the song of a bird I didn’t recognize, I’d have to wait until I got home in front of my computer (now seven states away) and click through bird calls on the web, listening to songs until I found one that matched. But with iBird, I was able to click back and forth between my song recording and the bird songs in the app until I had an ID. The fact that multiple call recordings are given for each bird is a big advantage as well, and a feature I appreciate.
But what really makes iBird a must-have for me is the ability to look at both illustrations of a bird and verified high-quality photos of real birds. Sometimes, when looking at a bird in the field, it may not fit the illustration in your guide, but being able to flip to the photos section and scroll through high-quality pictures of juveniles, adults, males, females, and subspecies helps me to identify a bird that I may otherwise not have been able to place.
And iBird Pro has come a long way since I first downloaded version 6, with numerous UI improvements that better fit iOS 7 & 8. The navigation bar has been revamped as a slide out menu that allows more screen size to be dedicated to the feature you’re using. I’m using it on the iPhone 6 now and it’s a perfect fit for the updated screen size and resolution.
Obviously, I’m a fan. So when I was given the chance to review the new 7.2 version of iBird Ultimate, I was stoked. Over the last few days I’ve given it a thorough workout, and I have to say I like it even more than iBird Pro. All the features that I loved about iBird Pro are still there – the high quality photos, illustrations, the different bird calls – but with a slew of new features. The Birds Around Me feature alone makes Ultimate worth it – it just makes my life easier.
With the Birds Around Me feature, instead of having to eliminate birds from California when I’m looking up a bird in Florida, I can just search for birds nearby, in a range that I specify. I actually wish the Birds Around Me search option could be left on by default, since after spending some time with it, I now prefer it, and it takes a few taps each time to set it.
In addition to more traditional search methods – typing the name of a bird into the search bar, or scrolling through birds alphabetically – iBird also has a powerful search function that allows you to filter results by location, shape, size, habitat, color, wing shape, eye color, and a whole list of other attributes.
Even better, it’s an intelligent search, so once one attribute is selected, others become greyed out if they don’t apply to any birds, and you don’t end up with a no-result search.
For example: I’m searching for a hawk-like bird with a rufous breast and yellow legs. After selecting those attributes, I’m presented with six birds. I think the bird I saw was rather small, so I go to the size attribute, but Small is greyed out, and I see that my only valid options are Medium or Large, so I select Medium. If I had been given the option to select a small bird, it would have returned no results, and I might not have made an ID. But by only having two options – Medium & Large – I can select the smaller option, which returns just two results: American Kestrel and Sharp-shinned Hawk – very different looking birds. Then, I can easily conclude that I’m looking at an American Kestrel, and even review the field marks to make it easier to ID next time.
If I had one wish for iBird Ultimate, it would be that it could allow me to create birding trip lists in-app, instead of switching back and forth between a note taking app, which can become tedious. You can make notes for individual birds though, and iBird does have their own separate listing app – iBird Journal – although I haven’t had the chance to use it yet.
The price for iBird Ultimate may seem steep at $19.99 (currently on sale), but that’s comparable to other birding apps with fewer features, and given that it covers all of North America, it’s still less costly (and lighter) than buying new editions of an Eastern and Western Field Guide – and future updates to the app are free.