iBird Pro Review: My FAVORITE Birding App and Field Guide

 Best Bird Watching App - iBird Pro ReviewWhen I go birding, I always take a backpack full of anything I might need; water, camera, binoculars, lens wipes, snacks, etc.

 

I am acutely aware of what I carry because it will be sitting on my back for a few hours. I am always looking for ways to lighten my load.

Light pack = happiness. 

 

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, one of the heaviest items I would carry was my paper field guides. I would always try to leave them at home if possible.

 

How times have changed!

 

Today, the field guide that I use is just an app on my phone.

 

It’s called iBird Pro Guide to Birds. 


Purchase and Download iBird Pro: (normally around $14.99)


iBird Pro App Review

iBird Pro is considered an electronic field guide. No paper! It’s just an app on my phone. It works incredibly well, and it’s used on almost every birding trip. I love that it has eliminated the need to carry my paper field guides in the field.

 

Now when I go birding, I just take my smartphone.  iBird Pro lets me access illustrations, field marks, photos, sounds, maps, behavior information and much more from 940 North American species with the touch of a few buttons.

 

The speed and accuracy in which I can locate a species with iBird Pro is just incredible!


iBird Pro Review: Table of Contents:


 

I used to make it a point not to take my phone along when I went birding. It didn’t serve a purpose. It was more of a distraction than anything else. Being out in the woods, the last thing I wanted was a stressful phone call or text message.

 

Birding has and will always be an amazing way to escape into nature.

 

But now my smartphone is probably the most important thing that I carry, and iBird is responsible.


**Related Link: The Best Bird Watching Apps of 2017**

**Related Link: 14 Actionable Bird Watching Tips for Beginners (and a few for everyone!)**


iBirdWho and What is iBird?

 

The best way to describe iBird is they are a company that develops electronic and interactive field guides as apps for your phone or tablet. They have many different field guides available from North America to the United Kingdom.

My favorite app from iBird and the focus of this review is the iBird Pro Guide to Birds (North America). 

 


 The 3 Reasons I Love Using iBird Pro:

1. The Number of Birds:

For the total of around $14.99, I can access 940 birds across North America (Hawaii included) at the touch of a button.

 

That is crazy!

 

Do you realize how many field guides I would have to own to include 940 species?


2. Easy to Search, Navigate and Find the Correct Bird:

 

There is one problem with having 940 birds on an app.

 

The fact that there are 940 birds to search through can be incredibly overwhelming!

 

Luckily, iBird Pro makes it easy to find your target species, and the app is extremely user-friendly.

 

When I am trying to identify my target bird, my first step is to use both the Filters and Search Bar functions.

 

Filters:

  • I live in Ohio, so on my local trips, I don’t need access to 940 species. This is where the Filters (Search) feature comes in handy. I can filter the 940 available species by Location to a more manageable number. There is no reason to see the Akohekohe (endemic to Hawaii) while birding near home.
  • Applying the Ohio filter takes 940 species down to the 271 common species most likely observed. See below!

Other Filters:

  • To help with identification, there are 36 different filters that can be applied. From the very general (Location, Shape, Size, Habitat) to very specific (Back Pattern, Wing Shape, Bill Length, etc.). Very quickly, an unknown bird can be narrowed down quickly to just a few possible species.

Combining “Filters”:

  • To help identify an unknown species, I find it useful to combine multiple filters at the same time.  The more filters applied and the more specific I make them, the easier it is to identify a bird.

 

  • For example, let’s say I saw a bird that was the color of blue while in Ohio. By adding another filter (Prominent Blue), iBird has narrowed down the available birds to only 8! With two filters (Ohio & Prominent Blue), I have taken 940 species down to 8. If I’m still not satisfied, I could add another filter like Size or Habitat.

 

  • Instead of digging through a field guide for 5 minutes, the filter process took about 10 seconds!

 

Search Bar: (Blank space at top that says “Enter Common Name.”)

 

  • Another way to quickly find a bird is to use the Search Bar at the top of the iBird Pro app by typing a search term. It searches by the common name of the bird species.

 

  • I find the Search Bar most useful when I can mentally narrow down the bird to a few species or to confirm an identification of a bird.

 

  • For example, I have a hard time identifying sparrows. When one is spotted, it’s a perfect time to open up the iBird Pro app and use the Search Bar to help determine the species.

  • After typing “Sparrow” into the Search Bar, 16 birds were found. That is still a lot of birds to sift through and probably a great time to use another filter, such as habitat or color to narrow the list.
  • Warning! One word of caution when using the Search Bar. Remember that it only searches common name.
    • For example, if I type “Duck,” only six species in Ohio appear. It ignores species such as the Common Merganser, Canvasback, and even Mallard because they don’t include the actual word “Duck” in their common name.

3. The Amount of Identification Information for Each Bird:

 

iBird App ReviewOnce I narrow down my target bird to a few species, this is when the real work starts. When I need to tell the difference between a Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk, I want a field guide that can deliver fantastic results.

 

Luckily, the iBird Pro app can help!

 

The best part of iBird Pro is the enormous amount of identification tips (range, behavior information), sounds, drawings and pictures literally at my fingertips. There is so much information about each bird that can be utilized to be confident in my identification.

 

My 4 Favorite Features to Help Identify a Bird with iBird Pro: 

1. It includes MULTIPLE illustrations AND photographs for EVERY bird.

  • This is helpful, any other field guide I have used either uses photo’s or illustrations. It’s great to flip back and forth and compare!

2. On the illustration, I can turn FIELD MARKS ON (see picture “B” and “C” below) to help with identification. This feature highlights the unique features and field marks of each bird.

3. I can easily listen to songs and calls of each bird under the Sounds tab (see photo “F” below). Most birds include multiple recordings of all their different types of sounds. From songs to contact calls to alarms calls.

4. Clicking on the Similar tab (see photo “G” below), iBird Pro will bring up species that can easily be confused with my target bird. This helps to quickly compare birds against each other to ensure I have a correct identification.

 

Next, I want to show an example of all the information provided for a single bird.

We are going to be using the American Tree Sparrow as our guinea pig since sparrows are always challenging for me.

 

Let’s dig in!!!

Screen A:

  • Type “Sparrow” into the Search Bar, which brought up all the birds in Ohio with “Sparrow” in their common name. Tap on the first option, American Tree Sparrow.

 

Screen B and C:

  • The first picture seen is a field drawing. In this example, there are a total of 3 drawings. To view the other two, just scroll down.
  • In the top left corner, there is a box that says “FIELD MARKS OFF.” Tap this button, and it turns it to “FIELD MARKS ON.”
    • I love this feature! For a beginner, it shows the vital field markings that can be used to identify the American Tree Sparrow. By having a great visual, it makes it easier to know what sets each bird apart. This feature has helped me become a better birder in the field!
      • For example, an American Tree Sparrow has a rufous stripe behind the eye, two white wing bars and a dark spot on its breast that I now immediately look for to identify.
  • If the male and female have different plumage or if juveniles look different, illustrations of each are included. For example, the Baltimore Oriole has illustrations of an adult, immature and 1st-year bird.

 

Screen D (Range):

  • Displays when the species is seen throughout the year. Very helpful!

 

Screen E (Photos):

  • The drawings are not the only images that need to be relied upon. This feature shows photos of the American Tree Sparrow. In this case, there are four available, just scroll down to see the rest.
    • When a bird looks different between males and females or has different winter plumage, these photos will also be included.
  • Personally, I love that there are drawings AND photos. Most field guides only have one or the other. I think there are benefits to each type that help with identification.

 

Screen F (Sounds):

  • One of my favorite features! An easy way to hear the songs, calls, and sounds of an American Tree Sparrow (or any bird). As soon as I hear a song I don’t recognize; my phone is whipped out to figure out the unknown species.
    • At the bottom, it also plays the sounds of similar species to compare. In this case, it would be a Fox Sparrow.
  • Scroll to the bottom of this section, and it also provides the Phonetic Text and a description of its vocalization.
  • I have had some luck with playing the sounds off my phone and having the bird respond and come closer. I have only tried a this a few times, mostly because I feel guilty for messing around with it.

 

 

Screen G (Similar):

  • This screen gives a list of similar species.
    • I have a complaint in this section. Earlier, I filtered the available species by my location (Ohio). The Similar species tab does not use my filter and shows similar sparrows from all across North America. Instead of a few similar species in Ohio, I am left with almost 10 to dig through.

 

Screen H (Journal):

  • Full disclosure. I don’t use the iBird Journal feature or app. This is another application that iBird offers. In a nutshell, it is a checklist app and keeps track of the species seen. Personally, I use the eBird app and am very happy with it. iBird Journal may be fantastic, but as they say, if it’s not broke don’t fix it!

 

Screen I (Identify, Ecology, Facts, Notes, Behavior, Family):

  • To get to this screen, hit the arrow on the bottom right.
  • I did not include a screenshot of each of the six options that appear at the bottom. They are all pretty self-explanatory, and it’s a lot of behavior information about the bird. Personally, I don’t use many of these screens on a day to day basis, but it’s great information to learn.
    • Except for the “Notes” screen. This is just a place to type in personal notes regarding that bird. Again, I use the eBird app for this purpose.

 

 

 

 

Above are three screenshots from the last five options that appear for the American Tree Sparrow.

Nest & Eggs (No Screenshot): I did not include a screenshot, but obviously describes the next and eggs.

 

Screen J (Flickr):

  • This is a pretty cool feature. If the original four photos were not enough, use this to see hundreds of American Tree Sparrow photos from other birders who have uploaded them to Flickr (A place to upload and share personal photos).

 

Screen K (Glossary):

  • This tab is a listing of bird anatomy. It can be helpful for us that are not ornithologists!

 

My Photos (No Screenshot):

  • I don’t use this feature, but iBird Pro can upload your photos of birds into the app.

Screen L (Birdipedia):

  • If you still haven’t had enough of the American Tree Sparrow, this links to its page on Wikipedia to learn even more!


iBird Review App

3 Ways to Improve iBird Pro:

 

Nothing is perfect, and iBird Pro is no exception.

 

1. Inability to save Filters (Search):

  • As I showed above, iBird Pro has 940 species currently loaded into the software across North America and Hawaii. I always filter these birds by location to narrow down the choices. iBird Pro usually will keep my latest search saved for a certain amount of time, but then randomly it seems to reset itself.

 

  • A nice feature would be to have different saved searches that could be applied instantly.

 

2. Filters (Search) do not apply to the Similar species tab:

  • While using this field guide, I find myself using the “Similar” tab (see Screen G above) quite often. I find it very helpful to make sure I am not confusing a bird with another species.

 

  • Unfortunately, when I click on Similar species, it does not use any Filters that I previously set. I have wasted precious time comparing birds only to find out one of them lives across the country!

 

3. Lots of Storage Space Needed:

  • Just a warning, iBird Pro needs lots of storage space on your device.

 

  • For example, on my iPhone 6s, it takes up 1.37 GB of space. I guess that this is something that can’t be improved, which is OK. Cell phones keep increasing the amount of storage available on new phones anyways.

 

  • On my previous phone, the maximum storage was only 8GB, so iBird Pro took about 25% of the space. My current phone has 64GB and is not much of a problem anymore.

 

  • The good news? Since it’s downloaded onto a phone (or tablet), there is no need for an internet or cellular connection to access all the information.


Purchase and Download iBird Pro: (normally around $14.99)


iBirdOther Products From iBird:

It’s important to note that iBird has other products other than the iBird Pro app.

Below are a few other products that are offered by iBird that may be of interest. Please note, I am not using any of them and have no experience as to their usefulness. The only product of theirs that I endorse is iBird Pro.

 

iBird Ultimate ($19.99): only available for iPhone/iPad

  • This is the “big brother” to iBird Pro and the newest product available. I have not yet upgraded from iBird Pro mostly because I enjoy using Pro so much! It would also cost me $19.99 to purchase iBird Ultimate.

 

  • I wish iBird offered a discount on Ultimate if you have already paid for the Pro version. From what I can tell, this is not the case. I even emailed iBird support but have yet to hear back.
  • From the iBird website, it looks like Ultimate includes some features that Pro does not, which is to be expected. Ultimate is newer and more expensive.

 

iBird Lite Guide to Birds (Free!): available for iPhone/iPad and Android

  • If you are not ready to spend money on iBird Pro or Ultimate, this is the product for you! It is the free version but only includes 40 species. It is designed to test out the app.

 

iBird UK & Ireland Guide to Birds ($14.99): only available for iPhone/iPad.

  • I have not tested the European version yet, mostly because I haven’t gone to the UK or Ireland recently! From what I can tell, the features and layout look very similar to iBird Pro. Includes 283 species.

 

I can honestly say iBird Pro changed the way that I have gone birding forever.

 

I know that any new technology can be scary and hard to adopt. My advice is not to let that get in the way of trying out this fantastic resource and tool.

 

Be warned though; you may need to find a new use for all those paper field guides sitting on your shelf 🙂

 

I would love to know what you think about the iBird Pro app? How can I improve this iBird review? What other apps have you found useful for identification?


**Related Links: **

The Best Bird Watching Apps of 2017

14 Actionable Bird Watching Tips for Beginners (and a few for everyone!)

 Larkwire Review: The Gamification of Bird Sounds


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