Larkwire Review: The Gamification of Bird Sounds
The ability to identify birds by their songs or sounds.
It’s one of the most important skills that a birder can have.
Unfortunately, it’s also extremely frustrating to learn and very difficult to master! Whether you are a beginning birder like myself or experienced, it’s a skill that needs constant attention and improvement.
Seriously, just in my home of state of Ohio there are around 300 species! And most birds have multiple sounds that need to be learned, between different song variations and contacts calls.
Sure, learning a few of the most common species such as Mourning Dove or American Robin is relatively easy. But it quickly becomes overwhelming as a birder progresses and finds themselves trying to identify the differences between all the warblers, sparrows, hawks etc!!!
Table of Contents:
- The Gamification of Bird Sounds
- 5 Reason’s I Love Using Larkwire
- Choosing Your Settings (Larkwire Tutorial)
- Playing the Game! (Larkwire Tutorial)
- Creating a Playlist (Larkwire Tutorial)
- Purchase and Download
For years, I have tried to master songs and calls by listening to audio in my car.
I have purchased numerous CD’s from different field guides and even created my own playlist by downloading free sounds online. While in the car, track after track would play announcing the various birds and then playing their sounds.
Unfortunately, I always ran into a few problems with this method:
It sounds easy so easy! Just insert a CD of bird sounds and listen on my commute to work and become an expert! Unfortunately, there are many more entertaining ways to drive to work.
For example, here is how a typical bird audio sounds:
- Narrators voice announces – “Black-capped chickadee” then the following recording of “chickadee-dee-dee”. Then it plays the next bird. Then the next bird. Then the next bird. And I start thinking as I’m driving “Are we there yet? Oh look at the clouds, what else is on the radio? That’s enough for today, I will listen to birds tomorrow or never!!”
- The monotony was torturous! For me, it wasn’t fun and almost impossible to pay attention after a few recordings! Most driving trips ended in sports talk radio or a favorite podcast or music playing through my speakers. Time and time again, the bird CD’s sat unused with a promise to insert during the next ride.
No Way to Test Knowledge:
- Most recordings announce the species first and then play the recording. I longed to have a way to quiz myself and test my skills while sitting at home. I wanted a way to hear random bird sounds without knowing the species and then engage my brain to select the correct bird and instantly know if I am correct.
- On a typical audio CD of bird sounds, there are approximately 60 different species. The more I listen and study, the better I became at recognizing species and their sounds. Or so I thought.
- Since the CD plays the exact same recordings in the exact same order every single time, I’m not sure if I am actually learning bird sounds or just memorizing the order. As soon as Northern Cardinal plays, I know American Goldfinch is coming next before the sound is played. This creates problems. Brains are inherently lazy. Knowing the upcoming answer prevents it from learning the material. (As I’m writing this, I guess I could have easily hit the “Random” button on my CD player!! 🙂 )
Luckily, I have been using a new app and software that has solved my above complaints and has made learning bird sounds fun!
Technology. Whether you love or hate it, there’s no denying it is changing every industry and hobby. Bird watching is obviously no exception and Larkwire is just another example. They are a software company that’s main focus is birds and this is proven by their team, who are all very involved in conversation and birding. I really like that 10% of their sales go directly to support conservation efforts.
To put it simply, Larkwire has made learning bird songs fun through gamification.
What is Gamification?
- Playing games is fun and studying is not. Most people I know would agree with that statement. But, what if you could combine playing a game along with learning a new skill or hobby? This is the concept of gamification. Teachers have found that by turning a subject into a game that measures progress and keeps score, students are much more likely to keep playing and therefore learn!
- For example:
The days of listening to track after track of audio in my car are over! And I could not be happier. Larkwire has taken the gamification concept and applied it to learning bird sounds. They created an extremely addicting game that can be accessed anywhere.
- I prefer to play as an app on my phone or iPad:
- Unfortunately, Larkwire is only available as an app for Apple products in the iTunes store, not on Google Play.
- Don’t have an iPhone or iPad? Larkwire can also be played on their website.
5 Reason’s Why I Love Using Larkwire:
- Finally there is a way to learn bird sounds that doesn’t make me want to poke my eyes out! I can’t emphasize this point enough. By turning learning bird sounds into a game, I’m excited to sit down and play, which means that I am learning.
2. Challenge’s and Uses My Whole Brain:
- Most techniques to learn bird sounds is just memorization by listening to endless tracks. This does not keep my attention nor engage my brain.
- Larkwire changes this by playing unknown bird sounds to the user and the correct bird must be selected or matched, all while playing a fun game. This style and technique keeps my attention and engages my brain in ways that straight memorization could never accomplish. My brain doesn’t get bored after 5 minutes and I’m still paying attention, trying to hear the small variations between challenging birds.
3. Measure’s Progress and Progression:
- Larkwire recognizes that some birds are much easier to learn than others. As you hear different species and groups, it will move on to new species and keeps track of what you have already seen and learned. Having trouble with certain species? It has the ability to make your own unique playlist.
- There are 4 different game levels (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Master). This relates to the amount of birds that are shown.
- For example, on Beginner only 31 bird sounds are shown and can be larned. By going up to intermediate, there are now 130 sounds. (I’m using the Eastern/Central Songpack)
- Instead of just learning bird sounds in my car or in front of a computer, I can access Larkwire everywhere and anytime! I have the app downloaded onto my iPhone and my iPad and I can play whenever I have a spare minute.
- Whether I’m sitting in the lobby at the doctor’s office, waiting in line at Starbucks, or in the bathroom (Ok, maybe not here, some people think it’s weird to hear bird sounds coming from the stall???) I am able to master bird sounds!
5. The Amount of Birds:
- Larkwire has two separate apps. Their flagship product is Land Birds of North America. It currently includes 344 species, 394 calls and 1670 recordings. Their other product is Water Birds of North America, which has 135 species, 253 calls and 857 recordings.
- Between both apps, there are almost 500 North American species to be learned. Wow!!
- I want to put this in perspective. The first birding CD that I used was by Stan Tekiela and was part of his “Birds of Ohio Field Guide.” That audio CD contained a little over 100 birds on multiple CD’s. Now I have over 5x the species on an interactive game that is an app on my phone. It still blows me away!
In this section, I am going to provide instructions and screenshots on how to get started and use Larkwire. I will be using the Land Birds of North America app for my iPhone.
1. Choosing Your Settings:
A nice feature of Larkwire is it can be customized to the birds that I want to hear and learn. I recommend reviewing the “Settings” button the first time the app is opened and making a few selections.
After tapping the Settings icon above, the screen below will appear with many different options:
A : Game Level
- This selection is important! It determines the amount and types of birds that are shown during the game.
- For example, on Beginner (Eastern/Central songpack) only 31 bird sounds are displayed. Intermediate has 130, Master has 264.
- It also seems to make the game harder be showing more similar sounding birds together. In Beginner mode, the contrast between the birds that I have to choose from is much greater then when I play on Master or Advanced.
B: Game Type
- This determines how the birds are displayed during the game. Just leave it on “Mixed” and Larkwire will decide how the birds are presented.
- Gallery: When started, the game will default to this mode. Gallery is great to learn the differences between songs. It will play a sound and then the user must select between the 4 available choices.
- Field: This is designed to practice recall of each sound. The system will gradually switch the user from Gallery to Field as more sounds are learned. To really master bird sounds, Larkwire recommends using the Field game because it forces you to recall each species and gradually merges more groups together.
- During Field mode, a song will be played and then the user must select the correct bird, no options are given.
- For a great description of the differences between Gallery and Field, check out this page from the Larkwire site.
C: Choose Songpacks
- What birds do you want to learn? As mentioned earlier, there are a total of 344 species that can be learned. These can be filtered by which Songpack you select.
- For example, I live in Ohio so I want to hear birds in the Eastern/Central region. I plan on taking a trip out West later this year and can easily switch my Songpack to learn these birds.
- The Basics Songpack just has the most common species seen across North America. Great for beginners!
- D: Choose Playlist
- Larkwire has an awesome feature which lets the user create their own Playlist based on the birds that they want to learn. See the section Creating a Playlist below to see how to do this.
E: Tips Mode and Recommendations
- Until you have learned how to play Larkwire and mastered the navigation, leave both of these “On.” As the game is played, little pop up boxes appear that advise what to do next or ways to maximize your playing experience. Once you have played a few times, it’s easy to switch both of these to “Off.” You will know when they are no longer needed!
2. Playing the Game and Learning Bird Sounds!
After making sure the Settings are correct, it’s time to start playing!!
Below is an example of playing Larkwire in “Gallery” mode.
As the user progresses through Larkwire, the game will switch from this “Gallery” style to what is called “Field”. The main difference is that in “Field”, after a sound is played the game does not give any birds as options, your selection must come just from memory and skill!
- Larkwire calls each display of 4 birds a gallery. Once the Start button is pressed, a sound is played. The goal is to select the correct bird out of the 4 that are shown.
- Every time a correct choice is selected, then a small green bird icon appears. The goal is to get 5 of these icons for each bird. Once that happens, the gallery is completed and we move on to the next gallery.
- Every time an incorrect bird is selected, BOTH the bird that was selected and the bird sound that was actually played will have ALL of their green birds taken away and have to start over!! Be careful when making your choices!
3. Creating and Using a Playlist:
As mentioned previously, a feature that I really like about Larkwire is the total amount of species that can be learned. (344 for Land Birds, 135 for Water Birds)
A problem arises though. That is a lot of birds!! Especially if your goal is to just learn the common birds that come to your yard or the birds that migrate during the summer. Or what if you just want to learn sparrows or warblers or hawks?
Luckily, Larkwire has a simple solution for this problem. Just create your own playlist!!
When a new playlist is created, it gives the ability to select EXACTLY what birds that will appear during the game. Here are some idea’s of different playlists that might be useful:
- Backyard birds
- Winter or summer birds
- A playlist of your most challenging birds
- Birds that may be seen on your next vacation
- Specific groups or families (Song birds, warblers, ducks etc)
Step by step instructions to create a playlist:
Great! We have created our first playlist, now how do we use it?
Look above under the section above Choosing Your Settings, there was a spot in the “Settings” tab called “Choose playlist” and it was blank. Once a playlist has been created, it will appear and can be selected. See below:
Recommendations for Larkwire:
- More Songpacks: It sure would be nice to add more songpacks instead of just North America. I’m thinking Europe at minimum, and then add in other birding hot spots like Costa Rica etc.
- Currently, Larkwire is only available as an app for Apple products through the iTunes store. Only about 50% of people have iPhones, unfortunately Larkwire excludes everyone that does not own one. For those that don’t own an Apple product, Larkwire can be played on their website.
- Landscape View: This is a small complaint, but while using the app on my phone it only lets me view it on landscape mode. The app view does not rotate if I am holding my phone in the upright view. I’m sure there are software and development reasons for this and it’s not a huge deal, but worth noting!
Purchase and Download:
- The app is only available through the iTunes store, which means it can only be downloaded to Apple products. (iPhone or iPad) Larkwire has two separate products that each feature different birds.
Resources and Help:
My goal was to share what I have been enjoying with Larkwire and give a glimpse of the user face and how to get started. Here are a few links to learn more:
I know that I am having a lot of fun progressing through Larkwire. I would love to hear your experience and what you have found?
Also, please recommend any other birding apps, software or tools that you are using to improve your bird watching skills!
Thanks and happy birding!