We’re used to it. There’s an app for that — but not for Android. I suspect the gap is going to close now that Google’s platform occupies over half of the market. For the moment, the paucity of birding app options in the Market remains the case — but I’m crafty, and I’ve got some moves.
[UPDATE: Audubon Birds has added eBird-based bird-finding functionality to their app for Android since this article was originally posted.]
Bird-finding without BirdsEye: Chrome to Phone.
Install the plugin to your desktop’s Chrome browser, then install the app on your Droid from the Market. Both require your Google account information and a few seconds to set up. Both are free.
Cruise eBird on your desktop the night before you go birding. Once you get to a result set for whatever hotspot you’re dipping into, simply hit the Chrome to Browser button, and VOILA. That browser window will magically appear in your hand. Bookmark it, and refer to it liberally throughout the day. I imagine you could start a whole folder of such bookmarks for repeat use, provided the searches you’re saving have useful date ranges set.
Sure, it’s neither as feature-rich nor as elegant as BirdsEye, but you get the same basic information with far less greasy-fingered tapping, pinch-zooming and griping. Plus, the app has all kinds of non-birding uses: enjoy.
Learning bird songs without BirdJam: Larkwire
Crabbing about people who over-BirdJam at birds in the field aside, by all accounts it’s a great app for learning songs. But even people without a smartphone can take advantage of Larkwire to improve birding by ear skills.
Larkwire is a web app, which means two things. It runs in your browser, and you must have an internet connection, because it lives on the internet. There is of course, an iOS app for that, but at least we can have at it on the web. You do have to buy birdsong packages, and I was happy to do so.
It plays songs at you in different groups, and you match the song to the right bird image. It figures out what your weaknesses are and plays into them so you get better. It has 3 levels of difficulty, and the interface is super simple. The app is not ideal on a smartphone (data speed can be an issue, and it’s a little smushy in tiny browser windows), but for desktop use, I adore it. I’m using it heavily these days to train my ear for warbler season.
They blog pretty actively and are cranking out all kinds of extra guides and such – check it out: http://blog.larkwire.com.
After a year or so of birding with my robot friend, these are my top apps. All are free unless otherwise indicated.
The good: More illustrations than the actual paper field guide, includes sound files, side-by-side bird comparison is super hot.
The meh: Smart search is more fun than useful. Although there is listing capability in the app, it’s awkward from a workflow standpoint. I don’t want to go into each single entry and enter detailed notes about birds that I’ve seen in the past to get a tick on the app’s list. In a small screen, streamlining the initial population of the list is a hard barrier to my considering it as a serious field note / list keeper.
I still prefer paper, despite my digital fiddlings.
iBird: Currently on sale for $4.99!
The good: The actual text information per bird is more extensive than Sibley. Links to internet stuff (that you have to judge for yourself) like Flickr, Birdpedia. Similar species – with links to entries. Different set of sound files than Sibley.
The ok: The search offers a good Basic set of options that seems nice for beginners.
The meh: Again, the search is more fun than useful. No one seems to have mastered this interaction on a small screen yet. Also, the illustrations. I’m a Sibley snob and nothing is as good, ever. Sorry.
- BirdsEye Log ($19.99): Submits simple checklists directly to eBird – literally the sum total of functionality. A step in the positive direction from Cornell, but a steep price tag for what looks like a proof of concept. I’m hoping that as full BirdsEye functionality works its way onto the Droid, they give it to us early, Log-only buyers.
- US Birding Checklist: Ok enough as a quick and dirty life list logger.
- MapMyRide: An app cyclists share and swear by. Will it trump MyTracks?
- Tide tables.
Expect followup as the season ramps up.