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6 resources that can help you identify birds by their sounds, appearance

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Each spring I wake to the sound of a bird purring in my neighbor’s trees. Now, I know birds don’t purr, but that’s the best word I could come up with to describe the sound. It wasn’t chirping. It didn’t seem like a flirty mating song. It was a little like a throaty, thrumming hoot. Could it be an owl? I finally asked a birding friend and felt foolish trying to describe the purr. “There’s an app for that,” she said.

Why hadn’t I thought of it? Of course there’s an app to help you identify birdcalls.

This spring, I was ready: The mystery of the hooting, purring bird was solved with an app — the Smart Bird ID. Dawn had barely broken when I woke to the sound of that thrumming hoot. I raced outside and discovered it’s a mourning dove; its call is frequently confused with that of an owl. Here are several apps worth your time. Note: Bird app choices are deeply personal: Give free apps a try before spending money on an upgrade.

Smart Bird ID

The Smart Bird ID app (free, but offers a $7.99 upgrade package), records and identifies birdcalls.

iBird Ultimate Guide to Birds

Advanced birders love this one, but it might be overwhelming for newcomers, not to mention the $19.99 price tag.

Keep this one on the back burner until you decide you need more than what free apps provide.

Bird Journal

This app allows you to make notes on butterflies and other wildlife you might encounter. The basic app offers plenty, but a $39.99-a-year subscription unlocks maps, graphics, species counts and more.

Audubon Bird Guide

This app is an encyclopedia of all things feathered, ideal for flipping through when you have downtime or want to decompress. Free, but consider a donation to the Audubon Society.


This free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helps you find local birds.

While most apps have some kind of function that allows you to keep track of birds you’ve spotted, many birding fans think eBird is the one app that can do it all. This app has gotten rave reviews from

Even if you don’t intend to chase sightings on your own, you’ll feel the excitement of watching others do it and then share photos. Also: Sign up for rare bird alerts.

Merlin Bird ID

This app, from Cornell Labs, is just fun. Spot a bird, answer five simple questions about it — size, coloring, etc. — and see if Merlin can figure it out.

My results have been mixed — sometimes I find the bird I’m looking for, sometimes I don’t — but it’s fun to see the possibilities.

The app is free, but consider a donation to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.



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