Many years ago, I took a 400 level college course in ornithology. I figured it would be an easy extension of my love for birds, and the outdoors. While the course was not easy, and much to be learned about these fascinating creatures, there was at least one major takeaway- maintaining an accurate “lifelist” or list of bird species sighted and identified.
Not too long ago, my family enjoyed watching “The Big Year.” Its an entertaining movie on the competition of three birdwatchers seeking the title of the most species sighted in one year. I wondered how many I could find in one year…
And with that, I decided to abandon my almost 300 strong list, to start anew. With all the traveling, and opportunities to be among the American fly-ways during migrations, it seemed like a achievable, exciting challenge. Could I get at least 150 in one year, without specifically going birdwatching? Could it be achieved as a casual traveling observer? Time to find out!
I did want to make some adaptations to this endeavor. No books, or paper field guides. No paper lists. If I discovered a species out of place, or rare, could I report it without making a call, or visiting social media? Tough expectations for birdwatchers!
I began doing some research on possible applications. Then testing and evaluation for a few months. Gradually, I narrowed my choices down to possibly the finest options available from my needs, and likely they will suit yours as well.
Far and away, the best app for bird identification within the United States was created by Cornell University. Any birder will appreciate the value of this product coming from Cornell, as it is highly regarded in avian research.
The app is called Merlin. Its a wizard of sorts, that is useful to bird watchers of any skill. While its database is limited to a total of about 400 species, that’s more than most folks will find in a lifetime, so its robust enough for many users.
Watch this video for details on Merlin:
Now the app is easy to use, has photos, range data, and even audio, but to take full value of its features, you should probably download and install at least one region – which will take almost 200mb of storage.
The app allows you to verify which bird you identified, and that information is geotagged and anonymously sent back to Cornell, to assist them in updating flight patterns, reductions in species localities, etc. But it doesn’t allow you to keep a list for your own records. Hopefully this will change in the future. You can install Merlin here.
Since Merlin does not yet have a record feature to allow personal sightings to be kept in a file, I had to do much more trials on software that would work for my needs.
Ultimately, I decided on an app, that has worked wonderfully. It allows me to log a wide range of information with each sighting, geotag, and I can even export my list, which could be used to save, or submit to other organizations such as Audubon, who are always looking for sighting information.
My choice is Bird Jar.
Bird jar can be used worldwide, as it maintains a list of 10,000+ birds, which you can narrow to regions you travel if you wish. It also allows you to note the location, and details of a bird you cannot identify, so later, that information can be researched to make a positive ID.
You can download Bird Jar here.
Added value? Both apps are free!
I have been able to identify 120 species do date. All of them were confirmed through Merlin, and logged in Bird Jar. I hope that you will find value in these apps, as birdwatching can enhance travel to any destination. The species you will see just around a big city, or new state, will make your trip more enjoyable. And honestly – its more exciting than Pokemon Go.
Be sure to share your experience, or other information you might have on this topic. In the meantime, I have a few more birds to find!