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My seven favorite birding apps - What are the best birdwatching apps?

Hear ye, hear ye!

a merlin falcon is dressed up like a wizard with a hat and staff
Is this what the Merlin app was named after? Probably.

I hereby declare this list to be the ultimate list of birding apps! So sayeth the Head Flocker! Let the praises of this list be shared throughout the lands (social media)!

For those in need of future declarations of bird-related knowledge, I cordially invite thee to the Royal Flock!

Note: I do not receive any commissions for promoting any of these apps, nor did any of these entities pay me to include them in the list. These are the apps I use on my mobile device.

Top Birding App: Merlin Bird ID

Behold! The greatest (and most mystical) of the bird apps: Merlin Bird ID!

a man in a safari hat holds a phone with the merlin app homescreen displayed
I'm not ALWAYS this excited to open the Merlin app. Just usually.

Ah, my fellow feather enthusiasts! From the scholars, warlocks, and sorceresses of the fabled Cornell, lay thine eyes upon the ultimate birding app: Merlin, the wizard of avian apps! Let me regale you with a fanciful tale of why Merlin reigns supreme in the world of birdwatching.

First and foremost, Merlin is as wise as an owl and as nimble as a hummingbird regarding bird identification. No more squinting and guessing at distant blobs in the trees! Merlin's magical identification skills are so spot-on that even if the ancient Abominable Ape Man wore a feathery disguise, it would unmask the fabled creature with ease. Though, for distant blobs, this worldly magical identification may only work as well as a square wheel. Good photos are necessary to maximize this feature.


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Merlin needs quality photos to use its ID feature!

a man in a pink hat and green shirt holds a bridge camera

But wait, there is more to this story! For the grand adventurer perplexed by a bird call that sounds like the village rooster being booted in the cloaca? Fear not! Merlin's audio recognition will bestow its most extraordinary gift of all, sound identification. Merlin can recognize most bird sounds as quickly as a sword through a milk maiden's freshly churned butter. While mishaps can occur, this feature can help point the most avid birder in the correct ID direction. Users can even maximize this feature with a quality microphone for mobile devices. Bird calls have never been less frustrating!

The ability to track one's list of observed birds is simple with Merlin if recording by a single bird at a time. For those wishing to record multiple new species as their birding journey begins, Merlin integrates with the all-mighty eBird, an app that wields data as a great and terrible weapon! Tracking a life list is simple on Merlin, which is a final stone in the stack, weighting Merlin as the champion.

In conclusion, dear watchers of the bird, the Merlin app is a whimsical yet powerful tool that caters to both serious and not-so-serious bird enthusiasts. No, it is no mystical sword thrown into your phone by a flowery tart. It does not endow thee with deific-bestowed power and control over any land or birds. But it is the birding app with the perfect balance of information and utility, and thy might find thyself chirping with joy upon every venture into the great outdoors. So, download Merlin today and let your birding adventures take flight with a sprinkle of magic!

Quick Overview of Merlin App

  • top-notch information

  • algorithm-powered bird ID tools

  • MASSIVE bird sound and photo library

  • covers most of the world

  • FREE

See, Merlin was a fairytale wizard from medieval times. So Merlin is like a wizard birding app. That's the joke. But now I must keep this joke going for the rest of the article. Gird thy loins for medieval jokes. Now I just need to find a jester's hat...

Second best birding app: Sibley Guide

Lo! Lord Sibley's app rises from the depths as the second-best birding app! Indeed, this powerful birding boon requires a twenty-shilling homage to Lord Sibley, but thy cannot put a price on birds (due to the MBTA). (Translation: the app costs $20.)

a man in a green shirt and safari hat looks at a phone
Your eyes will pop at this artwork!

All hail He Who Paints, the Swinger of the Brush, the Unobstructed Observer. David Sibley. The essence of the Sibley bird app (ANDROID), the runner-up on the birding app podium, comes from David Sibley's thorough, in-depth, and fantastical artwork and attention to detail! This app may not have the grandiose enchantments of Merlin, but it is no ordinary feathered underdog either. Let me quill out mine own thoughts on why the Sibley app earns the title of the second-best birding app.

First, Sibley may not have Merlin's wizardry, but it still has some magic tricks up its avian-themed sleeves. With its vast collection of bird illustrations, you can marvel at birds in all their artistic glory. Sure, some birds might look like they are posing for a Renaissance painting, and you might wonder if these avian creatures have taken up voguing as a side hustle. But the artistry of Sibley captures and displays birds in a fashion that many photos cannot.

What Sibley lacks in bird call identification sorcery, it compensates with its library of over 2,700 bird sounds. This library is only second to the Merlin library, which utilizes Cornell's Macaulay Library. Of course, coming in second in the sound feature, and lacking the sound ID feature, is why Sibely cannot oust Merlin from its well-seated position.


Or just purchase the book. That also works.

a man in a pink hat holds a sibley guide to birds

Sibley hosts a method for those wishing to track their lifetime bird sightings. It is not as enhanced as Merlin's, nor does it sync with eBird, but the app still maintains a strong list-building component that all birders may find valuable.

In conclusion, the Sibley bird app might not have the enchanting prowess of Merlin, but it is an artistic, entertaining, and educational second-in-command. With its premium bird illustrations, quality bird calls, and helpful list-building abilities, Sibley will have you squawking like a happy crow on a sunny day. Embrace the second-best; embrace Sibley!

You can also just purchase the paperback version of Sibley, but it is not as frequently updated and possesses less information than the app.

Quick Overview of Sibley App

  • fantastic bird artwork

  • points out the most useful marks

  • 2,700+ bird sounds

  • best for beginners learning

  • more in-depth information than physical guide

  • $20 cost

Third best birding app: iBird Pro

Lords, ladies, serfs, and stringers! Gather ye 'round one final time for the feathered bronze medalist in the avian app grand joust: the iBird Pro Guide to Birds!

a man in a green shirt and safari hat holds a phone displaying the iBird Pro app
Thumbs up for my third recommended app, iBird Pro.

While it may not have the wizardry of Merlin or the artistry of Sibley, iBird has its own quirky, bird-brained allure that lands it firmly on the third step of the podium. However, be warned. A continuous penance of 99 pence each month is required for these services. (The app costs $0.99 per month as a subscription.)

iBird may not be a magical oracle, but it has some tech-savvy tricks up its feathery sleeves. With its sleek interface, you'll navigate through the world of birding like a penguin sliding on ice. It is so intuitive that even a technophobic toucan could handle it with ease!

While it is no Merlin, iBird Pro does have an add-on feature called "Bird Photo Sleuth." This feature attempts to do what Merlin does best, identify a bird from a photo. Can it stand up to the all-powerful Merlin? No. Does it cost an extra TEN shillings? Yes. (The add-on is an additional one-time purchase of $9.99) This combination is one reason this app places third on this list. Increased costs for lesser abilities are rarely seen in the stars for the budget-minded birdwatcher.

But the pièce de résistance of iBird's charms lies in its "Bird-themed Stickers" collection. Want to impress your friends with bird-based emojis? iBird has got you covered! Send your friends texts with adorable bird stickers that say, "I'm talon-ted," "You're tweet-tastic," or "Owl always love you." Warning: excessive use of stickers may lead to your friends questioning your sanity.


Pair your new app with some quality Nikon nockies!

a pair of binoculars sits on a table

While iBird may not have karaoke bird calls like Merlin or bird-themed stickers like Sibley, it boasts a "Birds Around Me" feature. Embrace your inner detective and find out what feathered neighbors are lurking nearby. Prepare yourself for surprise encounters with birds in the most unexpected places – like finding a hungry Bald Eagle in your neighbor's cat-infested backyard.

In conclusion, while iBird Pro Guide to Birds may not have the top podium spot, it is a delightfully tech-savvy and entertaining app for birdwatching. With its user-friendly interface, ample artwork and photos, and endless scrolls of facts, iBird will have you enjoying the wonders of the avian world in a light-hearted and playful manner. So spread your wings and clutch tightly to the bronze with iBird!

Quick Overview of iBird Pro App

  • combination art + photos

  • MANY extra facts

  • healthy sound library

  • subscription-based

  • $0.99/month

Notable Mention Bird Apps

Trumpets! Make way! The fool cometh with three more applications specific to the feathered fowls!

Raptor ID

For the stern-faced, ever-focused raptor seekers, I (the fool) offer the Raptor ID App by Hawkwatch International as one of my favorite mobile magic brick (phone) applications. If this app covered more birds, it would crack the suggestions mentioned above. But there is nothing finer than this application (at this time) for raptor identification, like the unyielding flanks of a mighty steed. The information and images are from one of the top raptor minds that have ever traversed this earth (which we know is round).

a man has a stern face while holding a phone
This is my raptor face.

This identification guide places raptors at various realistic angles, displays birds of all ages, and shows most similar species in helpful images for comparison. This boon of an app adds a unique element that many other bird apps neglect, video. Videos of raptors proffer the behaviors of raptors on the move, aiding in identification via behavior. As a final boon, this app is FREE.

eBird App

The spectacled, bird-loving quantifiers will appreciate this following recommendation. The eBird app is a place to submit and retrieve bird sightings across all the lands! This app does not do well to help identify a bird, but it communicates efficiently with Merlin (by messenger pigeon). When a database articulates with a powerful mage, it is a recipe for renowned birding!

Audubon App

For my final jest, I present to thee the Audubon app. There is nothing I could declare as amiss with this bird application. Instead, it falls to the end of my missive as the above bird programs are merely more potent. While this app taps into eBird data as a sapsucker does sugaring unto a tree (gets the sap to come out), using the eBird app is simply the better way to go about sugaring bird sightings.

a man holds a phone while shrugging
Is this the last recommended app? Who knows! (I know. It is not.)

Audubon's app has splendid photos and sumptuous information but is limited in its more technical help and bird audio. Identification tips are limited, and many of the details feel like they are trapped behind an email wall.

A new idea for a birding app: bird guide eBooks on Kindle

Want to feel like a mighty hero of yore? Pack ALL your field guides into a single app by using the Kindle app, then purchase your favorite field guides as ebooks. Suddenly, you have every reference, guide, and obscure bit of information on birds at your fingertips. Shelves too full? Kindle. Pockets too small? Kindle. Fire gone out? Kindle.

These ebooks will not function EXACTLY the same as a traditional app, but they require no subscriptions; they will always be compatible with your device(s) and are accessible from anywhere you can get your Kindle account. This is the easiest way I have found to have the best reference material, no matter where I am located. New birds, new states, new countries. I can keep everything in my pocket, and I can access them without service. It is a game changer.

Quick overview of eBook bird guides

  • more options

  • references AND field guides available

  • no connection needed

  • ebooks often cheaper than physical guides

  • does NOT allow for list keeping

  • MANY options


If you would rather just carry ALL your guides, you will need a birding pack.


Harken to me!

And thus, we conclude our journey through the avian realms with this esteemed compilation - the ultimate list of birding apps! So proclaims the Head Flocker! Let the accolades of this list resonate far and wide across the digital expanse (social media)! Happy birding, fellow enthusiasts!

That means the list has ended, and you can stop reading. I would also suggest wiping since you probably read this while on the toilet at work. People really need to find a better time to read Flocking Around.


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