The 10 Best Apps for Identifying Bird Calls
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If you’re walking through the woods and hear, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” you’re probably listening to the distinctive cry of a barred owl. If, instead, you mistook it for someone wondering if you have a home chef, you might want to study up on ornithology. Here are 10 useful apps for identifying bird calls.
What Are the Best Free Bird Song Apps?
It’s a bird, it’s a plane — it’s a superciliated wren!
People have successfully recorded the calls of over 90% of the world’s bird species. How many of them can you identify? Whether you’re looking for birds in the wild or at your bird feeder, you’re bound to hear some interesting songs.
You can find a whole host of bird song apps for free, and many apps not only include song identification but also have photos, calls, and tips for identifying birds on your own. If you want to improve your bird identifcation skills, we’ve compiled a list of the best free bird song apps.
1. ChirpOMatic Bird Song ID — USA
This app is well worth the $4.99 price tag. First, use the record button to grab a snippet of birdsong. The app will analyze it and come up with a list of suggested birds it thinks may be singing. Then, you can compare your recording with the audio clips of similar-sounding species, sorting through them until you find the closest match.
The app stores a list of the birds you’ve recorded in the past. It also features a “Bird-Safe mode” designed to let you use the app without disturbing nesting birds. If you don’t have your phone with you, you can even use an Apple Watch to record birdsongs to identify later.
2. Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab
Merlin is one of the most popular iPhone apps in the world, ranking #14 on the app store as of 2023. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird database — the world’s largest catalog of bird sounds, sightings and pictures — powers the free app, named after the small falcon species.
You can use Merlin for identifying a bird by its calls, appearance or geographic location. Or, you can answer a few questions about the bird to help narrow down its identity. Simply upload photos or audio recordings to get an idea of which bird you encountered. One of the app’s best features is its global database, which allows you to identify species all over the world. It’s also available in several languages.
3. Song Sleuth Bird Song Analyzer
Identifying bird calls is Song Sleuth’s main function. Although it doesn’t have the stellar ratings of Merlin or ChirpOMatic, it does have a unique feature that many people find helpful — each birdsong is paired with a spectrogram that shows the rise and fall of musical notes. This visual cue makes it easier to see the patterns in a bird’s song. Additionally, the app can pair with Google Earth to pinpoint exactly where you heard a bird.
4. Smart Bird ID
Want to brush up on your ornithology skills? This app lets you complete quizzes to help you ace your next field ID assignment. Like the previous apps, Smart Bird ID also identifies species by their song or photograph. Thanks to the app’s sharing settings, you can even turn on alerts to get a notification when a specific bird is nearby. It recognizes over a thousand species in the U.S. and Canada, plus a few more from other countries.
5. Chirp! Bird Songs & Calls USA
This app features hundreds of bird calls from all over the continental U.S. Listen to different birdsongs by sorting them by state, groups of states, rarity or specific habitats. Take quizzes to test your memory for different calls. Or, create custom quizzes to help you distinguish between birdsongs you have a hard time telling apart.
You can also use the app for passive learning by watching slideshows of birds paired with their respective calls. Sort birds by their song style to compare species with lower-pitched songs or those that hoot.
6. Audubon Bird Guide
Featuring over eight hours of birdsongs, this free field guide teaches you the calls of more than 800 North American species. Its bird identification features are limited compared to other apps, but Audubon Bird Guide still allows you to enter a few key details about the bird you saw to narrow down what it was. It lets you record every bird you’ve encountered and stores a list of all your sightings.
7. iBird Pro Guide to Birds
This field guide contains over 4,000 birdsongs to help you confirm which bird you encountered. iBird Pro features range maps, photos and illustrations for each species. It helps you distinguish between male, female and juvenile birds as well as what they look like in flight. The app uses a neural network that allows it to identify birds from photos. It also works offline.
Using artificial intelligence and neural networks, BirdNET recognizes around 3,000 of the most common North American and European bird species. Use your phone to record an audio clip, then upload it to get an idea of which species you heard. The app saves the file so you can refer back to it at any time.
9. Larkwire — Learn Bird ID
Larkwire is a game-based app that teaches you to identify North American birds. Learn everything from plumage to calls, taking quizzes based on where birds live and whether they’re land birds or waterfowl. You get a one-week free trial, after which you can either pay $24.99 per year for a single course or $44.99 per year to unlock all the courses. It’s great for beginners and advanced birders alike.
10. Picture Bird: Birds Identifier
Take a photo or record an audio clip of a bird, and Picture Bird will try to identify it for you by comparing it to millions of photos and sounds in its database. The app uses machine deep learning technology to recognize over ten thousand bird species. It features a detailed encyclopedia of bird facts including birds’ preferred habitats, feeding habits, distribution and calls.
Identifying Bird Calls With Ease
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder, there are numerous apps that specialize in identifying bird calls. Some operate like Soundhound or Shazam — simply hold up your phone and record the call to identify it. Others contain databases of sounds to let you hone your skills and study on your own time. Thankfully, many of the apps work offline so you can take them with you into the field. Happy birding!
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.