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.
1. This spring, I was ready: The Smart Bird ID app (free, $7.99 upgrade package), which records and identifies birdcalls, was loaded on my iPhone. The mystery of the hooting, purring bird was solved last week. 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 other apps worth your time. (Bird app choices are deeply personal: Give free apps a try before spending money on an upgrade. All provide a soothing reprieve from scary headlines.)
2. Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Labs: This one 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. Free, but consider a donation to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
3. eBird from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Helps you find local birds. Free. 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.
4. Audubon Bird Guide: If you travel, look for bird apps that focus on your destination. (There’s a Birds of Central Park app, for example.) Otherwise, this app is an encyclopedia of all things feathered, ideal for flipping through when you have downtime or want to decompress. Free.
5. 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.