Your field guide just became a lot more portable. And now it holds a lot more information.
Such an achievement is made possible through recent advances in touch-screen technology, the explosive popularity of mobile devices, and a clever bit of computer programming.
After the widely publicized and highly anticipated introductions of the iPhone and the iPod Touch, it was only a matter of time before we bird watchers had our own application-called an "app" by those of us too busy to use more than one syllable. Indeed, iBird Explorer from the Mitch Waite Group, the creators of the avian search engine whatbird.com, represents the realization of every bird watcher's dream-it has everything a bird watcher could ever want from a field guide, and it works with devices that fit neatly in a jeans pocket.
iBird contains all the information you would expect in your favorite field guide book-range maps, illustrations, photographs, and a text description of about 900 species of North American birds. Plus, most of the birds' sounds are available at the push of a button, so you can actually hear the calls of the birds in question, or use the sounds to lure a skulking bird out into view. It gives you a number of ways to search through the extensive catalog of bird info. It also lets you view more information about any particular bird by linking you to its entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
iBird has so many features that choosing a few to mention here is difficult. Perhaps the coolest feature is the ability to search for a bird based on your observations in the field. Imagine seeing a bird in a tree, but having no idea what it is. With iBird, you can narrow your choices down by giving the software some relevant information about the sighting-the color of the bird, the kind of habitat it's using, its shape, the kind of bill it has, and so on. iBird then gives you a scrolling list of the most likely possibilities, which you can quickly check against the bird in front of you. The whole process takes just seconds. It's like having a bird expert flip through a bulky field guide for you and point out the most likely matches!
The biggest drawback to iBird is that it requires an iPhone or iPod Touch (or a similar Windows Mobile device-see below) to use-these units will set you back a couple hundred dollars if you don't already own one. But for the millions of users already "iHooked," adding iBird is a no-brainer. If you have resisted the appeal of an iPhone or iPod Touch, iBird may give you the impetus to consider acquiring one.
iBird Plus (the full version of iBird) can be purchased and downloaded directly from the iTunes App Store on your iPhone or home computer-just search for "iBird." The application itself costs $19.99, and your purchase gives you a lifetime of free updates, so you'll always have access to the latest bird information.
Aside from the full version of the software, there are smaller and less expensive versions that cover five regions of North America and backyard birds. Visit www.ibirdexplorer.com for more information about these alternate versions-but the full version (iBird Plus) includes them all.
A similar program called Winged Explorer is available for Windows Mobile users. However, you should make sure to visit www.ibirdexplorer.com to view the list of compatible Windows-based mobile devices.
In a recent episode of the This Birding Life podcast, Bill Thompson, III interviews iBird creator Mitch Waite. Download episode #20, iBird and the Evolution of the Digital Field Guide >>
Jim Cirigliano is BWD's managing editor. He lives with his wife in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where he enjoys watching backyard birds together with his (indoor) cat.