If you like to attract birds to your yard with nesting boxes and feeders, you're not alone. An estimated 55 million Americans are into bird-watching, and many are discovering that smartphones offer a new relationship with their avian friends.
For the plugged-in bird person, there are dozens of apps available, said Chris Wood of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. But a new generation of apps is allowing greater interactivity and customization and can help serious birders plan trips in search of a species.
"Some of the first ones to come out basically took the same kinds of information you could get in a field guide and put it in digital form. Now there's a movement toward much more exciting things," Mr. Wood said. He runs the eBird project, a vast database of current and historical bird sightings by citizen scientists. Vetted for accuracy by a network of ornithologists and updated frequently, it features in a couple of apps, including BirdsEye ($19.99, iPhone), which is favored by experienced birders who travel to view birds. Many maintain a "life list" of observed birds. The longer you are a birder, the harder it is to find species you haven't already seen. BirdsEye calls itself "the ultimate bird finder for the iPhone."
"One of the things that makes expert birders expert is the ability to calculate the probability of a species showing up at that date and location," said Mr. Wood, lauding eBird's utility.
BirdsEye's developer David Bellsaid the app helps novices because it narrows the range of species known to be in a given locale.
For beginners and intermediate birders, the National Audubon Society's app ($14.99, IOS, $2.99 Android) functions as a field guide, has a crowd sourcing feature, and also links to eBird. It was developed by Green Mountain Digital in Woodstock, Vt. The company has created other Audubon guides for such things as butterflies, wildflowers and trees, "but the birding app is by far the most popular," said David Tyler, director of product development.
Another popular app is the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America, which features 813 bird species and beginner-friendly features that identify and compare birds by such things as size and plumage. The app is $19.99, although a sample app with 30 species is available for free.