Birders and naturalists have a plethora of options to enter their observation in the field on mobile devices. Having switched over from paper to mobile a few years ago, I have extensively used eBird in the past three years, but also I worked with other apps such as Bird Journal, ObsMapp and iGoTerra and recently Birder’s Diary Mobile. eBird was my main go to app for birds and iNaturalist for other nature observations. In addition to these apps several other apps are available from Google Play and iTunes that enable users to record observations in the field. This review will focus on six, free apps that birders (and naturalists) may want to try out. These applications are:
- Bird Journal
- Birder’s Diary Mobile
- ObsMapp (ties in with Observation.org)
iNaturalist is included in this review, although many birders are not likely to use it to store their avian observations. iNaturalist requires (or prefers) its users to attached photos with each observation. Many birders do take photos, but no to the extent that iNatrualist wants us to.
The table below provides an overview of the main features of all the six reviewed apps. Most apps support more than just birds and support different bird taxonomies and frequently provide life lists, access to species sightings and maps. Interesting features include:
- Bird Journal: All observations whether entered on the desktop or via the mobile app, will always be synced between both platforms
- Birder’s Diary mobile: Voice recognition for data entry and a vertical alphabetical index-scroll bar for quick jump to a species makes data entry very easy, especially for very long checklists
- eBird: With version 2.0 users must download “bird packs” for a region
- iNaturalist: In the field ID of all species (assuming you have an internet connection)
- iGoTerra: Search by banding code
- ObsMapp: On the fly, find interesting observations nearby
Several of these apps have been around for a few years and feature wise it shows. Bird Journal, iGoTerra and ObsMapp all provide ample advanced functions and allow users to record more than just a count or a comment. Sex, behavior, photos, photo comments, multimedia, etc. Obviously, this is not something all users would use for each observation, but the possibilities are there.
|Mobile||Bird Journal||Birder’s Diary||eBird||iGoTerra Pocket||Observation.org||iNaturalist|
|Cost||Free – with limitations||Free||Free||Free – with limitations||Free||Free|
|Premium $39.99 per year||eBird partner $8 per month and up||Standard
€ 1.92 / month
€ 4.75 / month
|Bird Taxonomy Lists|
|Clements 2018||Clements 2019||Clements 2019||Clements 2019||IOC 2019||Unknown|
|IOC 10/2019||IOC 2019|
|Other Taxonomic Lists||Many different most EU focused lists||Amphibians, butterflies for North America||N/A||Worldwide coverage of all living things||Worldwide coverage of all living things. Source of the taxonomy lists is unknown||Worldwide coverage of all living things|
|Outing with specific species location||Outing for specific location||birding outing for specific location||Outing with specific species location||Outing with specific species location||Outing with specific species location|
|Tax order sort||yes||yes||yes||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Alphabetical scroll bar||no||yes||no||no||no||n/a|
|Search by Name||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Offline /User Defined||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Hotspots||after initial setup||yes||yes||yes||yes||Special Projects|
|List per period||no||no||yes||yes||yes||no|
|with desktop application||yes||via email||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Species information||no||no||yes via Merlin||no||no||yes|
Once in the field the number of new species seen often decreases quickly. Both eBird and Birder Diary have the option to collapse your checklist to just species seen. This feature is very handy if new species are far and few in between. Having a short list of species to add new counts (just tap the screen) was very easy. eBird’s slight disadvantage is that you must tap the + sign on the left column to increase the count. With Birder’ Diary mobile, just click on the name. Having a larger area to increase the count is advantageous. After having worked with the apps indoors for a while, they were tested in the field. Running multiple apps at the same time (iNaturalist was omitted), the differences and ease of data entry were quickly noticeable. Doing basic data entry, just species and count, was easiest with Birder’s Diary mobile, eBird and ObsMapp. Particularly Birder’s Dairy Mobile alphabetical scroll bar made data entry easy. I think it saved time in the long run as it is handy to jump to a species with a single tap. Both eBird and ObsMapp worked well too as all pertinent information (species and count) are on the same screen. Bird Journal and iGoTerra both required more time to enter the observations and count as this information is on different screen.
A recently added and novel feature in Birder’s Diary mobile is voice recognition. Now this really is handy so you do not have to look at the screen and enter sightings while walking along.
A quick overview of the data entry features and ease of data entry is shown below.
|Mobile||Bird Journal||Birder’s Diary||eBird||iGoTerra Pocket||Observation.org||iNaturalist|
|Tap to increase count||no||yes||yes||no||yes||n/a|
|Ease of increasing count||not easy||very easy||very easy||easy||easy||not possible|
|Lat/long per sighting||yes||yes||no||yes||yes||yes|
|Attached & Upload Photos||no||no||no||no||yes||yes|
Bird Journal, Birder’s Diary, iGoTerra, ObsMapp and iNaturalist all have the capability to record the exact latitude/longitude for each observation. For the casual birder this may not be important, but when doing surveys of any kind this info will be of great value. However, it is fun to see where you saw, for example all Gray Catbirds during a walk on a map. These apps also allow you to link observations to a single location such as a park. In addition, Bird Journal, iGoTerra, ObsMapp allow the user to enter more specific information regarding each sighting of a species. It sets them apart from the other reviewed applications.
Bird Journal, Birder’s Diary, and eBird “filter” the checklists to a species location. With eBird this is done automatically, but you will need to set it manually in Bird Journal and Birder’s Diary. Bird Journal has the disadvantage that if you have not birded at a specific location, you will use a much longer checklist. Over time, this list will become be more specific for the location you bird. Birder’s Diary uses eBird and county level information for last week, past 3 month or full year to populate any taxonomy lists for a location.
After the birding trip was completed, all apps, except Birder’s Diary allow the user to upload data to a central database in the cloud for storage ans syncing. With Birder’s Diary you will email yourself and import the checklist into the desktop application.
Taping the screen
After various field tests, I was curious to know how many times I need to tap the screen to enter a count. In this test I determine how many times a user needs to interact with the screen on a mobile device to enter a species (Bald Eagle) for which 2 birds were observed. For all apps I start a checklist for the location you are birding; in other words, the taxonomies have been downloaded, GPS is on and has acquired satellites, lists have been filtered to the location and we are ready to enter observed birds. The table below shows that Birder’s Diary mobile and eBird required the fewest taps and iGoTerra the most.
Bald Eagle Tap Test
Typical Range for number of taps for other species
|This app uses a dial to increase the count. This is a bit cumbersome to use.
Also, included are 2 extra steps to close the observation window to return to the checklist.
Birder’s Diary Mobile
|Click B and the app jumps to all species starting with B. Depending on the font size you are 8 – 20 species are shown on the screen. These species require only 2 taps.|
|Type in BA and app lists BAEA as first species. In version two 8 species are shown on top of the lists so those would require only 2 taps|
|Includes a step to close the observation window. Using banding code cuts down on the interactions|
|Keeps track of your latest observations in a short pick list cutting down on the screen interactions|
If the pick list on the screen get too long, users need to scroll down, thus increasing the number of taps on the screen.
Given all the options for mobile data entry in the file, users have their pick of apps. The available apps are either location of species focused. In the field both the location checklist and the species approach work well. Testing showed that Birder’s Diary mobile, eBird and ObsMapp are among the easier applications to use. Birder’s Diary mobile, the new kid on the block, makes a strong case for basic and speedy data entry in the field for birds and other species. It’s recently added voice recognition feature gives it an edge over all other apps. For the more advanced globe trotting users wanting go beyond birds and add more details, iGoTerrra and ObsMapp are the leaders. Bird Journal’s user defined fields and seamless syncing with your desktop are a plus for this application.
PS eBird’s mobile app V2, reviewed here, is in some ways a step backwards from version 1.9. The need for bird packs, slow start up and required use of GPS haven’t done this app a favor.
Last Update 05/12/2020