iPhone application from Audubon Guides helps name that bird

Ah, nature. It’s so full of whatchamacallits.

For many people, no labels are necessary when a flower catches the eye or a bird flits overhead. It could be a cuckoo or it could be a sparrow. It’s background.

For others, the problem isn’t lack of interest, but memory. By the time most of us are back home flipping through a bird book, our minds will have played tricks with the plumage. He is sure it was an oriole; she is just as sure it was a woodpecker.

A new iPhone application from Audubon Guides can settle the dispute. But before reading the obituary for printed guides, publishers should be assured this new app is no replacement for a good book, particularly the exquisitely illustrated and written works by David Sibley.


Beyond speed, the brilliance of the new North American birds phone app is the audio. For most entries, from albatross to wren-tit, you can listen to the bird calls. Listening to the audio of woodpeckers is much easier than figuring out what a print author means by a “low chup, and an excited zeeee chuppity chup.”

The phone photos are good, but unlike a good bird book, the app does not necessarily illustrate differences between sexes or between juvenile and adult, never mind providing under-wing perspectives.

Though the program might supplant field guides, which would you rather drop in a marsh: an iPhone or a paperback? The Audubon series that brought us the bird program also offers apps for mammals, trees and wildflowers for $9.99 each. Also available: regional and state apps that cost less, including a California wildflowers program for $4.99.

When an interesting bird flies by, I’ll use the Audubon phone app. If I see a bear, I’ll look it up later.


-- Emily Green