Get a Hobby: Birdwatching, with apps

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A bird in the hand...

Apps are so great. Those little programs on your mobile phone -- inexpensive, fun, and sometimes even useful -- launch you into any number of worlds you want to find yourself. There are more than 245,000 apps in the Apple store alone. If you wished for a specific kind of app, it probably exists.

I'll be writing a lot about apps on this blog, predominantly those that have an educational bent. But today I want to write about bird-watching apps. The reason for that is to introduce a regularly appearing column called Get a Hobby, named after the book I wrote a few years ago that provides an overview of 101 hobbies. These posts will be for folks who we refer to as lifelong learners, those who are on the never-ending quest to learn more about the world around them.

Bird watching has come a long way from the time Charles Darwin began sketching species. Savvy birders use tech tools to help them identify and log their discoveries. You'll find four or five birding apps out there, but the most comprehensive seems to be the iBird series.

The free sampler (15 most popular birds) gives you a nice introduction to the subject that may reel you in to the wonderful world of birding, so that you might then graduate to the iBird Backyard ($4.99, 149 common backyard birds), iBird West ($9.99 covering most of the western states), as well as iBird North, South, Midwest, Canada. And of course, the mother of all apps the iBird Pro ($24.99, 924 birds).

Here's a review from a pro on the subject:

The system employs a tree of keywords to successively narrow in on a particular species. Choose a location, a habitat, a size, a shape, a few colors, crown pattern, wing shape, flight pattern…all easy to pick up in the field…and the program will filter down to the few birds that meet your criteria.


All in all I would highly recommend iBird in any of its editions for beginning and advanced birders. Especially if you know a iDevice toting beginning birder, gift them the Backyard edition. They will have a lot of fun with it, and it will teach them good habits right from the beginning.

The best part? You can play bird calls and songs from your phone, beckoning the feathered friends you've been longing to see. Now that's worth tweeting about.