Birding and iOS are a natural marriage of technology to an old-as-the-hills way to experience nature. As an enthusiastic backyard birder — you won’t find me crouching, motionless in a field hoping to spy a Summer Tanager — I’m always looking for ways to learn more about the birds I see most often at my feeder and in the ash trees that border my yard. I can hear the jarring call of the Pileated Woodpecker at this very minute.
But not every birdsong is as distinctive as the Pileated Woodpecker, and that’s where Larkwire comes in. The developer’s series of birding apps offers avian fans at all skill levels an education in bird song identification. Identifying birds by sound is a central component to successful birding, but it’s difficult to practice. Larkwire Backyard Birder: Land Birds of North America, Songs & Essential Calls lets a user play a game where she listens to bird songs and then identifies the bird associated with each bird.
Upon opening Backyard Birder for the first time, Larkwire asks for your location, then uses it to load birds that live in your region.
The main screen is divided into three sections: Play, Help & Info, and Search & Browse. Start by going to Help, then tap Articles. Tap Getting the Most Out of Larkwire: The Basics, and a useful list of tips will open in Safari. There is an article on Advanced Listening Skills as well, but, seriously, it’s not for beginners.
In Gallery Mode the app divides birds into groups based on how the songs sound (e.g. clear-toned, songs with repeated notes, simple songs). As the bird song plays the user taps the bird who is singing.
Using Larkwire for a few days showed me just how challenging birding could be. I could not, for example, reliably distinguish a Grackle from an Eastern Phoebe. Maybe I’ve been hearing Phoebes in the trees for months and dismissed them as Grackles!
Rather than becoming frustrated, I found the process of discerning the songs to be intriguing and even relaxing. With Larkwire I could listen to the birds sing anywhere. When spring comes I hope to have a better understanding of the birds who populate my neighborhood.
I have been playing only in Gallery game mode, though I expect that once I master enough songs, Larkwire will start challenging me in Field mode. According to Larkwire, “Gallery is for learning to hear the differences between songs and the Field is for practicing recall.”
Download Larkwire Backyard Birder: Land Birds of North America, Songs & Essential Calls for iPad and iPhone/iPod touch from the App Store for $0.99. The developer also offers a free version, Larkwire Basics, as well as a range of other choices to educate more advanced birders.
What I liked: Backyard Birder is a new kind of app. Rather than just instructing bird fans on how to identify birds we can see, it helps users become better listeners. Larkwire also gives 10 percent of its revenues to benefit conservation efforts.
What I didn’t like: Navigating the app was not as intuitive as I would have liked. I found the interface confusing for a number of reasons. There are two game modes (Gallery and Field) for example, but I didn’t know that until I went into settings or help.
To buy or not to buy: Anyone who wants to play ‘name that bird’ while raking leaves in the yard this fall (or spending time outside in any season) will love Larkwire Backyard Birder.
- App Name: Larkwire Backyard Birder: Land Birds of North America, Songs & Essential Calls
- Version Reviewed: 1.0
- Category: Education
- Developer: Larkwire
- Price: $0.99