Spotting birds can be tough, especially when you are looking for a specific species. This is made even more difficult when the species you are hoping to spot is critically endangered in your location and may not even be there. Our Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Biologist, Helmi Hess, has a few favourite apps that she uses on a daily basis while in the field, to make things just a little bit easier.

These top 5 apps can help you find birding locations, spot birds, identify them by sight and sound, and even connect with your local birding community to help you learn from others! Some are also useful to help you learn more about the habitats around the birds, including the plants, insects, landscape and weather. Full descriptions for each of the apps are available through the links provided.

Though we encourage everyone to discover and enjoy the world around them, we must all remember to do so with the utmost respect for wildlife, the people around us and ourselves. Birds need space to feel safe when humans approach. The amount of space required for a bird to continue its normal behaviour –undisturbed– is different for each species. If you notice any agitated behaviour (constant glancing around or towards you, dive bombing, alarm calling, hissing etc.), move away from the bird and its territory.  Stay on the trail to avoid crushing plants, but also because many birds and animals nest on the ground in hidden places. Please do not trespass on private property or enter non-public areas of conservation lands or parks. The perfect photo is not worth a nest being abandoned, a predator being tipped off, or a natural area being closed off to future human use.

Now get out there, learn about some birds and share your knowledge!

Merlin FREE

I use Merlin mostly to identify songs of birds that I can hear but not see. My visual ID skills far exceed my auditory skills, mostly because I am usually focused on one species of bird for either research or conservation purposes. In the Carden Alvar (where I am stationed), I am very familiar with the grassland birds that share habitat with loggerhead shrikes (eastern meadowlark, savannah sparrow, bobolink, upland sandpiper, killdeer, grasshopper sparrow etc.), but will get thrown off by edge species when I am close to a forested or riparian area.  This is when Merlin comes in the most handy! I just like to remind everyone to use caution when relying on the app to identify bird sounds, because birds can often be missed or misidentified. The sound ID application is best used for learning songs rather than being solely relied upon.

Things I love about this app:

  • relatively accurate real-time bird sound ID
  • photos of birds for visual ID rather than illustrations
  • timing charts for each species to determine best months for viewing

eBird FREE

eBird is an excellent citizen science database of the locations people have seen birds of all species. It relies on people reporting checklists of species they observe, which can include more detailed information such as photos, behaviour and specific location. It is used by hundreds of thousands of birders worldwide, which means there is a lot of information to draw from! The app prides itself on being a free resource that “helps you keep track of your birding activity, while making your data openly available for scientific research, education, and conservation.” For myself and the shrike program, this is incredibly useful information to help us monitor as many wild shrikes as possible. If you see a shrike, it can be reported on eBird, Discord, or preferably directly to WPC by email at

Things I love about this app:

  • provides up-to-date locations of birds from fellow birders
  • everyone can contribute to citizen science
  • contributing helps you become part of the bird community

*please follow app community guidelines which restrict posting the exact location of sensitive bird species!

Discord FREE

I use Discord in much the same way as eBird. Though the app is not designed exclusively for birds, there are many channels dedicated to birds, such as The Bird Nest, Birding International and Ontario Bird Alert. Discord is a discussion group, reminiscent of Reddit, that connects your local community on a common topic. I use Ontario Bird Alert, which has threads for different counties in Ontario, separated into rare bird alerts and chats. These are interactive venues that can go into much more detail than eBird. Find a server for your area of interest!

What I love about the app:

  • provides up-to-date locations of birds, photos, behavioural information, weather updates, road closures etc. from fellow birders
  • can be used for ID help from community members
  • great place to ask questions and make connections

*please follow app community guidelines which restrict posting the exact location of sensitive bird species!

An announcement from Garth Riley in the Ontario Bird Alerts server (05/28/2023):

“Hello everyone, as another spring migration comes to a close and as breeding bird surveys have begun, we want to suggest to our members that they seriously consider the circumstances before posting locations of potential breeding birds and especially those which are species at risk in Ontario or Canada. Your understanding and cooperation is appreciated.”

iNaturalist FREE

Like eBird, this is a citizen science database that can be used to keep track of your observations, crowdsource identifications, learn about nature (more than just birds!), contribute to research efforts and connect with your community. Being out exploring natural areas all day every day, I come across all sorts of flora and fauna that I am not familiar with. The Carden Alvar is a unique geological area where the layer of topsoil is very thin over a bedrock of limestones. This means that the plants, insects and other animals that inhabit the area are equally as unique, and I often have not seen them anywhere else! iNaturalist helps me learn about the habitat around the loggerhead shrikes and get a better understanding of their needs.

What I love about the app:

  • allows you to connect with specialists in different areas than your own area of expertise
  • can be used for ID help from community members
  • you can organize community events with other naturalists to add to the observations seen in your location

Google Earth/Maps FREE (paid version of Earth optional)

Most people are familiar with these apps for general navigation. I use these apps constantly to save locations of birds or plants for future use, or to share locations with other researchers. I always have my maps set to Satellite Mode so that I have an accurate impression of the habitat around me, down to each tree and bush. This can be useful to assess a habitat type before making a trip out to a location in hopes of spotting a bird. For example, loggerhead shrikes require large swaths of native grasslands with just enough perching, nesting and impaling sites (usually hawthorns or barbed wire). These can be searched for from a bird’s eye view using Google Earth or Google Maps.

Things I love about these apps:

  • you can drop pins to save and share locations of birds seen
  • use Satellite Mode to look at habitat types beforehand (find less frequently visited locations)
  • always good for navigation so that you can find your way back if you get lost in the field!

Honourable Mentions:

Google Lens FREE

  • faster identification of content in photos than iNaturalist
  • very user-friendly
  • exercise caution with identification! Use your best judgement and confirm all IDs before relying on them

Sibley Bird Guide $24.99 CA

  • location can be set to narrow down species list
  • banding codes are provided (eg. LOSH for loggerhead shrike)
  • information on status, habitat, range and sounds of the bird

AllTrails FREE (paid version optional)

  • a good way to find trails near you from which to go birding
  • crowdsourced photos of flora/fauna seen on trails
  • plenty of trail reviews to ensure the trail is suitable in current conditions

Wunderground FREE

  • very accurate weather data and radar maps
  • use before heading into the field, as birds are often difficult to spot in rain/fog, extreme heat or cold, high winds etc.

Did we miss any of your favourite birding apps? Let us know!

Helmi Hess

Research Biologist – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery

Helmi joined the WPC loggerhead shrike team in 2023 from a background in wildlife biology, rehabilitation and education. She has worked in grassland and aquatic avian research across Canada since 2015, with species including savannah sparrows, chestnut-collared longspurs and American dippers. Helmi has co-authored peer-reviewed papers in both avian physiology through the University of Guelph and in ecotoxicology through the University of British Columbia.

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