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New app is a fun, effective, addicting way to learn bird songs

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The clever logo for iKnowBirdSongs shows a Wilson’s Warbler perched on a treble clef.

I’ve often learned bird songs by following this tried-and-true advice:

When I hear an unfamiliar song or call, I chase it down to its source, identify the bird, and commit the sound to memory. (That is one of the points Jennifer Horton makes in the article Six Tips for Birding by Ear from our June 2012 issue.)

Still, I don’t claim to be an expert ear birder, and I’m always trying to improve. Now I’ve found a new way to learn. iKnowBirdSongs is an app for the iPhone that’s fun, addicting, and right up my alley.

It contains more than 500 sounds of 371 North American species, and the developers say more species will be included in future versions. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library provided the bird songs.

Each species is depicted on a card that includes a photo, a range map, and a brief description. Here is the Black-throated Blue Warbler card and the app’s list of species with similar songs.

The app is like a digital version of flash cards. Each species is featured on a card of sorts. It shows the bird’s name, a photo, a range map, and a few details about the species. Most cards include a “Similars” tab that takes you to a list of birds with similar songs. You can make customizable decks from pre-selected groups of birds by region, season, or family, or you can add species individually by tapping a plus symbol.

In addition, you can tell the app which songs you already know: Each song in a deck is tagged with an “S” for “study cards.” Once you’ve memorized the song, tap the “S” and it will change to an “M” for “mastered cards.” Songs tagged with “M” no longer appear in your study deck.

When you have selected a deck, tap either “Practice” or “Game” in the main menu.

In Practice mode, you can listen to a song with or without seeing the bird’s photo.

The Practice function, shown above, will play a randomly selected song from your deck. You can tap “Need a hint?” to see a photo of the bird or you can swipe the screen to flip the card. Tap “Next” at the bottom of the Practice screen to go to another song.

Game mode plays a song and gives four possible answers. Here are screens showing correct and incorrect responses.

Game mode, shown here, is the best part of the app. It plays a song from your selected deck, then after a few seconds, four species names appear on the screen. If you tap the correct name, it turns green, and you’ll see a brief starburst signifying the number of correct answers you’ve given. Tap the wrong bird name, and it will turn red. You can keep tapping until you get the right answer, or, like in Practice mode, you can tap “Need a hint?” to see a photo or swipe the screen to see the bird’s card.

Keep playing the game, and you’re bound to commit more and more songs to memory. The “Stats” box at the bottom of the screen keeps track of the number of correct and incorrect answers you’ve given. “Reset” clears the data so you can start over.

iKnowBirdSongs costs $9.99 in iTunes; 15 percent of each sale goes to the Cornell Lab to support bird conservation. The app is a great tool for learning to identify birds by their songs, and I highly recommend it.


Be responsible!

If you purchase iKnowBirdSongs or any bird app, please refrain from playing songs to attract birds; broadcasting songs in the field distracts birds from feeding themselves and their chicks and unnecessarily exposes them to predators. — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor

Read Six Tips for Birding by Ear by Jennifer Horton.

Originally Published

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