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iPhone App: BirdTunes Gives Rapid, Uncluttered Access to Bird Songs

BirdTunes $9.99 NatureSound Studio
.  One of the most refreshing apps to come onto the market in 2010 is BirdTunes, an iPhone app that plays an impressive repertoire of bird sounds for 674 North American bird species (2,400 songs in all).

I say ‘refreshing’ because while it boasts an encyclopedic library of bird songs and calls, it does not attempt to be an encyclopedic field guide to birds. This makes it a manageable—a ‘just-the-sounds-Ma’am’—application that is easy and quick to use in the field, for moments when a data-intensive mobile field guide is overkill.

The app places emphasis on the sound repertoire for each bird, including regional differences and some lesser known songs and call types.  So for each bird, you may have a choice from two to eight different song types —details that make all the difference in your ability to identify and understand a bird.

The app was created by master sound recordist Lang Elliott and software engineer Harold Mills.  The recordings were drawn from the collections of Lang and other prominent field recordists including Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart, Bob McGuire, Ted Mack, and Wil Hershberger.

Turn on the app to view a list of bird species. Sort by first name (Abert’s Towhee, Acadian Flycatcher…), last name (Sandpiper, Baird’s, Sandpiper Buff-breasted), or by species group (Loons, Grebes, Albatrosses…). Alternatively, enter a species name into the Search bar.  Click (or press) on your species and press the arrow for playback. Depending on your settings, you can play just one song, cycle through the entire repertoire, or repeat one or all tracks over and over.


The app automatically stores recently played songs in a Recents folder and you can tag certain species as Favorites. The latter may be handy if you are planning to scout a location with want faster access to those you’re likely to hear. You can make room for new favorites at a later date by removing the current batch.

Each species is represented by a high-quality photograph contributed by well-known shutterbugs including Brian Small, Lang Elliot, Mike Danzenbaker, and Marie Read.  Considering Harold Mills was lead developer of the RAVEN sound analysis software at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it’s no surprise that each track contains a spectrograph that helps you visualize the bird sound.  This is especially handy, as it seems spectrograph analysis is a new trend for even casual ornithophiles.

Mzl.gzxgqbvp.320x480-75 TracksView
Enhancements to the app might include a “this song is similar to…” function and a geo-referencing function that allows you to narrow the possible species by your current location.

Whether such additions would start turning this refreshing, fast little app into a data-intensive field guide that costs more than ten bucks—only the developers know.

For more information:


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Laura Kammermeier

Laura Kammermeier

Birds, nature, and travel send Laura Kammermeier over the moon. Naturally, she’s chosen to blur the line between life and work by bringing them into focus as a writer and web consultant. When not advising nature organizations and small businesses on their web marketing and social media presence, Laura is an avid birder, traveler, amateur photographer, and an oft-published writer with credits in magazines, newspapers, and online publications. Her latest writing endeavors have focused on birding, conservation, nature travel, and mobile birding technology. In fact, Laura was the freelance editor of our first annual 2010 ABA Birder's Gear Guide! Laura holds an M.S. in aquatic ecology from Kent State University. She served as founding officer of the Ohio Ornithological Society, is a former project leader for Project FeederWatch at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and consults for a clients ranging from The Nature Conservancy and ABA to mobile app developers and tourism groups. She lives with her husband and two sons in a sleepy village south of Rochester, NY, and is always looking for the next great place to chase birds. Find her on the web at
  • Rob

    Need for Android!

  • You’re right. The Android platform is solid and here to stay and we need all bird app developers to give it a fair shake.

    Many developers approach their apps as a part-time endeavor, and therefore let the demand on iPhone platform justify (that is, pay for) the need to develop it on other platforms. Others are simply Mac-ophiles and don’t/won’t develop cross-platform.

    Not sure what Lang and Co. are planning. Perhaps we’ll hear from them.

  • Sibley’s new app for the Droid has similar bird calls and much more. It costs under $30 at the Droid Market. I wrote a review on my blog:

  • I love that this app allows you to view the spectrograph. Not everyone will use that feature, but for those of us that need a visual representation to really ‘get’ what’s happening in a complex song, this is very trick indeed!

  • Actually, the visualizations in our app are a waveforms (time versus loudness) and not spectrograms (time versus frequency). We couldn’t include spectrograms because of space limitations (they require a lot more room to be meaningful).

    In any event, the visualization not only gives you something to look at while a recording is playing, but also keys you into where sound events occur along the timeline.

  • I see…but still, a waveform is much more useful than no visual at all right!

  • I really like the spectrograph and the waveform made is not mush use here. And you know android really is a leading brand in the mobile industry.

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