American Birding Podcast



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.

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