Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

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iBird Explorer Pro

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iBird Explorer Pro

iBird Explorer Pro

[This review is for the Pro version, for the Plus version, go here.]

iBird Explorer Pro is a app for the iPhone/iPod Touch with references for 891 species of birds found in North America. It is, so far, totally unique (apart from its iBird siblings, more on that later) as an interactive field guide (with songs and calls), exhaustive reference, and powerful search engine for iPhone/Touch carrying birders in the field. It is, in fact, pretty much unique as interactive, reference on any platform, and just maybe, the most unique and useful field accessory you are ever likely to see.

Browse screens: notice keyword hints!

Browse screens: notice keyword hints!

I have reviewed two previous versions of iBird Explorer Plus (original and the v1.4.1 update) in a sort of incremental way. Pro marks enough of a departure to warrant a whole new review. (iBird Plus and the regional apps will continue to be upgraded with new content and features appropriate to their serious birder audience, but Pro will acquire a feature set which is more appropriate for the professional guide, teacher, mentor, citizen scientist, ornithologist, or field biologist.)

In general, iBird Explorer Pro provides, for each of its 891 species, instant access to:
1 ) one or more detailed illustrations
2 ) an audio recording of songs and calls
3 ) a range map
4 ) a basic description of identifying features and associated habitats
5 ) what amounts to a complete life-history, which includes detailed descriptions of individual body parts, descriptions of habit, range, feeding and foraging, nesting, etc., etc.
6 ) a few interesting or unique facts and factoids about the species.
7 ) lists of, and live links to, similar species
8 ) one or more (often several) supplemental photographs
9 ) conservation status based on the IUCN/Bird Life International ratings
10 ) instant links to every photograph published on Flickr of the species (requires wifi or 3G)
11 ) an instant link to the Wikipedia article for the bird (requires wifi or 3G).
12 ) and a large version of the primary illustration which can be zoomed in to study detail.

The illustrations pages

The illustrations pages

You can browse the species listing sorted alphabetically by first name (common names, Yellow-rumped for Yellow-rumped Warbler), or by last name (Warbler for Yellow-rumped Warbler). (Note that typing in Warbler does not pull up all the warblers, only those with Warbler as their last name. Painted Redstart, for instance, would not included in the species found by the keyword “warbler”. To find all Warblers you could do a search by family in the search section, see below, or use browse by Family, also just below.) In standard iPhone fashion, a quick index on the side of the page allows you to jump directly to any letter, or to scroll quickly through the letters. You can also view and browse by Families (as in all Wood Warblers), sorted in in the order they appear in on the American Ornithological Union check-list.

Range Map, Sounds, Similar

Range Map, Sounds, Similar

You can type all or part of a common name in the keyword field, or you can enter the “/” character and the 4 letter banding code, or “&” and the Scientific Name, and iBird will locate the species or group of species for you.

Tapping any species name in the browse pages will open the species (bird) screen with a scrolling (left and right) two-row set of info buttons at the bottom. Here you select from illustrations (Bird), Sounds (little speaker icon), Range, Identity, Photos, Similar, Facts, Birdipedia or (scrolling right) Favorites, Ecology, Flickr, or Portrait (all of which correspond to the information listed above.)

Photo, Flickr, Conservation

Photo, Flickr, Conservation

On top of all that, iBird Explorer Pro also has a built in search engine which can sort the included 891 species by:
1 ) Location (multiple settings possible)
2 ) Shape
3 ) Size
4 ) Habitat (multiple settings possible)
5 ) Primary Color (multiple settings possible)
6 ) Secondary Color (multiple settings possible) (Both primary and secondary color setting require care. If you specify two or more incomputable colors you will end up with no matches.)
7 ) Backyard Feeders (yes or no)
8 ) Family
9 ) Bill shape
10 ) Bill length
11 ) Head pattern
12 ) Crown Color
13 ) Wing Shape
14 ) Flight pattern
15 ) Conservation status
16 ) Song
17 ) Song pattern
18 ) Observed status in a particular state in a particular month (based on actual sightings records)

Song Search

Song Search

The search process is fast and efficient, and, in my experience, very accurate. While some (maybe most) experienced birders may prefer to use the sorting engine they have developed over years of field experience in their own brains, the search engine in iBird Explorer Pro will teach beginning and growing birders some good ID skills (at the very least what features to look for, and at the most, the most likely species to display them). It is also very useful when someone walks up with one of those “I saw a bird in my backyard the other day, and it was this big, and blue, and…” stories. Instead so smiling tolerantly (or superiorly, depending on who you are), and then making a series of inspired guesses (or shaking your head and walking away, again, depending), you can now enter the features as they are mentioned, ask pertinent questions

Global and app settings

Global and app settings (French currenly, Spanish and German planned)

(where is your backyard, what kind of habitat does it provide, did you notice the color of the crown, shape and length of the bill, etc, etc.) and end up with a small (hopefully) list of birds you can actually show them on the spot…and even play back the songs if they heard the bird sing. (You may answer some questions and spark some interest in birds and birding, but one thing I guarantee you will do, is sell quite a few copies of iBird, and maybe a few iPhones as well.)

So let us answer the question on many minds right now: how is Pro different from Plus? There is a feature table here.

In a nutshell, Plus lacks Song search, obvious band code and scientific name keywording (hint), search by month/state, the Ecology page (and search by Conservation Status), the full sized portrait, and the foreign language option. That’s it. All other features are there (even if some are not immediately obvious (hint):).

Portrait View

Portrait View

Is that worth the $10 difference? Maybe not, for some, but we are told that the differences will become more profound as more professional features are added to Pro.

The intention, according to the iBird folks, is to create a feature set for Plus that suits the needs of the average advanced birder, and to create a feature set for Pro that meets the needs of the professional, with professional being, in my interpretation, loosely defined as the group mentioned above.

Many even serious birders will find the features of Plus (and the regional variations) to be completely adequate. If you are among them, I don’t think you have to fear that there will be a time when you suddenly need a feature from Pro and have to buy the new program. Put down your $19,99 and be happy. Your app will continue to develop along the existing lines. On the other hand, if you are a professional guide, teacher, mentor, citizen scientist, ornithologist, or field biologist, who needs the Pro features now, you can be assured that more Pro level features are coming to Pro in the future. And if you are not sure, or you are just the kind of birder who has to have the most advanced tools, then just pay the $10 extra up front and be happy.

For those who already own Plus, it is a harder decision. Is there a feature of Pro that you can’t live without? Then go for it now. Pro will only get better. On the other hand, if you don’t find a compelling reason to buy a new app (Pro) to replace your existing Plus, then stay with Plus. It too will only get better.

In this, of course, we are kind of at the mercy of the Mitch Waite Group and their decisions about what constitutes a serious (Plus) feature and what constitutes a Pro feature. In the current split, I could argue strongly that Song search should be a Plus feature, not necessarily a Pro feature. In fact I plan to do so, via the new iBird Explorer discussion forum the iBird folks just put up. By the evidence so far, the Mitch Waite Group listens carefully to user feedback and feature requests in making these kinds of decisions.

State and Month Search

State and Month Search

And consider this: either program is a bargain at the price. To duplicate the content it would cost many times as much. The search features simply can not be duplicated.

And finally, the upgrade controversy. No there is no way, currently, for a Plus user to upgrade to Pro, other than buying the new program at the full price. There should be, but with the App Store system, which is totally under Apple’s control, there is not. This should change sometime after June when iPhone OS 3.0 becomes available, but it is really up to Apple, and until then…

You have choices. Need Pro. Buy it. Even if you have Plus. After all, even if you add the two prices together, it is still a bargain. If you can live without the features of Pro, do so. For now. Upgrade only when you have to. (And maybe by then there will be an upgrade path?? Who knows?)

(To be fair, I have three National Geo guides sitting on my shelf, one of each recent edition, and two copies of guides by Kenn Kaufman which only differ by the composition of the cover. I did not expect the publishers of those guides to upgrade my guide when a new edition, or an improved cover, came out. I did not even, come to think of it, as for a rebate, or a credit for already owning a copy. I just went out and bought the new guide. And no printed guide has ever promised, as iBird does, continuous upgrades of the content. (Oh there was that page for Sibely you were supposed to tape into your book…but you know what I mean.))

The bottom line here is that iBird Explorer Plus/Pro is an absolute must have app for any iPhone/iPod Touch owner who is even moderately intersted in birds. Plus for the moderate. Pro for the, well, for the not so moderate. For the avid birder, what can I say? Buy iBird Explorer. In fact, buy an iPhone if you have to, to run it on. With apps like iBird Explorer you will never regret the investment.


Written by singraham

March 30, 2009 at 4:30 pm

34 Responses

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  1. Great review! I love this app. Was kind of surprised when they brought out a pro version but now that I read your review I understand that its aimed at a different kind of birder. So I bought Pro for my iPhone and I put Plus on my daughter’s Touch. We are all very pleased. I hope the developer adds a life list feature.

    Otis Ryder

    April 1, 2009 at 11:57 am

  2. The iBird apps are definitely showcase apps for the iPhone, and given the wealth of content, nobody in their right mind should complain about the price. But it’s too bad about the difficulties involved in offering upgrade pricing. I bought the Backyard version before I learned there was a Plus version, then I bought the Plus version before I learned about the Pro version. And now, well, now I’ve got to think a lot harder about whether to spend the $$ than I would if there were upgrade pricing.


    April 3, 2009 at 9:52 am

  3. Absolutely amased! Seems the next step will be that there will be a link between the bins/telescope/camera to iPhone (so that bird pix is pre-identified while the birder still watches it 😉


    April 4, 2009 at 3:31 pm

  4. This excellent review enticed me to buying Pro for my iPhone. Unfortunately, the app suffers from serious technical problems. Generally, it crashes after no more than two minutes of use. If the company can work out those glitches, this app might be worth the price. At this point, it’s not.


    April 6, 2009 at 1:57 pm

  5. Steve: I have a query in to the iBird folks to see what other’s experiences are. I have had NO crashes with iBird Plus or Pro. What memory capacity is your iPhone?


    April 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

  6. My friend on Orkut shared this link with me and I’m not dissapointed at all that I came here.

    Ex Back

    April 8, 2009 at 7:53 pm

  7. I have very little crashing

    Otis Ryder

    April 13, 2009 at 5:32 pm

  8. The style of writing is quite familiar to me. Have you written guest posts for other blogs?

    Vince Delmonte

    April 15, 2009 at 4:32 am

  9. I purchased the Pro version 2 days ago and I agree it crashes about every 5 minutes. (Amazingly enough this does not bother me too much because I knew about in advance from reading FAQs and I knwo they are working on it)


    April 20, 2009 at 1:50 pm

  10. “I could argue strongly that Song search should be a Plus feature, not necessarily a Pro feature.”

    I have to agree. I just bought the Pro version, a moveup from the ‘Backyard’ version.
    The primary reason I upgraded to Pro is the song search capability not offered in the Plus version which I believe it should be. I do not need any of the other features offered in the Pro version over the Plus version except that and the reason I believe they put it there to help entice people to upgrade to Pro. Its all about the bucks.

    Fred Aley

    April 25, 2009 at 2:14 pm

  11. Having now used the Pro version, I wish to make a comment.
    First, I am disappointed because it is not what I was expecting (Song Search only, I haven’t used the other Pro features). For the price, I was expecting something at least as good as the iPhone APP called ‘Shazam’ (which is free) that identifies any song you let your iPhone ‘listen’ to, just by holding your phone in presence of the sound. I was expecting iBird PRO to at least do that, hear a clear bird song, hold up the iPhone in presence of the song, and iPhone would come back with the bird identity. Noway. Instead, when I selected song search it gave me about 10 categories to chose from, which I selected one, then it gave me 380 birds to chose from. Again, no way. The bird was not in sight, only sound so the other identifying characteristics other than location were useless. The best I was able to do was to reduce my selections down to about 81 birds. Now who wants to do that for the extra money?

    Fred Aley

    April 26, 2009 at 3:40 pm

  12. Fred.
    Sorry for your disappointment…but…
    First off, Song Search is clearly described on the iTunes page for the app, and on the iBird web site, as well as in this review. No where is it suggested that it is a Shazam type feature. Human music is, in fact, pretty simple compared to bird song, and each piece has a kind of digital signature, a digital finger print, that makes matching it fairly easy (still an amazing trick on Shazam’s part). Bird song is totally different. There is a product on the market (not for the iPhone…a standalone device) that attempts song id, but reports are that it can only do a limited number of birds, and does not do those well. Even most human brains have difficulty with the task at least some of the time.


    April 27, 2009 at 6:28 am

  13. Can the iphone or itouch project the bird songs loud enough to use them in the field to attract the specific bird?

    Lynn Sumerson

    May 1, 2009 at 7:13 pm

  14. The speaker on the iPhone is better than the one on the Touch. It is not over loud in the field but it will work. For the Touch I would recommend an amplified speaker, and the Phone would be better with one.


    May 1, 2009 at 7:44 pm

  15. […] L. mentioned iBird (why didn’t I find this while searching?! my searching skills suck, also, i was NOT searching […]

  16. Is there an ibird explorer or something like it for a new 3G blackberry?


    May 10, 2009 at 1:48 pm

  17. Luke: in a word, no.


    May 12, 2009 at 4:20 am

  18. Will this work on ipod Nano 30G?


    May 22, 2009 at 3:13 am

  19. Will there be a European version available anytime soon, or is there enough of a cross over that it doesn’t matter?


    May 30, 2009 at 12:08 pm

  20. Hi Steve. I’m considering buying either the Plus or Pro. If I were to purchase an iTouch, is the AT&T “data plan” (i.e. Internet connectivity) required to purchase and use either the iPhone or iTouch? Looking forward to communicating with you. My contact info remains unchanged! Dan

    Dan George

    May 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm

  21. Two questions, with the iphone 8GB, is there more of a problem with crashing? Two- do I understand correctly, that I can purchase the iBird plus or pro and download it to my computer (imac), sync it to the iphone (which seems to be the suggested method) and then have the program on both devices (the computer and the phone??)?

    Also, per Neal’s question–is there a planned European version in the works? Regardless, how useful would the current version be in Europe? I am going on a trip with my older girl scout group to England and Europe, and wonder if this program would be viable as is, for that trip??

    valerie greek

    June 3, 2009 at 9:27 pm

  22. Steve – I specifically purchased the new iphone 3G to use with ibird. now i must choose plus or pro based on the invaluable info that you provided and discussion. Question; has the crashing been corrected on the pro? does this crashing occur with the plus? i didn’t realize that i could download the ibird software to my computer and then download to iphone?


    June 23, 2009 at 8:48 pm

  23. can i play the song in a loop? and can the touch play the song with it’s player?


    July 13, 2009 at 5:10 am

  24. […] with an iDevice and even the smallest interest in birds. You can read my review of iBird Plus and iBird Pro or visit the iBird website for a complete description. Notes and Family one above the […]

  25. hi there!

    Can I submit a question again as followup to the one I posted above?

    “can i play the song in a loop? and can the touch play the song with it’s player?”



    September 21, 2009 at 6:14 am

  26. I believe you can control song looping in the device “settings” (the gear icon). The touch plays songs just like the phone.

    Otis Ryder

    September 21, 2009 at 9:52 am

  27. I am going to buy an iPod Touch for use with iBird Pro. Will the 8 GB work well? Has the crash problem been fixed?
    Thanks – Jamie

    Jamie Godshalk

    September 28, 2009 at 6:55 pm

  28. As a general comment: please direct all technical questions to the authors of the program at Questions and comments about the review are good here…but questions about features and quirks of the program itself are beyond my brief.


    September 29, 2009 at 7:24 am

  29. […] full reviews of Pro and Plus, go here: Pro   […]

  30. Whose bird songs do you use? Stokes? Cornell? Thanks.

    Jamie Godshalk

    October 1, 2009 at 4:02 pm

  31. I found a link to the iBird web site that describes features coming in the next version (they call it 1.8.3). Some of these sound like fun:

    I have had no crashing issues with iBird and use it on my iPod 8GB touch.

    Otis Ryder

    November 29, 2009 at 9:31 pm

  32. […] If you have followed my reviews of birding apps for the iPhone, you know that in my opinion iBird Explorer is, hands down, the best of the […]

  33. This was a great review and really answered a lot of questions. I realize that this article is about 9 months old but thought I would give an update on the app. With the 3.0 firmware upgrade apps now have the option of being upgraded from a “lite” to a “full” version via the app store, and iBird is no exception. You can now purchase iBird plus for $20 and if you find it lacking you can UPGRADE for $10 to the professional version.

    Andrew Costello

    January 27, 2010 at 11:22 am

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