Technical tools for amateur ornithologists

In collaboration with QuébecOiseaux

Binoculars and an identification guide have always been considered the basic equipment of the birder. But in recent years, many mobile applications and other technological tools have been added to this list. Here is an overview of some of the most useful tools for bringing your birding into sharper focus. 

Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville
Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville Mikaël Rondeau | © Sépaq

eBird Québec

The eBird platform has revolutionised the practice of birding. In addition to compiling observations for the benefit of science and conservation of birds around the world, it offers a range of tools for data visualisation, alerts, and more.

Among these tools, distribution maps and histograms tell you where and when to find certain coveted species. Or to find out which species have been observed recently in the park you’re about to visit. Statistics freaks can also track the number of species seen annually or over a lifetime in Quebec, in their backyard, and in other spots. You can even set up alerts to be notified when a rare bird or a species you’ve never seen before in your area shows up.

A free mobile application makes it easy to record your observations, directly during your hike, and share them with the whole community.

The validity of the observations is ensured by a network of volunteer ornithologists who know the birds in their region like the back of their hand. The network is managed by QuébecOiseaux.

Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird now has over 685,000 contributors worldwide. It’s interesting to note that the creation of this platform was largely inspired by the ornithological database ÉPOQ (Étude des populations d’oiseaux du Québec), created in 1975 in Rimouski.

Voir cette publication sur Instagram

Une publication partagée par eBird (@team_ebird)


The iNaturalist platform is very similar to eBird, except that it has been designed to compile observations of all living things, not just birds. So you can also record your observations of plants, fungi, insects, reptiles, mammals, and so much more.

Like eBird, you can contribute to iNaturalist using the website or the free mobile app. Distribution maps and histograms are available once again.

But what’s really interesting is the integration of a very powerful automatic identification tool. Don't know the name of the fern or insect you’re looking at? Take a picture of it and iNaturalist will suggest a list of matching species in a flash. And if you're still not sure of your identification, an army of volunteer naturalists will help you clarify or correct it.

Julie Audet | © Sépaq
Mathieu Dupuis | © Sépaq

Identification guides

Instead of lugging around an identification guide in the bottom of their backpack, many birders choose to have it right in their smartphone. The most popular versions are Sibley Birds and iBird Pro. In both cases, the applications will cost you about $20.

In the case of Sibley, this is the digital version of the famous paper guide, with the many illustrations for which it is justly renowned. The application is in English but can be configured to display the names of the birds in French. A search engine helps to identify what is being observed on the basis of a few criteria (behaviour, size, beak shape, colour, and certain other features.). The possibility of listening to the song or call of each species is obviously a great advantage compared to the paper version.

There’s no paper equivalent for iBird Pro. This identification guide has been created specifically for use on a phone. Compared to Sibley, the application contains illustrations and photos. The other features (bird songs, search engine, and the like) are very similar. |

Voir cette publication sur Instagram

Une publication partagée par David Sibley (@sibleyguides)


This is another application produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and designed in direct connection with eBird. It has three parts, the first of which is fairly self-explanatory: you give the location, date, size of the bird, colouring, and behaviour, and the application provides a list of possible species, complete with photos and calls. We’re even told if the bird is already on our list.

In the second part, you submit a photo and the application identifies the bird, like iNaturalist, with surprising efficiency.

For the third component, which could be defined as a personalised bird identification guide, the application lists the species expected at the location and time of year, based on eBird data. Clicking on a species provides photos, vocalizations, and a distribution map.

To be functional, these components require the download of regional bird species packs. Apart from a portion of Africa and Asia, these exist for the entire world.

Paul Dussault | © Sépaq
Parc national de la Yamaska
Parc national de la Yamaska Julie Audet | © Sépaq

BirdNET/Song Sleuth

Many ornithologists have been waiting for years for the arrival of the famous magic key for birds. And this is indeed what these two applications, BirdNET and Song Sleuth, have to offer.

The principle and operation are identical for both applications: a bird song is recorded and the application provides a list of matching species. The great difficulty here is to obtain a recording in which the song to be identified really stands out from the ambient noise, which includes the songs of other bird species.

Both applications are absolutely free of charge. | 

Jean-Sébastien Guénette

About Jean-Sébastien Guénette

A biologist by training, Jean-Sébastien earned a master’s degree from Université de Moncton, where he studied thresholds in forest bird response to habitat alteration. He went on to work as a researcher for the Canada Research Chair in Landscape Conservation, then did a stint in the private sector, before landing at Observatoire d’oiseaux de Tadoussac. In 2005, he took over as executive director of QuébecOiseaux. In addition to a passion for ornithology, Jean-Sébastien also has a keen interest in technology, travel, and photography.

Be Informed

Sign up for Sépaq emails to be the first to find out about our promotions, news and special offers.

Sign Up