I’ve always marveled at the birders who could go for a walk, hear some chirping in the distance and immediately identify the bird.
Wee-see wee-see wee-see wee-see. Black and White Warbler!
Kily-kily-kily-kily. American Kestral!
Pit-sit pit-sit pit-sit-pit-sit. Horned Lark!
That’s why when I was given the opportunity to demo Larkwire, a web-based app that teaches you how to identify bird sounds, I was eager to get started. This app definitely didn’t disappoint.
Larkwire is best described as the Rosetta Stone program for bird songs. It’s basically an interactive application that teaches you how to bird by ear from an engaging and entertaining game.
This is a great game for anyone, and although I don’t have any kids, I can picture children or grandchildren latching onto this interactive app. Since it’s based on the web, you’ll need the Internet and a computer to play it.
There are actually two separate games within Larkwire to maximize your learning: the gallery game and the field game.
The gallery game is where you actually go to learn the songs. It will show you four birds with fairly similar calls, play you one of the birds’ songs and have you identify it by clicking the correct species. For example, if you wanted to learn Robin-like birds, you will have to learn and distinguish the songs among the Red-eyed Vireo, Rose-breasted Warbler, American Robin and Scarlet Tanager. As you get them correct, the progress bar in the top right corner will advance. If you get something wrong, the progress bar will move backwards. The great thing is that it focuses most on the birds you’re having trouble with.
After you’ve worked on the gallery game, Larkwire will change into the field game, which more closely aligns to actual birding. The screen will be blank with a bird sound playing and you have to try to identify the bird from memory. If you know it, you simply click the “know” button. I think typing in the answer would have been a better idea because it would force you to make a written connection with the song, another way to learn.
One of the best aspects of this game is that it offers a variety of different sounds from each bird because we all know birds have several different songs. Unlike a CD, which typically has one or two songs, Larkwire gives you several variations. It also gives written descriptions and glossaries, so you can learn the actual terms. There’s actually quite a lot more to love, but not all of it would fit into this review.
While my overall thoughts about this program are positive, Larkwire has a few shortcomings and limitations. As of right now, this is only available to North American land birds, so if you’re in another continent or want to learn songs of shorebirds, this isn’t for you. It would also be significantly better if it were a standalone app that you could download onto your computer or mobile device. [UPDATE: The app is now available for iOS.] Larkwire’s founder Phil Mitchell, who has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology (just one of the many reasons the program is effective), is constantly working to improve the application, so it’s possible the number of birds/locales will grow in future iterations.
While nothing beats going out into the field to learn bird songs, Larkwire is the next best thing. Larkwire will be instrumental in my growth as a birder, and I recommend trying it out yourself.
The Master Birder songpack, which includes 344 songs, costs $24 (only a little more than most birding by ear CDs that contain far fewer songs). However, you can also start with the Backyard Birder pack with the top 25 land birds in your area. For more details about the different songpacks and how to purchase the app, visit Larkwire’s website.