A Hiking We Will Go: Apps for Your Nature Lovers


Do you enjoy hiking with your kids? Check out these apps the next time you go out. They make identifying what you see and hear easy. You most likely have one of them on your phone already.


Merlin Bird ID – My Favorite


The Merlin Bird ID app allows you to identify birds based on sight or sound. You can take a picture of the bird and upload the photo to the app. It will give you a list of possible options. Based on my experience, it does a good job of identifying the birds.

You can also use the Start Bird ID feature to answer a series of questions about your bird – where you saw it, the size of the bird, and its color. It gives you a list of possible matches. The size and color of the bird don’t narrow down the options very much, so you’ll still have to sort through the options. This option is a good alternative to a field guide. 


Use the Sound ID features to identify birds based on their songs or calls. You should be close enough to the bird that your phone can pick up the sound. It needs to be quiet – no talking, no street noises, little wind. The app will identify the birds it hears as it hears them. You’ll watch the birds pop up on the screen as they are identified. The Sound ID is my favorite feature, and I use it any time I hear a group of birds I’m not familiar with.



Lastly, you can use the Explore Birds feature to just see the birds that might be in your area. Click on a bird to get more information. At the bottom, you will see ID Info, Sounds, and Map. Click on Sounds to be able to play the bird’s songs or calls.


Visual Look Up on the iPhone Photos App


Apple has recently (last year or so) added Visual Look Up to the Photos app. Take a photo of a plant or animal using your iPhone. Look at the photo. At the bottom, you should see the info icon with two little stars next to it. If there are no stars next to the info icon, then the app may not recognize the object you photographed or you may not have a cell signal strong enough to update the photo info. Check your cell signal and give your phone a moment to update.



Click on the info button to let Siri help you identify what’s in your photo.



Side note: Visual Look Up in the iPhone Photos app can also identify books, dog breeds, pets, landmarks, and art. If the info button has a star, it means Visual Look Up can tell you more info about what’s in your photo.


Google Lens


Google Photos has Google Lens. Google Lens is also available in the search bar of the Google app (not the Chrome app). After taking a photo, look at your photo in the Google Photos app. At the bottom of the screen, select the Google Lens icon. It will examine your image and pop up a few results. Based on my limited use of it, Google Lens seems to be able to identify certain plants and animals that the iPhone Visual Look Up struggled with identifying. 



iNaturalist or Seek by iNaturalist


iNaturalist is a citizen science app. Take a photo of a plant or animal, and the app can help you identify it. It uses image recognition technology to give you a list of possible species. You can then share your photo with other citizen scientists who can confirm your observation and mark it to be used in research projects by actual scientists. The app allows you to start your own citizen science projects as well.



If you’re not interested in sharing your photos with others, then try Seek by iNaturalist. It uses the same image recognition tech, but it’s only the image recognition piece – no community of users to ask about your photo. This app is great for recording what plants and animals you find in nature. You can earn badges for finding different species. I’ve seen it touted as Pokémon for real life. You’ve gotta catch ’em all. 


The Seek app does not require you to take a photo in order to identify the plant, animal, or fungus species. This is handy for when you just want to know what the species is, but don’t necessarily want a photo for later.


Do you have any favorite hiking apps to use with kids?