iPhone App Review | Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds

Want to be able to find a bird’s name? Can you only hear its call? Do you know which bird it looks most like but don’t know its species?  Do you have some possibilities and would like to compare them?  Are you tired of carrying a thick, heavy bird guide around with you?


Check for other field guides

Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds (iPhone app), is the first electronic field guide for birds covering the whole of Australia, with the exception of offshore islands, and is unique in that it brings together the 3000 images and 1852 calls of the 800 species in one compact guide. It uses the same format as the iPhone version of the Sibley US guide.

Calls for the same species vary in different locations and the location of each call is shown as it is played. The bird calls can be organised by location and are invaluable when about to undertake a new bushwalk as you can prepare in advance by listening to the expected calls, perhaps when travelling to the bushwalk by plane or car. Earphones are recommended for listening, especially for the lower notes.

When you identify a bird you can add it to “My List” which gives the name of the bird , the location you found it, the date and a comment box.


One of the benefits of an eGuide is that you are able to electronically search or filter and reduce what can be an overwhelming number of birds to a manageable number. You can select coastal birds, land birds, passerines or birds of one geographic region.

Perhaps the most powerful feature which is only available in a traditional book with a lots of pages turning, is the ability to compare species, sexes of the one species, juveniles vs adults, breeding vs non-breeding on the one screen.

For those who know a little about birds or who just want to confirm a sighting then an alphabetic or taxonomic search of about 800 species is available.

Smart Searching

For those who don’t know where to start there is a “Smart Search” where you enter a few characteristics and the 800 species list is filtered, allowing a side-by-saide comparison to decide the final choice. Even just deciding between passerines and non-passerines will halve the list.Try doing this in a traditional book without a lot of bookmarks! The Help section gives definitions of the terms used in the “Smart Search”.

Once you have narrowed your species list down to less than 20,  preferably even less, begin looking at the characteristics of the listed birds, to see if you can identify the mystery bird.

“Bird Looks Like”  is useful for those without an extensive knowledge of bird names. There are six useful worked examples to help you learn to use this powerful facility.


Oceanic birds which don’t frequent the coast can be excluded, to reduce the search options. Others exclusions include Exclude Rare Vagrants, Exclude migratory Waders or you may select any of the characteristics available in the Smart Search.


Useful if you only want to include birds from the shoreline out-to-sea, effectively eliminating land birds and those found on the sand or mud, in coastal vegetation or mangroves.

Distribution Maps

These show three levels of frequency ( All, Usual, Vagrant) which can be selected, with Usual approximating Official Bird Lists closest.  In addition, your location can be chosen from a list of 20 land and sea regions, so restricting your searches. While regional lists don’t match the official Birds of Australia list for the regions, they do include most mainland birds. Sub species distribution are shown.

Taxonomic Index

This is the best way to browse closely related birds, if you know the likely name of the bird. With experience the position in scrolling list, can be used find various families of birds.

Alphabetic Index

This lists the name of the group or family not the name of the bird itself. Theer is an instant scroll to quickly go to a particular letter

Bird Info Window

This contains multiple “stacked” screen images which can be scrolled up and down to reveal more information or left and right to show more species. Tapping an image or text will cause it to fill the screen. Tapping the map icon brings the distribution map to the foreground and if you tap the musical note icon you will hear the bird call.


Any screen which holds an Index Query or the result of a Smart Search will have a Comp symbol at the top right hand corner which can be tapped. This will allow species from the list to be selected for comparison on the same page. Alternatively by selecting the most likely which is then locked to the bottom half of the screen you can scroll other possibilities across the top of the screen

Acknowledgements and Copyright

Michael Morcombe:  the author of the original hardcover book and the author of over 40 titles of Australian natural history and landscape.
David Stewart: the sounds in this ebook are from his Nature Sound Library, a collection of bird calls and songs
Birds Australia
Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds is a Steven Parish Publishing natural history title.

Wish List

  • It would be nice if the iPhone’s built in GPS could be used to automatically filter the list of species by your location.
  • Perhaps the iPhone’s camera could be used to take a photo of the bird and then compared automatically with those in the database.
  • Use the iPhone’s GPS to record the location of sightings in “My List”.
  • Similarly with the bird’s call
  • Offer a shared online database of sightings, with locations marked on a map.

See also

Bird in Hand; iPhone app which covers 23 of Tasmania’s common and endemic birds and includes bird calls, high quality pictures and information on their habitat, breeding, diet etc. 
Bird List for Tasmania (PWS)

    Creative Commons License
    This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


    9 thoughts on “iPhone App Review | Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds”

    1. Michael Morcombe , Author of above. Thanks reviewer for very thorough presention. Version 1.1 in preparation, some additions, corrections. Some new calls, maps, .For future, use of GPS of location, and various possibilities such as those mentioned above, depend ing upon apple OS abilities and publisher';s programming abilities. Users be sure to read detailed Search examples in Intro>Help.Suggestions for most useful GPS ideas welcome. Also any comments, birds missing any region, etc.Hope to have android version available before mid-year, at version 1.1 level. Web site mmbirds.com


    2. Michael morcombe . Upddate. Your iphone copy will also work on ipad, and also can be connected to tv screen or projector, useful for presentations, vistor centre dispay, tourist guide uses etc. Android version now available, for other smartphones such as samsung, etc , blackberry soon. Content upgrade to version 1.1 in next 2 to 3months. Contact. http://Www.mmbirds.com


    3. I just bought the android version, and it looks really good. But… Can I hear the bird calls as a list? I would like to listen to while riding.Cheers,Nel


    4. Hi JulieThis is app is not in text file format and hence is unlikely to be able to be downloaded. The book from which it originates is not available in e-reader format either as far as I can tell but if it was it might be able to be converted. It a great app which I use once every couple of weeks for the birds in my backyard.Try asking Michael Morcombe directly via his website http://www.michaelmorcombe.com.au


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