Using iMovie, Tally 2 and Audubon Birds to count and identify your backyard birds

Every year since 1998, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society have hosted the Great Backyard Bird Count. The four-day event encourages bird watchers around the world to count and identify the birds they see. The crowd-sourced data is compiled and used to examine the distribution and abundance of birds worldwide. We recently set up a bird feeder in our yard and decided to participate in the annual event this year as part of our homeschool activities.

Capturing the birds using the iPhone Camera app

While my older kids ventured out into the cold winter woods to spy the rare birds, my younger set preferred to watch the bird feeder and count from the comfort of our kitchen. We needed to count all the birds we saw for 15 minutes, which posed a challenge as our birdfeeder is quite busy, even during the winter. As a result, we had to introduce some technology into the process to assist in the counting process.

To facilitate the bird count and minimize errors, we decided to record a video of the bird feeder and count the birds in the video instead of trying to count them in real-time. I propped my iPhone in the kitchen window and positioned it towards the feeder. I set a timer to remind me when the 15-minute period had ended and launched the Camera app to begin recording. When done, I used AirDrop to transfer the video to iPad, which was used to review the movie and count the birds.

Counting the birds using iMovie and Tally 2

When watching the video at normal playback speed, I realized that there still were too many birds to count accurately. As a result, I had to import the video into iMovie and then adjust the clip speed to 0.5x. This slowdown extended the duration of the video, but it also made it significantly easier to count and identify the birds as they landed on the feeder.

To handle the actual counting, I installed the Tally 2 app from Agile Tortoise on my iPhone. Tally 2 was perfect for this situation as it made it possible for my children to watch the video on the iPad and count using my iPhone without taking their eyes off the video.

Tally 2 is simple to use -- just tap anywhere on the iPhone screen to increase the count by 1 and swipe to decrease it by 1 when a mistake is made. Tally also keeps a record of previous tallies, allowing me to split up the counting among my children. They took turns and counted for 5-minute increments. We then were able to add up all the tallies and calculate the total number of birds.

Identifying the birds using Audubon Birds Pro

To identify the different birds, we paused the video playback and then used the Audubon Birds app to identify the species that landed on the feeder. All the birds we saw were common to the Maine winter season, so they were not too difficult to identify using the app.

In the end, we had a successful bird count thanks to the use of my iPhone, iPad and a variety of iOS apps. During a recent busy time, we had over 125 birds in a 30-minute period. We also discovered we were feeding many different species of birds, including downy woodpeckers, chickadees, Nuthatches, Red Polls and more. Though the Great Bird Count of 2015 is over, you can do it again next year in February of 2016. You also can participate in Project Feederwatch , eBird, Celebrate Urban Birds and others.