If you want to easily elevate your bird identification skills to a new level, I suggest that you download into your smart phone the free Merlin Bird ID app. This app is designed by the Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology to simplify bird identification.
One of the best ways to learn to identify birds by sight and sound is to be fortunate enough to have a mentor that can guide you through what at first seems to be a complex and confusing process. If you are like me, when you started out on this lifelong journey, you had to teach yourself the nuances of bird identification using nothing more than a Peterson field guide and a vinyl long-playing recording of bird calls. Nowadays beginning and veteran birds alike can benefit from a variety of birding tools that make birding easier than ever before. One of best of these tools I have stumbled across is the Merlin Bird ID app. When you download Merlin into your iPhone, you are carrying an electronic mentor around in your pocket.
Merlin helps to visually identify birds in two ways. For example, you can name a bird using a photograph. Simply take a picture of the bird and run it through the app’s photo processing feature, the picture will be compared to literally thousands of digital photographs in Cornell’s massive photo library. In a matter of seconds, Merlin will make suggestions as the bird’s identity.
If you don’t have a picture of a bird, you can determine the bird’s identity by answering three simple questions relating to its size, color and habitat. In a matter of seconds, Merlin processes your answers and generates a list (complete with photos) of possible matches.
The feature that I am most fond of is the song/call identifier. If you hear a bird singing from a dense shrub or treetop and wonder what bird is producing the distinctive sounds, Merlin is ready to solve the mystery. All you have to do to use this feature is hold out your phone and tap the record button. The device uses your iPhone’s microphone to detect the songs and calls filling the air all around you. The app records these sounds and compares them to the bird songs housed in Cornell’s extensive audio library and develops a list of possible matches (complete with photos). The matches pop up on your phone’s screen. Often you will be amazed at what the device detects. Whereas you might have thought the calls and songs coming from the trees and shrubs around your house were made only by mockingbirds and cardinals, only to discover white-eyed vireos, pine warblers, and a wood thrush were also lurking nearby. On more than one occasion, the app has identified up to ten species of birds vocalizing in my backyard on a spring morning.
At the end of each recording session, you can compare the app’s identifications with the recordings of each species in question and decide whether or not Merlin was correct.
Keep in mind these are tentative identification. However, based on my limited experience using the app, I have found the sound identification feature has been accurate over 90 percent of the time.
The Merlin app also has a variety of other features that I did not describe. With that in mind, for more information regarding this powerful birding tool, go online and read about Merlin’s entire suite of features.
It is truly amazing that the app is packed with so much information. Can you believe the app is free?
If you give the app a try, let me know what you think of it.