From the Winter 2020 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.
In 2014 we introduced our free free Merlin Bird ID app, designed to help people answer their #1 question: What’s the name of the bird I just saw? The app works amazingly well thanks to its “smart” approach: users answer a few simple questions or, snap a picture and then the app uses eBird data to present a short list of possibilities tailored to your location and date. More than a million downloads later, the app is more powerful than ever—it now covers more than 37,0500 species across 40 countries, and it can even ID birds in photos., and now it can even ID birds singing around you!
One thing we’ve realized as we talk to people about Merlin is that a lot of people use it for one main function, but may not be aware of other great features just a few taps away, including a full set of bird songs, automatic identification of birds in photos, ways to interface with eBird lists, and much more. How many of these features do you use?
Identify birds singing around you
Merlin Bird ID can now identify the birds singing around you. Simply press record, point the microphone at a singing bird, and you’ll get real-time suggestions of who’s singing. Learn more about Merlin Sound ID.
Merlin identifies bird sounds using breakthroughs in machine learning technology to recognize bird sounds based on spectrograms—visual representations of sounds. Thousands of recordings from eBird contributors help “train” Merlin to recognize spectrograms of each bird species. Merlin’s new Sound ID feature is available for species in the U.S. and Canada, with new regions and species coming soon.
Works on iOS and Android devices
Offers ID text, photos, sounds, and maps for more than 7,500+ species in 40 countries
Merlin Bird ID is a new kind of bird ID tool and digital field guide all in one, created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and thousands of volunteer citizen scientists, photographers, audio recordists, field guide authors, and bird enthusiasts. When you describe the bird, Merlin matches up your input with millions of records from the eBird database, descriptions from experts, and more than 3 million annotations from thousands of volunteers who “taught” Merlin how people describe birds.
About the media
The app features curated sets of photos and sounds, all of which were contributed by citizen scientists using the Macaulay Library.
Identify a photo
If you can get a photo of a bird on your smartphone, you can use Merlin to identify it. You can snap a photo with your phone, choose a photo from your phone’s gallery, or even take a photo of a photo or a snapshot from the back of a camera. The photo doesn’t need to be great, either—Merlin’s image recognition can probably handle it.
Photo ID was developed in collaboration with Dr. Pietro Perona’s computational vision lab at Caltech, Dr. Serge Belongie’s computer vision group at Cornell Tech, and collaborators on the Visipedia project. Merlin Photo ID uses computer vision technology to identify birds in photos. Merlin learns to recognize bird species based on training sets of hundreds of thousands of photos from birders who share their images with eBird and the Macaulay Library.
Listen to songs and calls
Merlin doubles as a set of bird songs and calls you can use as a reference when you’re outside. If you hear something you don’t recognize, use the Explore Birds feature to search or browse through the species in your app. Pick a species and tap the Sounds tab to open up a list of recordings of the species’ most common sounds.
Set your location so you can ID birds even without Internet
Merlin is designed to help you identify birds no matter how deep into the forest or field you are. This is important when you are traveling off the beaten path, or even if you have spotty Internet around your hometown. You don’t want to be stuck not knowing what bird you are looking at just because you can’t connect!
The key to using Merlin Bird ID when you’re offline is to set your location ahead of time. Tap on Explore Birds, then look for the filter icon in the top right of your screen. Tapping this will open up a panel where you can set your location to whatever your destination is. When you are off adventuring, those locations you set will be available in the history of locations, and will work completely offline.