Merlin: Easy Bird ID in the technological age

“What is that bird?”

We’ve all had a moment in which we wished we had a pocket field guide.  Merlin, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a free app for iOS and Android smart devices that helps identify birds in real time! It’s our hope that, like the wizard himself, Merlin will “magically” guess which bird you’ve seen.  We also drew some inspiration from the Merlin, which happens to be a small, speedy, and energetic falcon!

The magic of Merlin is rooted in hundreds of sightings by birders who uploaded their data and photographs to our eBird citizen science project.  That means we are able to continually update the app as more people use it to send in their sightings.  Once Merlin predicts your bird through location, time of day, appearance, and activity, it shows you a few photographs of potential matches.  

After selecting your bird, the app has a wealth of information to share about the species!  Another feature of Merlin is completely photo-based, so we’ll match your uploaded photograph to the species we have on record.  Interested in adding to our database? We’re always looking to increase our library of photos and audio recordings.

After identifying with Merlin, the eBird website or app (also available for iOS and Android) can track your sighting so you know where and when you’ve “collected” your birds.  

Merlin has information for a lot of species, so we’ve introduced Bird Packs that are more specific to region.  For example, in March we released the Yucatán Pack for the Península de Yucatán, México.  It also comes in Spanish, because birders speak many languages! Our goal is to make Merlin accessible worldwide, including an online version.  

Celebrate Urban Birds also benefits from this type of data collection.  Part of our mission is accessibility for birders of any level, especially beginners.  With the help of our Citizen Scientist network, we track the sightings of birds all throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico (so far), and pay special attention to a few focal species in particular.  Although we have printer-friendly identification guides, it’s always important to stay relevant and accessible through technology!  

~Brigid Lucey

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