What's That Bird? A New App Names the Birds You See
“Merlin” iPhone app asks five questions, reveals nearby birds
Cornell Lab of Ornithology has released a free iPhone app to help
people identify 285 birds in North America. Created with support from
the National Science Foundation, the app asks just five questions, then
displays photos of birds that match your description—customized to your
location and time of year.
“We named the app ‘Merlin’ because of its uncanny, almost magical, way
of guessing which bird you saw,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s
Jessie Barry, whose team created the app with partner Birds in the Hand.
"The app is designed for beginning and intermediate bird watchers and
we hope birders will share the free app with friends and family."
Barry says that, far from magic, Merlin uses data from citizen-science
participants and bird watchers to understand how people see and describe
birds—and to narrow the list to the birds found nearby.
The app is the first to use data from the eBird citizen-science project
to dynamically select the birds found within about a 30-mile radius of
your location at the time when you saw the bird.
type of precision is only possible because bird watchers report their
sightings to eBird from locations across North America every day of the
year,” Barry said. Merlin draws upon 70 million eBird sightings to
calculate which species you’re most likely to encounter.
Additionally, bird watchers “trained” Merlin to understand how people
see and describe birds. By participating in online activities to
describe birds based on photos, they contributed more than three million
data points that Merlin uses to deduce which birds are the most likely
based on people’s description of color, size, and behavior.
The app records your response when you confirm the bird you saw,
enabling researchers to identify successful interactions and improve
Merlin’s performance over time. It also displays photos, ID tips,
sounds, and range maps for each species.
The Merlin Bird ID app can now be downloaded from the App Store.
The Cornell Lab plans to release Merlin for Android and online use in
the coming months, and to continue adding more species. Merlin is made
possible with support from the National Science Foundation, Pennington™
Wild Bird Food, and friends and members of the Cornell Lab of
Ornithology. The Cornell Lab is a nonprofit organization with the
mission to improve the understanding and protection of birds.
For the Merlin App video and website, please visit birds.cornell.edu/Merlin.
Other Birding Apps
Smartphone apps are changing the way that we identify and track birds.
There are many options for birders, ranging from field guides to apps
that let you participate in citizen science programs like the GBBC. To
streamline your choice, we’ve summarized some of our favorite applications: http://goo.gl/F0e4KI
National Wildlife Federation also suggests: http://blog.nwf.org/2014/01/14-apps-that-will-revolutionize-your-walk-in-the-woods/