Media We Love: The Merlin Bird ID app

Media We Love: A gray bird sits on a fencepost with a squiggly stick in its mouth.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Barry Medlin in Hahira, Georgia, captured this image on May 8, 2023. He wrote: “This mockingbird was busy all day bringing in different materials for the nest in our crepe myrtle tree.” Thank you, Barry! The Merlin Bird ID app can help you identify birds in your yard. Read more in this installment of Media We Love.

Media We Love: Merlin Bird ID app

Kelly Kizer Whitt recommends the Merlin Bird ID app

On a relatively quiet Sunday evening in my neighborhood, I sat out on my porch about an hour before sunset. With the construction, lawn mowing and car sounds of the weekday finally absent, the air came alive with a chorus of birds. Using my recently downloaded Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I clicked on Sound ID and the app began recording all the tweets, chirps, caws and coos surrounding me.

I let the app run for 20 minutes, recording bird sounds the entire time. It automatically identified the birds behind the noises. As it did, it kept a running list in the window and would light up yellow beneath each bird’s name to indicate what my phone – and my ears – were hearing.

Over the 20 minutes, the app identified 15 birds. Most of them I was well-acquainted with, as they visit my bird feeders or hang out on my lawn. One of the birds, the common nighthawk, had a special half-filled circle by its name. The half circle indicates that it’s an uncommon species (apparently despite its moniker). Rare species would be indicated by a solid red circle.

It felt a bit like I was getting to know the neighbors better as I saw each new bird species pop up on the list.

My mother, who made me aware of the app, lives about 15 miles (25 km) away from me. Her location is in a forested area, and on the Monday morning after my experiment, she ran Sound ID for 10 minutes. The app counted 33 birds at her site. More than twice as many as mine!

I’m excited to try the app a couple weeks from now as I travel to the Rocky Mountains and “meet” some new birds.

More about the free app

If you want to try the app, it’s free, but it can take up a lot of storage space on your phone. When you first download the app, you’ll want to put in your location and install the “bird pack” for your region. Or – for 1.39 GB of space – you can install the bird pack for both the U.S. and Canada. I plan to travel to Canada later this summer, so I went ahead and put the bigger bird pack on my phone.

Of course, you can also identify birds on the app through photos with their Photo ID option. You can also explore the birds in their database and sign in to create your own list of birds, essential for the true birder.

And once you’ve created a log in, you can use the same log in for things such as the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project FeederWatch and more.

Two blue and white birds face each other with beaks wide open as if shouting.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Diane Rains captured this photo of tree swallows in Hudson, Wisconsin, on May 12, 2023. Diane wrote: “In this photo 2 of our resident females argue over a favored nestbox. Fortunately, violence did not erupt!” Thank you, Diane!

Images from the Merlin Bird ID app

Here’s a look at what you’ll see when you download the Merlin Bird ID app. Here’s a screenshot of some of the birds the app identified in my backyard.

A visual of sound waves at top with a list of birds and an image of each below.
Here’s a peek at the list of birds the Merlin Bird ID heard in my yard. Image via Merlin Bird ID/ Kelly Kizer Whitt.

And, if you need to identify a bird you saw, they help you with a step-by-step guide.

Three smart phone screens showing steps on visual identification.
Follow the steps so that Merlin Bird ID can help you identify the bird you saw. Image via Merlin Bird ID.
Icon image showing a cartoon of a black and yellow bird flying with app name below.
The Merlin Bird Id app.

Bottom line: In this installment of Media We Love, EarthSky editor Kelly Kizer Whitt recommends the Merlin Bird ID app.

May 24, 2023

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