What’s that bird? Merlin Bird ID helps you solve the mystery
Language: English (in the version of Android, the names of the birds are also shown in Spanish – option also available in iOS – Portuguese or French)
Runs offline: yes
Last update: Android 07/02/2017 (v. 1.2.4) – iOS 02/02/2017 (v. 1.2.1)
Website of the developer: The Cornell Lab
Notes: article updated on 12/02/2017
Merlin Bird ID is an application designed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in collaboration with Birds in the Hand LLC and funding of National Science Foundation and Pennington Wild Bird Food. It aims to facilitate the birds’ recognition of US and Canada for beginners and intermediate users of this hobby that is attracting more and more people.
A recent update enables to download only the birds of a particular region of the US, so the obtaining of this additional information is the first step to perform to use the application. After completing this task, the application requests access to the user’s location and the date of observation, two key details on the basis of which the application begins to select the different species that shows later (this information is extracted from eBird, a source with more than 70 million). The users are also requested to describe the size of the bird in relation to a number of species more or less known (sparrow, robin, crow or goose), the main colors (up to a maximum of 3) and its behaviour (it was eating at a feeder, swimming or wading, on the ground, in trees or bushes, ona fence or wuire or soaring or flying).
Once all the steps filled in, the application displays a list of possible species that enable the identification. Possible species are presented in the form of a list and detail view. Each species has a small sheet with multiple images, information about their habits and a short description, audio files with their songs or characteristic calls and a distribution map differentiating the breeding and wintering areas. When the presence of a species is rare or unusual for a given location and a specific date, the prefix “Rare” or “Unusual” appears in the card.
It should be mentioned that the application apart from the guided search, also allows searching by name or family through the “Browse all birds” option.
The 1.2 version of the application allows the additional download of the Bird Photo ID tool (82MB for Android), included so far on the Merlin website. This new option allows the identification of birds from images contained in the mobile device. The only necessary requirement is to make zoom until the bird fills the frame that appears on the screen. During this review has been carried out a test with a picture of a pigeon (Columba livia), which is also abundant in the US and Canada and the web app has had no problem identifying the species, showing numerous images about it.
The images correspond to a fictitious query located in Chicago on 11/02/2016.
Images: Screenshots 19/02/2016 © The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Bird watching is a hobby that is continually gaining followers in the US and other areas of the world and has become a major tourist attraction, as in the case of BirdFair held annually in United Kingdom and brings together more than 20,000 people.
Although there is a division of opinion between birders that use apps to identify birds and those who prefer books, it seems that technology is winning the match, either for convenience or the possibilities offered. Merlin Bird ID is aimed to people who are being introduced in this hobby. The app highlights for its numerous audio samples, the distribution maps of the species and the quality of the images. However, it is noteworthy that does not support the search of birds by their scientific name, although a recent update has included this aspect in the image galleries. Regarding Bird Photo ID, the test period to which the tool was submitted already yielded interesting results, so it is expected that its mobile version will become an important utility, although it should be said that the system continues to “learn” to recognize the species, so mistakes may occur.