Wondering How to Identify a Bird? There’s An App For That.

New Merlin app identifies birds in five simple questions.

Ever caught sight of a beautiful bird, but struggled to identify it easily? There’ an app for that. Merlin, a new bird app released by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership with Birds in the Hand, can now help birders around the country figure out which species they’re seeing.

“We realized that a lot of people online are searching for help identifying birds,” says Jessie Barry, Merlin project leader. “It’s tricky when you open a field guide to narrow in on the birds that are likely to be near you, so we wanted to make something that was really simple for beginners to identify a bird.”

And simple it is. First, answer five simple questions: When and where did you see the bird? What color was it? What was the bird doing? How big was it?  

Voila, up on your screen pop up photos of possible species, customized to time of year and location, thanks to the incorporation of data collected from the eBird citizen-science project. Click on one of the photos, and the app gives you further information about the bird—photos, ID tips, sounds and range maps for the species. Once you’ve settled on an ID, click “that’s my bird” and the app records the response so that the developers can improve Merlin’s performance.

“Merlin is a little birding coach,” Barry says. The app was targeted at beginner bird watchers, but she believes it could be useful to intermediate birders as well.

Currently, Merlin can identify 285 bird species that are commonly found in the most populous areas of the United States and Canada; an update with another 30 bird species should be out in the next couple of weeks, says Barry. By spring, it should contain an additional 150 species. Merlin is available for free from the iTunes Store; the Android version is in the works.

In its first three weeks on the market, Merlin has seen a respectable 40,000 downloads.  

It’s no Flappy Birds, but then this is an app that will get you outside, enjoying the beauty of nature, rather than staring at your screen with growing rage for hours on end.