Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

I first discovered Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology earlier this summer, when I was trying to figure out the identity of a particular bird of prey in my neighborhood. After looking at a number of birding apps, I learned that Merlin could identify over 6000 different types of birds, by listening to their calls. Not only was I impressed by the number of bird calls that it had amassed, I also liked that Cornell is located close to Buffalo, in Ithaca, NY. In fact, in recent years, Cornell has been getting more involved with Buffalo on a number of levels. For example, each year, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County hosts its spectacular Master Gardener Plant Sale at First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo.

Downloading the Merlin Bird ID onto your phone opens a world of convenient birding that you probably didn’t know even existed. Within minutes of getting the app, I was learning more about birds in my neighborhood than I had ever managed to learn throughout the decades that I have lived in my house. While some of the birds were everyday in nature, such as robins and cardinals, others were ones that I had maybe heard, but never seen, like the rose-breasted grosbeak, which is listed as ‘uncommon.’ I also learned that the bird of prey that I was attempting to identify was, in fact, a merlin falcon, coincidentally (listed as ‘rare’). One or more of the merlins has been flying overhead everyday, which I find exciting because I don’t recall seeing -or hearing them – in the past.

Aside from recording and identifying the various birds that are chirping and singing in my neighborhood, the Merlin Bird ID tells me about each of the birds, and is able to play back the sounds that have been recorded. Or I can listen to recordings from other bird enthusiasts, to figure out the nuances of bird calls that differ from region to region.

A few months ago, I was listening to a crow call out, but it didn’t sound quite right. Thanks to the Merlin Bird ID, I realized that it was a common raven, which I was not aware was buzzing overhead in the distance at the time. So I added it to my “List of Birds” on the app, which is growing week to week.

On the Merlin website, I read the following about the utilitarian nature of the app:

Merlin asks you five questions about the bird you saw, then draws upon more than 750 million observations from eBird to show you the most likely species at your location and time of year. You can also upload a photo and challenge Merlin to identify it using its computer vision capability, powered by artificial intelligence trained with millions of bird photos submitted with eBird checklists to the Lab’s Macaulay Library.

There’s a lot more to Merlin than meets the eye. If you have been wondering about the birds that you have seen or heard, perched or flying around your house, I suggest that you download this handy-dandy app. I’ve always loved watching and listening to birds. And now, I have an even greater appreciation for my fine feathered friends, not to mention a newfound wealth of knowledge.

Happy birding!

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