The Merlin App : the Best Bird Identification Application

The Merlin App : the Best Bird Identification Application
Getty Images
Getty Images

If you enjoy bird watching on Sundays, this app should be of great interest to you: the Merlin app, which is the most well-known app for identifying birds from all over the world by answering 5 simple questions or sending a picture. With this application, no bird, from the tiniest Cuban bee hummingbird to the largest Asian old-world warbler, will be able to conceal anything from you.

Merlin Can Identify a Bird Instantly!

The Earth Angel Bird Identification Binoculars were outfitted with a tiny microchip that allowed them to compare the bird you were observing with the plumage of every known species. This invention ushered in a major revolution in the world of bird watching. It could then identify your bird in a mere 12 seconds, which WAS astounding… at the time.

Today, 12 seconds seem like an eon to some of us as the world has changed. However, technology has also advanced, and this new app makes bird identification so simple that you may feel like you’re in a science fiction film. You only need to respond to five simple questions or upload an image of the bird you are observing to have it identified immediately.

How Does it Work?

There are two ways to have Merlin determine which bird you are observing at the moment.

Identifying a Bird Using Photos

If you would like Merlin to identify a bird, the first step is to load a picture of the bird onto the app, whether it was taken with your smartphone or is already on your computer, camera screen, or phone. “Use a picture of the bird that is unobstructed by foliage or other birds for maximum results.” says Merlin. Merlin will always suggest a possible identification, but if a person cannot identify the bird in the photo, it is unlikely that Merlin can either.

Or Answering Five Simple Questions

Alternatively, or if image recognition is insufficient, you can answer five simple questions to have Merlin identify a bird:

  • Where did you see the bird?
  • When did you see the bird?
  • What size was the bird?
    In this case, you have four options to choose from: (you may also select sizes in between)a tiny songbird
    1. a robin
    2. a crow
    3. a goose
  • What are its primary feather colors? (You may select one to three colors from a palette of nine)
  • Was the bird…?
    Regarding this question, you have 6 options to choose from:
    1. eating at a feeder
    2. swimming or wading
    3. on the ground
    4. in trees or bushes
    5. on a fence or wire
    6. soaring or flying

By answering these few questions, Merlin will be able to instantly identify your bird. So, is science fiction plausible?

A Crowdsourcing-Improved App

The question now is how this app can identify almost any bird in the world so accurately using only a simple image or some basic information. We must admit, however, that this was not always the case. Initially, when the Cornell Lab of Ornithology launched the app, it was not always able to provide a correct identification as the first option and got some images completely wrong. Still, there was a better-than-even chance of making the correct wager.

However, the Merlin app can now provide surprisingly accurate answers. What gives? Because it is based on crowdsourcing, any birdwatcher using the app can click the “This is my bird!” button if he believes the photo has been correctly identified. Thus, the application is self-sufficient, self-learning, and capable of self-improvement. In addition, the numerous daily checklists sent to the Cornell Lab via eBird are constantly feeding the already enormous Merlin database, making the app more accurate every day.

Thus, even if you send a poor photo taken through a window screen, or if the picture is grainy or its colors are distorted, or if the most distinguishing features of the bird, such as its wings, tail, or feather shape, are cropped out, the Merlin app will provide the correct identification. Even the most untamed Amazonian birds have nothing to hide from our cherished Merlin.

Even if the wizard is uncertain, he will provide you with multiple options and the information you need to determine which one is the correct one. For instance, if you upload a photo of an Alder Flycatcher, which is very similar to the Least and Willow Flycatchers, Merlin will give you the Alder Flycatcher as the first option, but also provide you with the two other alternatives, explaining, for instance, that Willow Flycatchers are uncommon in your area. It will also provide additional information about the first option, such as its habitat and sound cues (along with actual recordings! ), so that you can verify that the first answer is correct. This is how the crowdsourcing method (and particularly the local information provided to the Cornell Lab) enabled Merlin to be so precise with time. and it will continue to improve!

If you still cannot believe how perfect Merlin is, simply read its reviews and give it a shot; you won’t regret it!

The application is available on both the Play Store for Android devices and the App Store for iOS devices.