The Merlin App : the Best Bird Identification Application

Birds on a tree

If you are keen on Sundays’ bird watching sessions, here is an app that should highly interest you : the Merlin app, which is the best known app to identify birds from all around the world just by answering 5 simple questions or by sending a picture.  With this app, absolutely no bird – from the smallest Cuban bee hummingbird to the biggest Asian old world warbler – will keep any secret from you.

Merlin Can Identify a Bird Instantly!

Back in the ’90s, a little gadget was launched, which brought about a serious revolution into the bird watching world: the Earth Angel Bird Identification Binoculars were fitted with a tiny microchip enabling them to compare the bird you were watching with the plumage of every known species in the world. It could then identify your bird in 12 seconds flat, which WAS incredible… at the time.

Today, the world has changed and 12 seconds seem a century to some of us. But technology has evolved too, and this new app makes it so quick and easy to identify a bird that you might feel like in a science fiction movie. You just have to answer 5 simple questions or load a picture of the bird your are watching to have it identified instantly.

How Does it Work?

In order to have Merlin check out which bird you are watching at the moment, you have two solutions.

Identifying a Bird Using Photos

If you want Merlin to identify a bird, the first way is by loading a picture on the app, may it be a photograph taken with your smartphone or a picture you already have on your computer or camera screen or straight from your phone. According to Merlin, “For best results, use a photo of the bird unobstructed by vegetation or other birds. Merlin will always suggest a possible ID, but if a person can’t see the bird in the photo well enough to tell what it is, it’s unlikely that Merlin can, either.”

Or Answering Five Simple Questions

Another way to have Merlin identify a bird (or if the picture recognition is not enough) is to answer 5 simple questions, which are :

  • Where did you see the bird?
  • When did you see the bird?
  • What size was the bird?
    For this one, you have the choice between four options: (you may also choose in-between sizes)

    1. a tiny songbird
    2. a robin
    3. a crow
    4. a goose
  • What are the main colours of its feathers? (You can select from 1 to 3 choices amongst 9 different colours)
  • Was the bird…?
    As for this one, you may choose between 6 options:

    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

Just by answering these few questions, Merlin will be able to recognise your bird instantly. So, science fiction or not ?

A Crowdsourcing-Improved App

Now the question is, how can this app recognise so well almost any bird in the world just by using a simple picture or some basic informations? Well, we have to say that it has not always been this way. At first, when the app was launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it was not always able to give a correct identification as the first choice, and even got some pictures entirely wrong. Still, it was a better-than-even chance to get the right bet.

But today, the Merlin app is able to give surprisingly accurate answers. How comes? Simply because it is based on a crowdsourcing method, meaning that any birdwatcher using the app may click on a “This is my bird!” button if he is certain it identified the photo properly. This way, the app is self-sufficient and auto-learning and is able to improve itself on its own. Also, the many checklists sent in to the Cornell Lab via eBird every day are constantly feeding the already enormous Merlin database, which makes the app more and more accurate every single day.

This is how, today, if you send even a lousy photo taken through a window screen, or that the picture is crispy or its colours are distorted, or even if it crops out the most distinctive parts of the bird like wings or tail or the feathers shape, the Merlin app will certainly give you the right ID. Even the wildest birds from the deepest of the Amazonian forest have no secrets from our beloved Merlin.

And even it the wizard has a doubt, he will give you several possibilities, along with informations enabling you to determine by yourself which one is the right one. For example, if you load a photo of an Alder Flycatcher, which is very similar to Least and Willow Flycatchers, Merlin will give you the Alder Flycatcher as the first choice, but also provide you with the two other alternative choices, explaining that Willow Flycatchers would be rare to find around your location, for example. It will also give you additional informations about the first choice, like about its habitat and its sound hints (along with actual recordings!), so that you can double-check that the first answer is the right one. This how the crowdsourcing method (and especially the local informations provided to the Cornell Lab) made Merlin so accurate with time. and it will keep improving!

If you still cannot believe Merlin is so perfect, just check its reviews and give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!

The app is available both on the Play Store for Android phones and on the App Store for Apple phones.

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