Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Experiences with the Merlin Bird ID app

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for tools to help make your fieldwork more efficient or to assist in the identification of particular species. With the huge uptake of smartphones and their daily use, there are a number of apps out there now that can help with species identification or help get you in the right ballpark. Some of these cover wild flowers, fungi, and other groups that are hard to tell apart from one another. I was recently introduced to the Merlin Bird ID App, which was developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by a colleague of mine. Birds are a great group for such an app, as they all have different songs and some of them are easier to distinguish than overs. The app combines advanced technology with extensive ornithological expertise to offer a highly efficient and user-friendly platform for bird identification and research.

For Scientists?

Merlin Bird ID provides scientists and ecologists with a powerful tool for field research and data collection. The app’s ability to accurately identify over 7,500 bird species using a vast database of photos, sounds, and distribution maps enhances the efficiency and accuracy of fieldwork. The app’s AI-driven identification feature can analyse photographs and bird songs (in real time), making it easier for researchers to catalogue species in diverse environments. Additionally, the app’s integration with eBird, a global bird observation database, allows scientists to contribute to and access large-scale data sets, facilitating research on bird populations, migration patterns, and ecological changes. In fact, Merlin depends on sightings reported to eBird in order to predict likely species at a given location. So the more accurate this data is, the more accurate the identification of the species photographed or recorded.

For Students?

Merlin Bird ID is an excellent educational tool for students, offering an interactive and engaging way to learn about birds. The app’s user-friendly interface and guided identification process help students develop their skills in bird identification and familiarise themselves with different species. I can see this being extremely helpful when undertaking ecological surveys as part of a module or course where the student is not familiar with birds. They may not have the interest to be able to distinguish all of the little brown jobs, or they may be an international student, and therefore not familiar with our fauna. Either way, the app offers a number of ways to help identify the species of birds around us. Additionally, the app encourages citizen science participation, allowing students to contribute their observations to eBird, fostering a sense of involvement in real-world scientific research. This also helps to increase the accuracy of the predictions as previously mentioned. This of course also means that it is perfect for the general public too.


As I’ve been playing around with Merlin for some time now, I have found a number of limitations that I feel are worth highlighting. The first of which is that unless a species is calling within 10 metres of you, your phone is unlikely to hear the call. So, try to move closer to any calling birds without spooking them if you can. If a bird is very loud however, this may not be an issue. Additionally, sometimes Merlin will suggest that a call is from a wildly different species to one that you were expecting – I imagine this is due to the fact that some species have similar calls. So, the way I have been able to get around this is to only believe the results if the suggested species are in the country and habitat you’re in, and that you’ve managed to get eyes on them. Likewise, when using photos to identify a species, they can’t been too pixelated and it helps if the bill is included and the lighting is good too. With poor photos, I am less likely to believe the results.

Overall Utility

Overall, Merlin Bird ID stands out for its accuracy, ease of use, and wealth of information. Its ability to facilitate no matter your background or level of experience with birds makes it a versatile tool across different levels of expertise. The app’s continuous updates and the expansion of its database ensure it remains a relevant and valuable resource. For scientists, enthusiasts, and students alike, Merlin Bird ID is an essential app that bridges the gap between technology and ornithology, enhancing our understanding and appreciation of bird life around the globe. Go and give it a go, and let me know how you get on! If you’d like me to review another app, please let me know.

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