Cornell University: Merlin Bird ID app identifies more than 450 bird species by sound

Spring bird migration is a natural wonder you can see and hear, thanks to the free Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The app’s AI-powered sound identification feature recognizes the voices of 458 species in the United States and Canada. The app can pull up a likely bird ID no matter what song or call a bird is making–even if many species are “talking” at once.

“Sound ID unlocks a whole new way of enjoying nature that produces not just one magical moment but many,” said Jessie Barry, program manager of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab. “It really does feel like magic when you match a mystery sound with the name of the bird making it.”

Merlin makes it easy to identify birds as they’re singing. Simply hold up your smart phone, tap the Sound ID button, and Merlin shows you the name of each bird detected in real time, along with a photo to help you clinch the ID.

“You get not only the thrill of identifying birds with Merlin, but you can learn about each bird with ID tips, range maps, and more than 80,000 photos and sounds from the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library,” said Merlin project leader Drew Weber. “People are really blown away by Merlin’s capability and depth. In addition to sound ID, Merlin can also identify birds if you upload a photo or answer five questions about the bird you saw.”

Merlin’s accurate and instantaneous answers are made possible by machine learning technology and by millions of bird watchers who share their observations with eBird, the Cornell Lab’s global database. Engineers from the Cornell Lab trained Merlin sound ID using 750,000 recordings of bird sound from birdwatchers.

“Groundbreaking technological advances are part of the magic behind Merlin,” said Cornell Lab research engineer Grant Van Horn. “But it’s experienced birdwatchers who make this all possible by contributing to eBird’s global database.”

“This combination of technology and people power has opened up a whole new bridge to the natural world,” said Weber. “It’s helping people of all ages get involved in understanding and enjoying the outdoors more and, we hope, inspiring them to protect places that people and wildlife share.”

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