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Merlin. No, not the wizard and not the bird, but a bird app from Cornell which is perhaps a bit of wizardry. For both iOS and Android.

The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note of any observations you have made of the world around you.  Insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
To report on and analyze the changes in our natural environment, it helps to be able to identify what we see. From beginners to advanced birders, everybody uses aids in identifying birds. This particular aid is different from most and bases its effectiveness not on its comprehensiveness, but on what it omits. Currently, it omits all but 400 North American Species. On the other hand, it is tied in to eBird in an interesting way.

I'll try to explain how this can be a good thing after the orange nesting material.

There are two ways to use Merlin, corresponding to the two ways in which people generally use field guides and other resources.  

The second method is to just do a quick check on one or more birds to refresh ones memory or confirm that it is in this area at this time, etc. One can browse the database, find the bird or birds of interest and review. The main tab is a photo of the bird, tapping it blows it up against a black border and allows one to side scroll to other photos. Under the photo is a description of the bird and some of its salient features, sometimes contrasting and comparing to similar birds. Another tab gives sounds allowing you to play the various calls, songs and other noises that the bird makes.  The final tab gives a typical range map color coded for breeding, nonbreeding and year round presence.

Browsing by searching (on the top line) is pretty good, but limited to common names, no band codes or latin. You can just scroll down, but that involves 400 birds. You can jump ahead using little bird silhouettes on the right margin, but they don't take you to the class of birds they look like, but only various distances down from the top or up from the bottom. Still, if you can't recall the bird's name or even its family (dove, warbler, etc.), then you can still browse.

The Primary intended use is to identify a bird based on clues. You provide, in order of occurrence:
Where you saw the bird (it will use current location if your device allows it).
When you saw the bird, prompted for todays date.
The size of the bird out of 7 defined categories.
The main colors (up to 3), with names and exemplars.
What the bird was doing from a seven item pick list.

It then presents you with its suggestions for the bird. The various candidates will be shown in a scrollable vertical pictoral listing (default) or an alternate listing using names and thumbnails. For each candidate there is a main picture with others you can scroll sideways to. There is an icon to play the sounds the bird makes, and a description.  There is a link named “details” that allows access to the three tabs that come up when browsing. When you find your bird, there is a button to be pushed for “yes this is my bird” which prompts you to id another and which also more importantly is used to improve Merlin's accuracy. If your bird isn't there, you can fiddle with some of the descriptors, like size or colors to get a revised list.

Now, here's the trick. The 400 birds are those most commonly seen. This won't help you with rare birds but it will get you to most of the ones you are likely to see a bit more quickly because it doesn't include the unlikely birds. ALSO, when giving results, the results are keyed into your area. If I say I saw a smallish yellow bird, it will not show me a prairie warbler or a prothonotary warbler, because they aren't around here. It uses eBird information for a thirty mile radius around your sighting to decide what you most likely saw at that date and time.

Though it is portrayed as a tool for beginning and intermediate birders, I suspect that advanced birders just might find it more useful than Cornell seems to think. Fleeting glimpses in brush, with perhaps a bit of a call would seem to potentially lend themselves to quicker resolution through Merlin than something more comprehensive such as iBird or Sibley's. At any rate, it is free, and thus available for a penalty free road test.


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Thank you.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 06:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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