Paul Butzi |||

Living in the forest has been a nonstop lesson in birds. Recently, though, I’ve hit on a tool which has really increased my enjoyment - an iPhone app. The app, Merlin Bird ID, is basically Shazam for birdsong. You can hear a bird singing/calling, fire up the app and let it listen, and with astonishing speed it gives you it’s best guess at what species bird it’s hearing.

In the past my bird ID process has worked like this:

  • hear a bird call I don’t recognize
  • try to identify where the bird is, so that if I see birds in that area later, I’ll pay attention and try for a visual ID
  • When I spot a bird in that area, I’ll fire up a bird ID app (I’ve used iBird Pro happily for years) and try to narrow the choices using whatever visual clues I’ve managed to pick up
  • play the recorded songs/calls in iBird Pro for the candidates until I find the one that matches the songs/calls I’ve been hearing

As you can imagine, that’s a pretty slow process. So I’ve wanted an app that would recognize bird song/calls ever since I saw Shazam recognize music.

Merlin Bird ID is astonishing. It’ll ID all the birds it hears even when the songs/calls are intermingled or overlapping, it often gives an ID from just one repeat of a call, and if the ID is uncertain it indicates that.

What’s surprised me is that knowing what bird you’re looking for makes it quite a bit easier to spot the bird in the forest. For instances, if you know the bird has markings of some bright color, suddenly your eyes are tuned to detect even the briefest flash of that color. Even knowing what size bird you’re looking for is a big assist.

Last night while checking that everything was properly locked up I heard the first Black Headed Grosbeak of this year. The call is sort of close to an American Robin so I used Merlin to confirm the call. Bingo. But to my surprise, Merlin also generated a ID that I hadn’t heard - a Swainson’s Thrush. And then when I listened very intently, I heard it, too - very faintly because the bird was quite distant but instantly recognizable because the call is so distinctive. Again, the first time I’ve heard a Swainson’s Thrush this year. Well done, Merlin.

Merlin Bird ID: highly recommended.

Up next Portable Repeater Project - Receiver & Transmitter Portable Repeater Project - Shelf Weights I’m in the process of putting all the bits into the SKB roto-molded 4U rack case I’ve got. Mostly that has consisted of arranging things on the two
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