Easily Identify the Birds in Your Backyard With the Cornell Ornithology Lab's Free Merlin App

New bird, who dis?
New bird, who dis? / Andrew_Howe/Getty Images

Getting into birding comes with a learning curve. Even if your backyard is a birdwatcher's paradise, figuring out which species you're looking at can take time. Luckily, you don't need to be an expert to identify the birds in your neighborhood—all you need is the right technology.

Merlin Bird ID, a free app from Cornell's famed ornithology lab, is like Shazam for birds. After spotting a feathered friend you don't recognize, just pull up the app on your phone. If you were quick enough to snap a photo, you can upload the image to see if it matches one in Merlin's database. This feature works offline, which means you can use it even when birding in remote areas.

Other birder apps use photo identification as well, but Merlin goes one step further. For situations where users can't catch the bird on camera, the app asks three questions. First, it asks for the size of the bird with helpful visualizers, then it has you identify the animal's main colors. Next, it asks what the bird was doing: swimming, sitting on a fence, eating at a feeder, etc.

Using AI deep learning and data for your location, Merlin takes this information and generates a list of possible matches. You can look at pictures of the birds, listen to their calls, and read longer descriptions to determine which species you just spotted.

For people who want to start birdwatching, downloading an app that lets you ID unfamiliar birds in real time is a great place to start. You can get Merlin Bird ID for free from the app store and Google Play. Here are more products for beginner birders and naturalists.