Today’s column is for those out there who can’t tell a phoenix from a griffin.
Those are birds all right, but they are mythical ones. Nonetheless, there are plenty of birds around — and they may as well be phoenixes or griffins for all the knowledge many people have about them.
And this is where Merlin Bird ID comes in. It’s a tremendously helpful app (available for iOS and android systems). It’s free, produced by the Cornell Lab of ornithology with the goal of improving and protecting birds in nature.
You might see a bird you know little about, but you can make five simple observations and tell Merlin about them. The app will need the location and date sighted, the size and color, and the bird’s behavior.
Once entered, Merlin will come up with a list of suspects.
The first two questions — location and date — may seem insignificant, but they are really the most important ones. “It takes years of experience in the field to know what species are expected at a given location and date,” notes the Cornell lab’s website. “Merlin shares this knowledge with you based on more than 800 million sightings submitted to eBird.org from birders around the world.”
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Capturing a photo of the bird makes chore identification even easier. Simply upload the picture into the app, and Merlin will offer an option or so. This photo ID feature works offline, because birders many times find themselves out of range of cell towers.
The images offered to the program can be a fresh one just snapped, or it could have been taken earlier, but there wasn’t time to use the photo feature to identify the bird.
A Cornell spokesman said more than 8,000 species are covered in the Photo ID library. The images come from the eBird.org library and from those contained in the Macaulay library.
The Macaulay library, also located at Cornell, brings up another way Merlin helps with bird identification. The library has more than 42 million photos, audio recordings and videos. It includes just over 10,000 species of birds from more than 8,000 contributors. Nearly 1,500 scientific publications use the archives. It is the world’s largest archive of animal sounds.
If you have a recording of a bird song, upload it to the app. It may be able to identify the species. Or users can listen to bird calls, and learn what different species sound like.
Beginning birders will appreciate Merlin Bird ID, because it’s easy to use and designed to help users expand their knowledge.
Download it. I don’t think you’ll have any egrets.
Ow! What a cheap joke.
Lonnie Brown can be reached at [email protected].