There Are More Birds In Your Backyard Than You Realize

Kingfisher in NepalI love birds and I enjoy birding. And yet, I’m lazy at times. I also really enjoy citizen science.

Now there is a tool to help lazy birders, or people who are just mildly interested in the birds around their home, to identify birds and add to the world’s knowledge.

While the Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been around a long while, recently they have updated and improved their bird song identifier. And unlike other bird song identifiers out there, this one is super automatic. As in, press record, walk away, come back to a list of birds it ‘heard’.

After only using it for a week or two with serious interest, I enjoy the ability to ‘hear’ birds I can’t hear. My hearing sucks and I can’t hear a lot of higher pitches, so this app lets me know what is around when my human hearing fails me. And after it records a bird, you can replay that part of the recording to confirm or rule out a bird (the app gives you samples of the bird in question so you can compare songs and sounds).

Normally I can identify maybe 3-5 birds around my house in the morning if I stop to look. But I’m lazy and I only stop for a minute or two to observe (kind of an oxymoron, but you get my point….I have other lazy stuff to do). With this app, I can keep my ears open even when I’m not around.

Here is a full list from 30 minutes of recording this morning.

23 birds!

And it didn’t even catch the annoying Canada Geese that were a far ways off (but you can still hear them all the way from Canada).

Note that the Lawrence’s Goldfinch, House Sparrow and White-tailed Kite have a symbol next to them. That one in particular (a half-filled circle) means it is uncommon for my location. There is another symbol for rare. With that in mind, I click on the White-tailed Kite to see what is offered for verification.

The app jumps to the location in the recording where it ‘heard’ the bird. I can then hit play and listen closely, then test that sound against the Calls it lists from Cornell’s catalog. There is an option to report the bird on eBird and to read more Details (plus see more pictures).

You can save the audio recording (they are are saved to your phone inside the app automatically and can be referenced later) to a cloud storage, share the recording with other people or apps and there is a section at the bottom of the screen to report a recording that has no match (for instance, if you were purposefully recording one single bird while trying to identify it but the app couldn’t make a match).

Here’s a sample screen of recent recordings where I can go back and try to find birds I’ve heard before or just remember what the heck I was doing. 🙂

There is a lot more to the app and the whole eBird/Merlin ecosystem, too much for me to include here.

Suffice to say, I plan to use this app while I travel (currently it only works in the US and Europe and with newer hardware) so I can ‘hear’ what’s around me and have a clue when I actually see the birds. It will also help seasonally as birds come and go in my backyard.

Next Step: Get a HaikuBox when they are available and automatically be notified when it hears a new bird!

2 Replies to “There Are More Birds In Your Backyard Than You Realize”

  1. Michael Russell

    I do like this app a lot too, though I’m usually using it to ID something specific that I’m hearing. BTW I can download a few different “bird packs” for Canada so it isn’t just useful in the USA/Europe!


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