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Merlin ID app can recognize 685 bird species by voice

Eastern Meadowlark singing. Photo by Marky Mutchler/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The free Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology now can recognize the voices of 685 species from North America and Europe, as well a mix of widespread Neotropical birds. The AI-powered sound identification feature can pull up a likely ID no matter what song or call a bird is making — even if many species are vocalizing at once.

The lists of bird sounds supported in the app overlap to some extent because some of the birds are found on both continents. The app can recognize 492 regularly occurring birds in the U.S. and Canada, and if you include species that turn up occasionally in North America, the number is 560 species.

Merlin can also ID 248 regularly occurring species of Europe. The full list of 685 species is displayed here.

An update was rolled out yesterday (April 18) for iOS devices and will be available for Android devices in a couple of weeks.

The numbers are likely to grow in coming years. 

A Merlin screenshot of Eastern Meadowlark songs and calls.

“Merlin’s Sound ID unlocks a whole new way of enjoying nature that produces not just one magical moment but many,” said Jessie Barry, program manager of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab. “It really does feel like magic when you match a mystery sound with the name of the bird making it.” 

Merlin makes it easy to identify birds as they’re singing. Simply hold your phone up, tap the Sound ID button, and Merlin shows you the name of each bird detected in real time, along with a photo to help you clinch the ID.

“You get not only the thrill of identifying birds with Merlin, but you can learn about each bird with ID tips, range maps, and more than 80,000 photos and sounds from the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library,” said Merlin project leader Drew Weber. “People are really blown away by Merlin’s capability and depth. In addition to sound ID, Merlin can also identify birds if you upload a photo or answer five questions about the bird you saw.”

Merlin’s accurate and instantaneous answers are made possible by machine learning technology and by millions of birdwatchers who share their observations with eBird. Engineers at the Cornell Lab trained Merlin Sound ID using 750,000 recordings of bird sound from birdwatchers.

“Groundbreaking technological advances are part of the magic behind Merlin,” said Cornell Lab research engineer Grant Van Horn. “But it’s experienced birdwatchers who make this all possible by contributing to eBird’s global database.”

“This combination of technology and people power has opened up a whole new bridge to the natural world,” said Weber. “It’s helping people of all ages get involved in understanding and enjoying the outdoors more and, we hope, inspiring them to protect places that people and wildlife share.”

The Cornell Lab shared these comments about Merlin from users:

“The app transforms birding — especially for relative novices like me. I had such a great time, finally getting to identify some birds that I hear all the time but am unable to see due to the dense foliage.”

“For those of us with hearing-related disability, Sound ID is transformative. This is a technology that can change lives of people who have, until now, been denied access to an entire dimension of the natural world.”

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