App helps you ID birds with just 5 questions

Getting started with birdwatching can be frustrating. If you know nothing about birds, bird books are overwhelming. Where do you even starts?

Merlin, A new app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, can help make identifying birds a lot easier.

You pull up the app and then answer five questions:

  • Where did you see the bird?
  • When did you see the bird?
  • What size was the bird? (You can pick on scale.)
  • What were the main colors? (You can pick up to three colors.)
  • What was the bird doing? (You pick from a list of options.)

The app makes it incredibly simple to get through these questions. It takes less than a minute to get a list of likely birds. Each bird has a photo, and most birds have several photos, showing males, females and juveniles.

I used it recently. I was able to identify a golden-crowned kinglet I saw at the Woodland Park Zoo and a bufflehead at Ebey’s Landing.

Once you find the bird you were looking for, you can click “This is my bird.” That data helps teach Merlin what birds are where. The app already has data on what birds are seen where, making it more accurate.

The app includes 285 birds, and more will be added. For now, the app is only available for Apple devices, although they are working on a version for Android and a version that will be web-based.

The app is free. You do, however, have to give them your email address. You can try out the app for five days to decide if you like it. If you do, give them your email address and you can keep using it. They’ll send you occasional emails about what the Cornell Lab is up to. You’re welcome to unsubscribe from the email list.

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