Merlin Bird ID app identifies birds you hear singing

There have been apps around for a long time that listen to a snippet of a song playing on the radio and tell you who sings it and what the song is called. Something similar has now debuted called the Merlin Bird ID app that can identify what type of bird is singing. The app was developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is free to download.

Merlin can recognize sounds from over 400 species of birds in the US and Canada. Merlin listens and uses artificial intelligence technology to identify each species. The app displays in real-time a list and photos of the birds that are singing or calling in your area. The University promises updates in the future that will allow the app to identify additional types of birds.

Identifying what type of bird is singing has been extremely difficult, according to the researchers. They made a breakthrough when they began treating the sounds as images and applying powerful image classification algorithms such as the one powering the Merlin app's photo ID feature. Each sound recording the user makes is converted from a waveform to a spectrogram, which is a way to visualize the sound's amplitude, frequency, and duration.

Essentially the app uses a picture of the bird's sound to make an ID. The tech behind the sound identification process is powered by tens of thousands of citizen scientists who contributed bird observations and sound recordings to Cornell Lab's global database called eBird. Inside that database are thousands of sound recordings used to train Merlin to recognize an individual bird species.

The database also contains more than a billion bird observations that allow Merlin to know which birds are likely to be present at a particular place and time. The app can now identify birds in four different ways, including by sound, by photo, by answering five questions about a bird the user observed, and by exploring a list of the birds expected in the user's location. Merlin is also able to identify bird sounds even if multiple birds are singing at once.