For a beginning birder, learning to use the Merlin Bird ID smartphone app is a bit like a child learning to ride a bike.
There’s the fear of falling right before a delicious rush of adrenaline kicks in. You may be wobbling along, but there’s this faith that with practice, with perseverance, a bicycle will give you the feeling that – like birds – you, too, can fly.
Here’s the amazing thing: Merlin Bird ID is not a mere two-wheeler. This free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is more like a revved-up sports car. It has the power to advance your birding prowess from zero to 60 in six seconds flat, as the saying goes. Flying indeed.
Even the app’s name promises wizardry. The best, most basic function of Merlin is that out of more than 6,000 bird species included, the app can help you know in an instant the name of the bird you’re looking at.
“Merlin doesn’t tell you exactly what bird, but it narrows down the possibilities,” said Jenna Curtis, a project manager at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who works with engagement among eBird users. “Then it’s up to you to decide if it’s the right bird.”
When I first started birding, Merlin taught me most everything I needed to know, (or had the ability to absorb), about each new bird I saw. The sense of immediacy and mastery was intoxicating, propelling me from one bird to the next.
This is the good news. The bad news is that you have to learn to drive this magic machine. Fair warning: If you have the love-hate relationship with technology as I do, sometimes Merlin’s brilliance is mind-boggling. You just want to scream HELLPPPP, or at the very least, slow down!