I’m just addicted to the Merlin app’s new Sound ID feature. Whenever I’m outside, walking my daily 10,000 steps or sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee, I hit the green button to see who’s out there singing.
I’ve struggled for years just to learn the repertoires of all the sparrows and warblers. Most of them still elude me. Speaking of 10,000 steps, translated to hours, that’s about what it would take for to me to learn all of the 456 species that Merlin recognizes in a snap.
Last week Anders and I did a Zoom workshop on the Sound ID feature in the Merlin app for a group of seniors in Washington, D.C. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology added sound recognition to its free Merlin ID app a few months ago, promising real-time suggestions for the songs and calls of 456 bird species in North America. Most of our workshop attendees were new to the app and eager to learn the finer points of how to get the most out of this powerful tool.
Right off the bat I should tell you that while Sound ID is truly amazing, it isn’t perfect. Based on our own experiences with the app while traveling across the country this summer — plus questions from the workshop – we’re using this post to add some pointers to my “Beverly’s Basics” page here on Flying Lessons.
Before we get started, if you aren’t familiar with Sound ID, please click here for our recent post that covers how to install the app on your phone or iPad, and here for the Cornell lab’s basic tutorial.
For those of us who don’t love learning a new technology, here’s a bit of incentive: According to a recent study by the National Park Service and several universities, birdsong reduces your stress more than any other sound in nature. (Click here for the study.) Listening to birds can be even more enjoyable if you know which birds are singing. Sound ID is especially useful in a dense forest and other landscapes where it’s way easier to hear birds than to see them.
Merlin also feels like a personal tutor when you’re starting out trying to learn birdsongs, and it’s a fun and effective way to make progress no matter where you are in learning to recognize songs.
Merlin works best when you’re fairly close to the birds – especially when the birds are making chip calls instead of singing. Unless it’s extremely noisy, Sound ID will work. It recognizes birds in the midst of most extraneous sounds, including normal conversation, barking dogs and even lawnmowers. But again, you need to be fairly close, and I hope the lab can find a way to extend the range over time. Merlin is really good at recognizing hawks and crows even when they’re pretty far away, so there’s hope!