Posted in bird spotting, bird watching, lifestyle, nature, wildlife

My new favourite phone app: Merlin Bird ID

My husband and I are keen birdwatchers and we love going to our local nature reserves and nearby woodland with out binoculars. Over the years, we’ve built up our knowledge of different woodland, coastal and wetland birds are able to recognise all of the most common varieties by sight. However, what we’ve always found slightly more difficult to do, certainly with woodland birds, is to identify them by sound alone. This is because, most of them have several different songs and a repertoire of calls. So, imagine our delight, when we discovered an app that was capable of recording all of the nearby birds and identifying them within seconds! Today, I thought I’d introduce you to the app we’ve been using for almost a week and explain a little bit about how it works.

Merlin Bird ID

Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Merlin Bird ID is a tool for beginner and intermediate bird watchers which uses a huge database to provide information and identification of literally thousands of different bird species. It is able to recognise birds by photograph or sound, can provide suggestions of IDs based on information you input and supplies details of species which are common to your geographical location. The basic app is free and once you’ve downloaded it and shared and confirmed your email address, then downloaded a pack specific to the country you are in, you’re good to go.

Basic Bird ID button

If you click on the Start Bird ID button, it will ask you five questions about a particular bird you observed. It asks for your location which you can either name, choose current location or select from a Google Map pop up. You then say when you saw the bird (using the calendar), how big it was, the main colours (choosing 1-3), and what it was doing from a choice of options. This particular aspect of the app is very similar to the RSPB bird identifier on their website. Having answered the questions, it will provide suggestions for you to look through and even includes a sound button too.

Photo ID

In this part of the app, you can upload a photo of take a snap of a bird and then zoom in so it fills the frame. From this information, the visual database will try to identify the particular bird. I’ve only tried this once using an image from my phone gallery of a male reed bunting. Although my photo wasn’t particularly good and includes bushes and wire fencing, the app was still able to guess correctly!

Sound ID

This is obviously the feature that I’m enjoying using the most. The instructions say to ‘get as close to the bird as you can, hold still and press record’. The pack that I’ve downloaded includes as database of 867 birds, including a number which are not native to the UK but that you might spot at a centre with bird enclosures such as my local wetlands trust site or a Birds Of Prey place.

What’s great about this aspect of the app is that it is able to identify multiple birds in one recording (it pops up on the screen as soon as it has ID’d each bird) and it highlights in yellow the specific birds it can hear at that time. Also, when you end the recording, it lists all the species that were identified and allows you to read more about them. So far, we’ve often been able to guess most of the birds ourselves but we were excited to see that one of the individuals which we struggled to identify was a nuthatch.

Another plus point of this part of the app is that it includes a red dot next to a bird which is rare in the location or an orange semi circle to identify it as being unusual. This is really cool and it’s so exciting when you spot something a bit different.

Explore birds

This part of the app is great if you want to develop your knowledge of particular types of birds. You can view a range of lists with photos such as waterfowl, shorebirds, finches, warblers etc. You can then select a species by clicking on it to find out more. I haven’t used this part of the app yet but I can imagine it’s especially good if you are a beginner birdwatcher.

Final words…

Although we’ve only been using the app for a week, we’ve both being really enjoying trying it out. It’s super easy to use, seems really accurate and includes a wealth of useful information. I imagine the sound recordings might fill your phone storage up pretty quickly but you can easily delete the recordings when you have done with them.

Let me know in the comments if this kind of app appeals and if you plan to download it to use on your phone. I would also love to hear if you find it useful during trips out in nature.

Happy birding,



A creative planning and journalling addict who lives in the North East of England, My current passions are my bullet journal, my Traveler's Notebook for memory keeping, my DSLR for taking nature photos, my new watercolour paints and my papercrafting supplies. I also own and run LJDesignsNE on Etsy where I sell pretty and functional goodies to fellow planner and journaling addicts.

2 thoughts on “My new favourite phone app: Merlin Bird ID

    1. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. If you allow it to use your location it will provide you with a download pack of all the species where you live.


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