This wonderful app recognizes almost every bird you see or hear. It’s a free and fun way to learn about birds, whether you’re out hiking or at home and curious. When I tried similar services pre-pandemic, they felt clunky or crashed.
Merlin is fast, ad-free and reliable. It is also easy to use. Open the app on any iOS or Android device and you’ll see four options.
- Discover birds. If you just want to learn more about birds, this option allows you to scroll through a list, read short descriptions, and hear recordings of bird sounds.
- Photograph a bird. Take or upload a photo. Merlin will identify it in seconds.
- Describe a bird. Answer a few multiple-choice questions about a bird’s size, color, activity, and location, and Merlin suggests what it could be.
- Sound. Identify birds by picking up a little sound even when you’re not close. This is my favorite feature because I usually can’t get close enough — and don’t have the patience and skill — to take quality bird photos.
I love how the app points out not just one bird, but a variety of local species, even if they’re all chirping at the same time. I can click on any of the birds to learn more, or listen to recordings so I can eventually recognize bird calls without the app.
Merlin and its sister app, eBird, are projects of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can use eBird to keep track of birds you’ve seen and share sightings with the world’s largest community of birdwatchers.
Since I don’t keep bird lists, I only use Merlin to identify birds I hear or see. It works best in quiet places. Background noise makes it difficult to use during city park walks.
Point To search with any plant, flower, insect or animal and the app magically identifies it. I love spotting new flowers and strange insects and learning about unique species.
The app does not collect any user data and has no ads. It doesn’t even require registration. It’s free for iOS and Android. Search was made by iNaturalista joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
Results vary depending on how close you are, how much light there is, and how good your phone’s camera is. I’m amazed at how often the app quickly identifies what I’m looking at.
I sometimes feel torn about using Seek with my wife and daughters because we prefer not to have screens outdoors. Having used it extensively early in the pandemic, we now use it more selectively, especially when we discover something intriguing that we want to remember or learn more about.
Audubon Bird Guide
This one classic field guide for birdwatchers is free on iOS and Android. It has more detailed bird information than Merlin for those who want to dig deeper. The app allows you to identify birds by noting their size, color, habitat, wing shape, tail shape, voice type or activity, so you don’t have to take a picture or record sound. If you prefer to enjoy nature without technology, you can open the app later to learn more about what you’ve seen or heard.