Bird Sound Wizardry

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

The wizards at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have cast some potent spells with the latest update to their free Merlin Bird ID app.

I’ve had it on my iPhone for ages (it’s also available for Android). But I got used to the iBird app ( and I normally open it for help with bird identification – so Merlin’s been sitting around idle. It wasn’t until last week that I heard about the new sound ID feature they added in June.

Sound ID records bird songs around you, analyzes them, and suggests IDs for what’s singing. You can compare the recording to other songs and calls for confirmation. It’s also a great way to learn bird calls. Hearing some, and then having the app tell you what they are in real time is great re-enforcement and helps you remember what you’ve heard. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

I updated the app and tried it out yesterday on a trip over to MINWR. I simply held it out, watched the waveforms record and the results as they came up magically on my screen. Here’s a screenshot:

I used it several times and it found Black-necked Stilts, Red-winged Blackbirds, Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Kingbirds, Ospreys, and Mourning Doves. Most of them before I ever saw the birds. When the Eastern Kingbird ID popped up, I started looking for them and spotted this one perched briefly on a distant branch:

Eastern Kingbird Eastern Kingbird

Since it told me Stilts and Yellowlegs were around, I could keep an eye out for them too.

Black-necked Stilt Black-necked Stilt

Greater Yellowlegs Greater Yellowlegs

I was surprised by how sensitive the recordings are. It heard most all the calls that I did, and it seems accurate, at least in this short test.

There are 458 birds in the Sound ID list and more are promised. Cornell Labs has done some fine work with this. I think it’ll be very helpful to me in the future. If you’re at all interested in birds or birding, it belongs on your phone too! Did I mention that it’s free?

Header image: A pair of bunnies I also photographed yesterday. No, Merlin didn’t pull them out of a hat. That would’ve been very advanced technology! Full image at

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Covid cases in Florida are still at an all time high. Be careful out there and please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, photograph (and ID) some birds!

©2021, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

4 thoughts on “Bird Sound Wizardry

  1. I married my “bird sound app” over 50 years ago.

    The new Merlin app is pretty cool. Unfortunately, I can’t hear most bird sounds. Gini, on the other hand, can hear a hummingbird whisper at 500 yards. She’s having fun with the new Merlin features.

    My eyesight is still fair and your photographs are stunning! Thank you for sharing!

    1. 50 years? You are a lucky man!

      Sorry about your ears. I think I can still hear fairly well, although my wife says I never hear what she’s saying. I am very poor with bird calls, though and Merlin will be a help for me.

      And thanks for the comment on my photos – you’re very kind.

      Stay safe out there!

  2. Thanks for this email Ed. I have the Merlin app but have not used it. After reading your post I decided to give it a try in our back yard. I recorded some yesterday afternoon and again this morning. I was surprised at how well it did with all of the background noise at times. It recorded 15 different species of birds. I am not good with bird sounds but this tool will help me learn. Thanks again for your post.

    1. Jim,

      You’re very welcome.
      I think this app will help many people (like me) that aren’t very good with bird calls. I too was surprised at how well it did with background noise and how sensitive it was to the bird sounds.


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