Thumbnail image: Ryan Sanderson/Macaulay Library
[Lisa Kopp] Hi, all. Good to see you. We are excited to get things going. I’m just going to go through a few quick announcements and then we will get started. I’m really excited. Today we’re going to be talking about Merlin, this amazing tool to help you go out and identify birds, especially as the seasons are starting to change, at least in Ithaca, New York, where we’re hosting from. And we’re really lucky. We have Jenna Curtis. Hi, Jenna. Drew Webber and Marie Chappell all here today. So we will get into hearing from them in just a minute.
But first, I’m going to do a few announcements. So because today’s webinar is being hosted from Ithaca, New York, where Cornell University resides, I want to read the land acknowledgment.
Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohónǫ’, the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogohónǫ’ are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York state, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogohónǫ’ dispossession, and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogohónǫ’ people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
And for those of you who aren’t familiar, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we are home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world who appreciate birds and the integral roles that they play in our ecosystems. Our mission is to advance leading edge research, education, and citizen science that helps solve pressing conservation challenges. So we are going to talk about some really amazing tools related to birding today. And using some tech, so related tech or tech notes for you all before we get going.
Closed captioning is available on Zoom. So if you go to the bottom of your Zoom screen, there are three dots and the word more. There you should be able to either show or hide subtitles depending on what you need. For those of you on Zoom, you can use the Q&A button to ask your questions. And some of the questions we’re going to be answering live with our panelists, and some of our questions we’re going to be answering in the actual Q&A box. So we’ve got some great colleagues behind the scenes who will help out with those.
We are only going to be using the chat for tech issues. So if you’ve got some sound issues or your video stops– things look good on our end so I always recommend tinkering with some of your own Zoom settings or restarting Zoom. But if you run into anything, again, we’ve got folks behind the scenes who can help with that in the chat. And then we are also streaming live on Facebook. So hello, all of you watching on Facebook. You are also welcome to participate in the conversation and you can insert your questions in the Facebook comments, and our behind the scenes team will relay those to us.
So for those of you who have attended some of our past webinars, I just wanted to say today is going to be a little bit different. Maybe you joined in last week for our eBird Q&A, but we’re doing a series of three webinars that are really, we’re hoping will help you get started as you get ready for spring birding. So today’s webinar is a little different in that we don’t have very much of a formal presentation, we’re really going to be focused on questions that our audience has asked us.
So many of those questions were submitted when people registered, which was so great because it helps us tailor our script and make sure we’re really responding to what you all are curious about. But we are also going to be answering questions that you’re submitting live. So I just wanted to give everybody a little bit of a heads up about what the day is going or what this next hour is going to look like.
So to start, we want to meet people where they are at, no matter where that is. And some of you we know may be totally unfamiliar with Merlin. So we are going to give a little– we’re going to start out with Drew giving us a quick overview of how to get started with Merlin right from square one. So Drew, you want to start us out?
[Drew Weber] Sure thing. Yeah. So, the first thing to really get started out with is you’re going to want to actually download Merlin Bird ID to your phone. I know a lot of you probably already have it, but I just wanted to walk through the easy way you can go ahead and get this app. So if you have an Android device or an iPhone or an iPad, you can just head to the Play Store or the App Store and type in Merlin. And it should be the top result that you can download, sort of like what you see here in the iPhone App Store.
Just make sure it says Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab, sometimes some other apps show up that are not the same and have the same features so we want to make sure that you have the correct app. And then once you have Merlin downloaded– it’s a pretty small download. Once you have that downloaded, there’s some things you want to do kind of before you go into the field. The first– and Merlin will walk you all through all of this so it should be relatively straightforward to do this.
The first thing you want to do is when you first launch the app, it’s going to walk you through setting up the bird packs for your region. The Bird Packs are the collection of identification text, the representative photos, and the songs and calls for each species that are included in that list of species in the Bird Pack. And so I have a screenshot here showing some of the US and Canada Bird Packs. Merlin will suggest the one that’s most appropriate for you, regardless of where you live in the world you might have like one or two options to choose from.
But you can always go to the All tab to download whichever Bird Pack you would like to have. The Bird Packs can be downloaded at any point after you have the app and they can also be deleted. So if you’re taking a trip or anything like that, you can manage how much storage is taken up on your phone at any point. We have a pretty extensive number of Bird Packs, and we’re continually working to grow what’s supported in Merlin.
This map shows basically where the birds that we support around the world. And dark green, basically, or bright green is basically where we have full coverage for all the species in those countries. And so you can see we have full coverage for both North and South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and parts of Asia as well. Southeast Asia is our final region that we’re working on actively right now– so there’s still around 1,500 species to release there. But Merlin does offer around 9,000 species. The
ID text, and the app in general, is available in multiple languages and it’s generally translated– for Portuguese, birds and translated for Brazil and Portugal, German translated for Europe, et cetera. We do have some additional languages that are on the horizon– so Turkish, Korean, Arabic, and Afrikaans, which will all be exciting additions to add to the app.
So before I kind of launch into sharing my screen, sharing the app screen and walking through the demo, I wanted to just point out that one really cool thing about the Merlin Bird ID app is that it’s powered by these various things at the Cornell Lab. It’s powered by the Macaulay Library and eBird. And so what the Macaulay Library provides for Merlin is all of the audio and photos. And so in the app itself, across all the Bird Packs, there’s about 80,000 photos and songs and calls that have been selected to be featured for each of those species.
So it’s a pretty extensive collection. And it’s really notable that all these sounds, all of these calls, all of these photos were uploaded via eBird checklists by over 5,000 photographers and recordists around the world. So it’s a really cool community effort just to bring together all of this content. The Photo ID and Sound ID features, that we’ll talk about, are also powered by this collection. And there’s 35 million photos and audio recordings in the archive, in the Macaulay library archive that are powering this.
When we’re looking– and we’ll dive into this more when I’m sharing my app screen. But for the bar charts that we show and the likely list of birds, that’s all powered by over a billion bird observations submitted by eBird users. And there’s quickly approaching a million people who have contributed to that project. And so let me switch over my share to the app and I can start walking us through some of the features.
[Lisa Kopp] And I can mention really quickly that last week you were just talking about eBird, Drew. We did a webinar actually with Jenna and another colleague, John, all about eBird. So we can throw the link to the archived talk on eBird into the chat and you can check that out another time.
[Drew Weber] All right. So here’s– so is this coming through all right without the Zoom bar on top? Sorry–
[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. That’s OK.
[Drew Weber] Yeah, so this is– When you download Merlin and get it set up with a Bird Pack this is basically what you’ll see. So it has four kind of main features that I’ll walk through one at a time. The first is Start Bird ID. This is kind of our– this is what Merlin launched with back in, what is it, 2013 the main feature. And basically, this is a tool to help you identify a bird that you’re seeing visually by describing it.
And so we can go ahead and get started. The nice thing is– and we’ll talk about this a little bit more later– it can pull in your current location, which is probably most relevant usually when you’re out there birding. But you can also pick a location on a map, if your friend sends you a photo or something and you want to identify it or describe something. And then you can also select from any of the locations on this list, which are the locations that you’ve identified a bird in the past.
And the cool thing about this list is all of these locations are available offline. And so if you go into an area with no internet connection or no GPS, for any reason, or maybe your device doesn’t have a GPS, you can always refer to these locations for any of the ID flows. And so we’re going to pretend we’re down on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas– it’s a great spot for finding spring migrants and things like that. I’m going to set my date to May 8th. We’re just going to pretend that we’re really enjoying some great migration here.
And then you have the chance to describe the bird that you’re seeing. And I’ll just put in some examples here so you can see how it works. This is most fun when you’re actually looking at a bird. But let’s just go with a small yellow and black bird, and let’s say it’s jumping around in the trees. And so for each of these– let me go back a little bit. You can infer colors you can actually select anywhere between 1 and 3 colors. And what you want to have in your mind when you’re selecting these colors is you’re selecting these based on what you can either see without binoculars or maybe distantly from binoculars.
So it’s generally picking what are the main colors that stick out to you. If you have to look really close to figure out, does it have a little patch of red around it’s eye or something like that, you probably don’t need to include it here. Just sticking to the main colors is good. So click Next. And then you get to, this is kind of like behavior or habitat and you pick where it’s at. This obviously doesn’t cover like every behavior or habitat that a bird has, we try to keep this part simple.
But you can usually pick one of these that is most applicable to the thing that you’re seeing the bird do. One question we get a lot is people have a water feature and birds are coming to the water feature. For that, you could just use like eating at a feeder because the birds come into your backyard. So you can use your best judgment on that. So we’ll go ahead with in trees or bushes.
And then Merlin’s going to think a little bit. It’s checking all the likely species in Bolivar Peninsula for that date. And then it’s returning a list of potential matches to explore. So you can scroll down and see all the various matches that are coming in. So you see adult male Magnolia Warbler was a good match, adult male Hooded Warbler was a good match. Let me scroll down to Blackburnian Warbler. And here we actually see that an adult male was not the best match, it was actually a female.
And so Merlin nicely can show different images, whether it’s immatures or females or males what best matches your colors. So from the results screen, you have easy access, you can play the audio or click right in to see more information about it. So for each of those, like I mentioned, there’s ID text. And we’ve tried to include not only some description of the bird, which we didn’t do extensively because we have the photos right there for you to view so we don’t need to over describe exactly how it looks because you can see it.
But we’ve tried to include additional details about what is the most important features to look for. So a Magnolia Warbler you can always look for the tail pattern where half of it’s white and the tip is black, and that’s pretty distinctive. And you can also look, and we also included information about what sort of habitat they’re in or are usually found in. So there’s multiple helpful hints on where you can look for the bird and how to find it and make that identification.
For each of the birds, we’ve selected representative photos that kind of cover a wide range of sexes and the plumages and the ages. And we’ve also included from that huge set of possible images in the Macaulay library try to include some representative ones that show them in a typical habitat. So just from looking at the photos, you can get a good idea of what you might expect to see when you’re out in the field and seeing this bird.
You can click on the Sounds tab. And then we actually have somewhere between like 3 and 20 sounds for each bird depending on how variable they are. You can tap the Play button.
[Magnolia Warbler song playing]
This is a longer recording. But Merlin also shows that visual representation in the spectrogram of the birds singing, which a lot of people find very helpful for visualizing kind of the ups and downs of the birdsong, and you can see how short it is and things like that. So we have a full representation of different song types for Magnolia Warbler. There’s also different call types, as well as what sorts of calls they would make in flight. So there’s a lot of information there as far as what birds sounds make, what sounds birds make.
And the final tab is the Map tab. So that has kind of the general map of the breeding and migration and non-breeding range for every species. So that’s the basic flow. And I can jump into the next flows. The next tool that I’ll talk through is Photo ID. And so that launched in 2017– really powered off of that large collection of photos in the public library.
So let me take a photo of my screen here as a demo I pull that up. Sorry for the delay here.
[Jenna Curtis] That’s OK. And I can mention to everybody that we’re going to go over a lot of this in more detail and answer your questions that are coming up as you’re watching. We just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page in terms of the basic capabilities of Merlin before we dug into things.
[Drew Weber] Thanks, Lisa.
Yeah. So I’m going to take a photo of my screen here, just pulling one of the photos in from the Macaulay Library. And this is a– so there’s lots of ways that people use Photo ID. You can take a photo of a bird just with your camera, with your phone camera. You could also take a photo– if you have a telephoto lens on your camera, you can take a photo with that and then take a photo with Merlin of your viewfinder. If people send you a screenshot, you can use that as well.
Basically, any way that you can load a photo of a bird into Merlin Photo ID should give you a good answer for that. So we’re going to go ahead and use this photo. And then what you want to do is zoom in so the bird fills the screen, the crop circle there. Next. And so one thing that’s pretty important, and we talked about it with the eBird data, is setting the location and date. If you don’t know exactly where the photo is taken or where the bird’s from, you can click I don’t know and it will just not filter by location and date.
And so then you’re more likely to be– you’ll have to filter through some things that just don’t occur in your area. So to be safe, you generally want to add the location and date to any identification you’re making. So this should look familiar to you. Same kind of layout for the results. We have Bufflehead at the top. And so we can flip through that and that’s a good match for the photo we took. And so it’s a quick comparison to seeing that result.
One thing I didn’t point out with the last flow is there’s This is my bird! button, and this is how you can actually add this sight into your life list. So if you click This is my bird! It’s going to search for my location. I have too many locations that I’ve used with Merlin and eBird.
But basically, any location you’ve birded in the past will appear and you can select from the list or you can tap, do a long press on the screen in a new location to create a new spot that you were birding if there’s not a good match for that in your previous locations. And then you can just click Next. I’ll have to update the date here because I can’t submit it as a year round siting. So we’ll just say it’s in here for today.
And then I click Save. And it says sighting saved. And you’ll actually see how many times you observed that species. This is my 408th time seeing or recording Bufflehead. And you can view your full life list and share that with friends if you’d like. That’s a quick intro for the Photo ID flow. and then I think for me the most fun one is Sound ID. Let’s see if we can do a demo of that.
So the one thing with Sound ID is we make the assumption when you’re using it that you’re using it live, right? So you’re using, you’re trying to identify a bird in the location that you actually are standing. And so what that means is we automatically set your location and filter the birds down to just those species in your area.
So I’m going to demo it by playing some songs to Merlin. And I challenge you all to see if you can identify it in your head quicker than Merlin can. So hopefully, this sound will come through well. Let me know if it does not.
[Bird sounds playing, multiple species]
So what you’re seeing on the screen– right now you’re seeing the spectrogram of me talking, which isn’t as appealing. But what you’re seeing when the birds were singing is that same spectrogram view that we saw when we were reviewing the audio for Magnolia Warbler, for example. And so you can see that patterns of the bird songs and become familiar with those. Play a couple more, see how you do.
[Bird sounds continue playing, additional species]
All right. So hopefully, hopefully you all got some of those. But you can see that for these, I mean it’s an ideal scenario because we’re just letting Merlin identify one bird at a time, but you can see that it’s pretty quick to show the results there. Merlin can actually identify multiple birds at a time if there are multiple birds singing in that overlapping session. I’m not sure what the max is, some people have asked that. But I’ve definitely seen three birds kind of pop up on the screen at the same time. So it’s pretty cool to be able to see that.
So once you’re kind of done with your session and you’ve found or recorded the bird that you’re interested in, you can press the Stop button. And then this will load it into kind of a different results screen. So you have spectrogram at the top, and you can actually drag that back and forth to see the different vocalizations. And then below, you have the best matches. These are what Merlin consider to be the best matches for the vocalizations that were recorded.
And so this is a great starting place for you to look through those results or those matches and compare them to the audio that Merlin has to see whether it actually seems like a good match to you and it is reasonable for your area. The other cool thing you can do on this screen is you can tap on a bird in the list and it will take you to the part of the recording where that bird was actually singing.
So I tap on American Crow, you can see the crow starts singing right after that, and you can play it back. Tap on the Woodpecker call and it jumps right to that. So it’s a quick way to reference some of the things that we’re singing. And then if you want to dive in to look at exactly how well it matches, they have the vocalization at the top that you recorded, and then on this screen we have the vocalization from Merlin itself. And you can compare the spectrograms and see how they match up. So similar short little pick note for both your recording and the Merlin recording.
From this screen, a couple of other things you can do. You can– in the top right corner, there’s an Edit button that lets you delete, rename the file. You can also– let’s say somebody sent you a recording and you need to set the location, you can do that here. And you can also change the date here if you need to. And then finally, you can export this audio if you want to edit it in another application or if you want to upload it to your Merlin checklist or eBird checklist.
And that’s the Share button to the left of the play button and that’ll just let you share it to– you can– basically any file sharing app you have on your phone you can share it to. So you text it, you can save it to Dropbox, send it right to your computer, whatever you find most convenient.
[Lisa Kopp] And Drew– Oops, sorry.
[Drew Weber] Yeah, go ahead.
[Lisa Kopp] I was just going to comment on how it’s magical. I’m familiar with Merlin but I still think it’s magical watching how it works.
[Drew Weber] Yeah. It’s definitely fun to play around with. So this is a list of all the recordings I’ve made. So you can always go back and refer to them, open them up and see what the results were and play around with them. You can also import files from whatever file sharing apps you have set up on your phone or from the music app, if you have recordings there.
All right. And then getting into the last piece of Merlin before we go into the Q&A section. Explore Birds is my favorite piece to play around with when I’m not using and testing Sound ID. This is basically like a personalized field guide for anywhere in the world. And so what I’m seeing right here are the most common species for– it’s still set to the Bolivar Peninsula for May. And so I had it set to show the most likely species at the top.
So this is not showing right now your traditional kind of like field guide view where you have a ducks and geese at the beginning and working the whole way down to like finches at the end. This is really sorting it by how frequently it is reported to eBird. And so you can see for every week of year how common a bird is and how frequently it’s reported.
And so you can see in the Bolivar Peninsula, this is coastal Texas, Northern Cardinal is pretty common throughout the year. Catbird, on the other hand, really disappears in June, July and then starts to trickle back in August, September. And then some of the more classic neotropical migrants like Magnolia Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush are really seen in this big pulse in April, May as they’re migrating North and then completely gone from coastal Texas until fall migration in September, October.
So you can get a really good idea of what birds you might be able to encounter anywhere in the world at any time of year. And the way you can really customize this for a trip maybe you’re planning on going somewhere fun for the spring migration. The top right corner, there’s a filter icon. And this is where you can make all of your settings or change all your settings for this screen.
So you can see I have it sorted by most likely. If you want a more traditional way of sorting it, you can sort it by family. The filter by options at the top are where you can set it to any location in the world. So maybe we want to try Arizona. I would change it to August and then click Done.
And then it’s updated to show just species that are in the Wilcox area in that first, second week of August. And you can see exactly what birds you might encounter there. From here, you can–
[Jenna Curtis] Oh, sorry.
[Lisa Kopp] As you can see, you can click on any bird and there’s some additional information here compared to the screens we were seeing before. One is it shows whether this bird is on my life list. So Anna’s Hummingbird is on my life list. It also shows this rare icon, which means it’s reported in the Willcox area but on very few eBird checklists. So these are birds to generally be careful about when you’re identifying them because they are infrequently reported.
There are also orange dots, which are uncommon. So it’s more commonly reported to eBird than the rare ones, but still relatively infrequent. Jenna, was that what you were going to point out?
[Jenna Curtis] No. I was going to jump back to where you were filtering the species list for a location, and mentioned that there had been a couple of questions about whether you should have a local Bird Pack or a national Bird Pack. And you’ll notice that the top of this option, Drew can refine the bird list by likely birds or by his installed Bird Packs.
And so one of the advantage of having both a local pack and a national pack is that you can explore birds for an entire country or you can refine the bird list to just your Midwest pack or your state pack per se. But again, me personally, I like to filter by either the entire country or a specific location, likely birds from my area, and not really use a regional pack as an intermediary. But that’s one thing you can do depending on how you like to explore your nearby birds.
[Drew Weber] Yeah, that’s correct. Those are some good things to point out there. So I just switched to the US and Canada Continental Pack. And you’ll notice that there are no longer bar charts here, because the bar charts are always driven by really local data. And so we don’t have that when we’re showing the full bird pack screen. So that’s one thing that makes a difference between those two views.
And then the other thing is that in any of these views– actually if you go back to the likely birds view, one thing you can do here is actually hide birds on your life list. What this does is birds that you’ve already seen, it will clear it off of that list. And then you can just see– if I was taking a trip to Wilcox in August, these would be birds that I should be studying up on, figuring out where they occur and looking for.
And then I did notice a question in the chat earlier on asking what the target button is and the bottom right. That actually changes the search for the screen back to your current location. So as you travel around, just tap on that. Now for me it’s updated to Syracuse, New York. So it’s a quick shortcut to always get back to your current location.
And we kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, but when you’re using these locations, all of these previous locations are available for you offline. So you can easily pop in and if you don’t have an internet connection, any of these are available to quickly refer to and pull up.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you, Drew.
[Drew Weber] So I think that’s kind of like the main features here. So we can jump back to that Q&A.
[Lisa Kopp] Yeah. So I’m seeing quite a few questions that I’m going to ask you, Jenna, if you don’t mind about eBird and Merlin. And I know from our webinar last week, which again we’ll put the link in the chat if we haven’t already, there were lots of questions about how Merlin and eBird are linked up together.
And actually, there was just a question sort of what’s the difference or which is better to use based on your skill level or where you’re at in your sort of bird watching experience. Would you mind answering that for us?
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. Those are some great eBird Merlin questions coming in, and I’ll try and tackle as many as I can as quickly as possible. First thing to note is that eBird and Merlin use the same account. eBird is a tool for birders who like to keep lists and want to contribute birding lists in a way that informs science.
It’s also a great way to explore bird reports from other birders. And Merlin, like Drew just demonstrated, is a great bird identification and learning resource. The two work together. You do need an account, but the same account can be used for both. If you’re new to eBird or unfamiliar with it, I recommend checking out last week’s webinar recording. We’ll share the link again. That’ll give you a good introduction to eBird.
So I’m going to dive into a few quick questions about the relationship between eBird and Merlin. This is for the folks who are more interested in eBird or might be familiar with it already– how to connect these two apps further. So I’ll share my screen here. Hopefully you can all see my phone now. So here I’ve got both the eBird app and the Merlin app installed on my phone. I’ve got both of those apps on my home screen.
If I’m using the eBird app and running a checklist in eBird, I can tap any species, and there’s a little Merlin icon right there that will just hop me over to the Merlin app to learn more about that bird. So if you’re entering birds in eBird and just want to check a photo, check a sound, see the map of that bird, that’s a great way to do that. Again, you’re just in your eBird checklist, tap the species name for that little Merlin button.
When you’re in Merlin, if you have the eBird app installed on your device, you can choose to add a bird that you’ve identified in Merlin to your eBird checklist. So here I’ve identified what I think is a House Finch. I was able to see it for myself and confirm, yes, Merlin was helpful that is a House Finch. Now I want to add it to an eBird checklist. If I’ve got both apps installed on my phone, all I have to do is tap This is my bird!, and I’ll be given the option to report it to eBird instead.
And so you can choose to remember the choice by turning that on or be prompted every single time you identify a bird. So we can show you how to edit that option later. So I’ll choose to go to eBird and– Let’s try that again. There we go. I had the species card for Northern Shoveler open and so it’s still wanted to open that instead. But here I now have House Finch. I saw one bird.
And now I have House Finch on my checklist that I put on my list after identifying it in Merlin. And if you are in Merlin and you’re used to using eBird and you want to use this resource Merlin is saving to its own app rather than eBird, just go to the Merlin home screen, open the Menu and go to Settings.
And then down at the bottom there you’ll have the option how do you want to save your sightings, and you can choose to use eBird or Merlin there. And again, this is for folks who are already using eBird checklists like to switch between the two apps or use Merlin for ID help and then submit things to eBird checklists.
I want to make sure we have time for other questions but I’m also happy to show how to share recordings and photos that you’ve taken in Merlin with your eBird checklist. Is that something we want to focus on now or should we do that a little bit later?
[Lisa Kopp] Yeah. Why don’t you do a quick demo of that now, Jenna. I’m seeing questions come in about that.
[Jenna Curtis] OK, great. So the next part I’m going to show is just a little walkthrough of how if you’ve collected a recording in Merlin or a photo with Merlin and you want to add it to your eBird checklist, how to do that. This requires that you’ve already submitted an eBird checklist. So if I had a checklist in progress, I’m going to want to stop it and submit it before doing these next steps.
So again, I’m going to be focusing on submitted eBird checklists for this. You’ll also– you want to start in Merlin. You’ve, say, identified a bird in Merlin. I’m here in Sound ID, I’m going back to my completed recordings, and I’ve got this recording of a Red-breasted Nuthatch here that I recorded in Merlin, and I want to add that to an eBird checklist that I submitted earlier today.
So I’m going to tap this little Share button. I don’t know if you can see on my screen. I’ve got this little box with an arrow coming out of it, that’s the Share icon. So if I tap that, I’ll have the option to email the recording to myself, share it with a friend, but I’m going to save it to files. And I’ve made a little folder on my smartphone for Merlin sound recordings and I’m just going to save it there.
So now I’ve taken the recording from Merlin, I’ve saved it to my phone’s files. I’m going to hop back over to eBird and open that submitted eBird checklist. And down at the bottom, it says eBird.org, and I want to tap that. So this is only available on submitted checklists. Tap eBird.org and that’s going to open the checklist. Instead of in the app, it’s going to open it on the internet in a web browser.
So this is what it looks like when you open that checklist on a web browser. And I’m going to look for– scroll down the Add media button. And again, this is on the internet. You should be logged into your eBird account. If you don’t see that button and you see a screen that looks like this, make sure you’re logged in same account for Merlin and eBird. Tap Add media and I’ll have the option to add media to my Red-breasted nuthatch. I’ll choose from my files and there’s that Red-breasted nuthatch I saved earlier.
And now the recording from Merlin saved to my phone’s files has been added to my eBird checklist on the internet. And so you can do the same process with photos in your phone’s photo gallery as well. The sound recordings go to your folder files, your photos are in your photo library typically. This was a demonstration on an iPhone but Android has a very similar process. Especially when you get to the checklist page here, this should look the same on an Android or an iPhone device.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you, Jenna. So Marie, can I ask you about verifying sightings. So obviously Merlin is a really powerful tool for confirming, denying, helping you with something that you may not know at all. But what’s the best way to confirm Merlin’s ID if you’re still trying to figure something out?
So that’s the first part of the question. And then the second part of the question is when do you then submit it to an eBird checklist? And I think that, maybe that part of the question can go to Jenna if Marie prefer not to answer that one.
[Marie Chappell] Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great question. So you’ve heard a bird and Sound ID, for example, says, oh, this is this bird and you always want to be able to check and make sure that it’s correct. So let me share my screen right here, my phone. So here are some examples of sound recordings that I have. And we looked at the recording and here we go and it says, oh, I had a Sedge Wren and there’s a Yellow-rumped Warbler in this recording. This should hopefully look familiar to you.
So you can see here, Sedge Wren– like Drew showed earlier, that you can tap the down arrow. And if there’s only one bird identified you won’t need to tap the down arrow. And then you can see some examples and you can compare them with the bird that you heard.
[Bird sounds playing, Marie’s recording of Sedge Wren]
That “chip-chip.” That’s what it’s hearing. So can we hear something that’s similar?
[Bird sounds playing, Merlin’s example of Sedge Wren]
Yeah, there you go. That sounds similar. So that’s a good first step. OK?
We heard something it sounded similar, we compared it and you can see this spectrograms and see that they look similar. And hopefully you can– if the bird is visible, you can sneak up to the bird and there are good techniques of doing that. You get a little bit closer and you watch the bird. You make sure you’re not it scaring away and then you get a little bit closer in steps. So I do really recommend that.
And then, of course, if you see the bird and you’re like, I think that’s what it is, you can use the little details button here down next to this is my bird! Details and it will send you over the page and now you can view their photos. So these are all really great ways to say am I really seeing what Merlin is telling me? And often, Merlin is right. And they’re always making it better. So it will continue to get more right.
But you as the observer, it’s really important for you to double check and make sure yes, this is absolutely the bird.
So as far as eBird goes, I don’t know, Jenna, if you want to, if you want to add anything more to that or–
[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. We did see a couple of questions on how sure should you be or how confident should you be to take an ID in Merlin and put it on an eBird checklist. And when it comes to eBird, you don’t have to see every bird or even be able to identify every bird without assistance in order to report it to an eBird checklist.
But we would like you to be confident or fairly confident that the bird that you’re reporting is correct. So if you just see something on Merlin, don’t blindly report it to an eBird checklist. Assess the information, use the Explore resources that Marie and Drew just demonstrated, make sure the bird occurs in your area.
And super, super, super important– if you’re using Sound ID in North America, make sure your location is set before reporting anything to an eBird checklist, or in general. Location is so important to what birds are around you. And so you want to make sure that you’ve given Merlin an accurate location before you try to add anything from an ID tool into your life list or into an eBird checklist.
And I would recommend checking out that eBird webinar again last week where we go into a little more detail about confidence and which birds you should report to your eBird checklist, and what to do if you’re just not confident when it comes to eBird reporting.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you, Jenna. Marie, when you had your screen up, we got a bunch of questions asking for the different colored symbols next to the bird. Would you mind talking us through what those different symbols are?
[Marie Chappell] Absolutely. So the simple answer here– let me make share this again. So let’s go over to Explore Birds where you can see some of these symbols. And a few different symbols showing up here. You’ve got these red dots. Now notice, again, this is for very specific location, this is for Ithaca, New York.
You’ve got– some birds don’t have any dots like Canada Goose just has a blue check and then Mute Swan has red and a blue check. So for Canada Goose, the blue check means you have seen that bird before, it is on your life list. You can view your life list by going over here, and you see it says Life List. You can tap on that and see where all the birds that I’ve seen.
So those are the ones that if you ever explore that species, there will be a blue check somewhere around there. And then what do the red and these little uncommon orange dots mean? The red dot means that it is unreported or rare. Basically, all of the data that Merlin pulls in from eBird says, oh, we don’t see Mute Swans here very often. Whereas with this orange dot, like for Wood Duck, this is uncommon, that means that some, checklists a few checklists have Wood Duck on them.
So for you as the observer, when you see something that’s a red dot or an orange dot you might think, oh, maybe I should check a little bit closer just to make sure this is the right thing. Whereas things like Canada Geese, they’re very common in that area. So it’s just a really helpful hint to you as an observer when you’re looking at this likely birds for a certain area to be sure you’re seeing the right thing, and just getting a heads up as to what’s in that area. It’s very useful.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you.
That’s very helpful. We need a little key at the bottom of the screen here.
Drew, can I ask you some questions about life lists? Because we know everyone loves a life list and wants to keep that as accurate as possible, so can you tell us a little bit about the life list tool in Merlin?
And there’s a couple of questions there– while there are many questions related to life lists, if it’s possible to add sightings from past life lists and also how that life list then can be updated based on sightings that are maybe put in eBird or things like that.
[Drew Weber] Yeah, sure. That’s a great question. Yeah, so I think Jenna mentioned this. We have– it’s all stored under one account. So Merlin and eBird, it’s all one life list. We have different ways of viewing it but it’s all the same species that you’ll be able to see regardless of whether you submit sightings through Merlin or whether you submit it through eBird.
For our purposes, especially for eBird, it’s super important to have correct location and date for any checklist that goes in. And so that’s kind of like the two main– the location, the date and what the species are. Those are kind of like the main pieces of information that you really need to know.
In Merlin, however, if you’re trying to load in some past sighting that isn’t on your eBird list or your Merlin list yet– maybe you saw something cool like a Blue Grosbeak last summer, and you want to load that in. What you can do is, in Merlin, select the location that’s as close as you can to where you actually saw it and the date as close as you can remember. And you should be able to go through the ID flow for that species to find it in the list and then add it to your life list that way.
So you can work through identifications that you’ve made in the past to get those onto your life list. And that’s the best way to do that through Merlin.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. So we’re getting a couple of questions here about accuracy or reliability. So Drew, this question’s for you, too, is there like a cutoff point at which Merlin says, nope, sorry, I don’t know. Or how do people deal with a situation where they are like certain of what they are seeing and they’re trying to record it in Merlin but Merlin isn’t able to identify any information on those two things.
[Drew Weber] Yeah. So there’s a couple of things wrapped up in that. When you’re working through the various ID flows, there are definitely times when you’ll be answering the questions and your bird is not going to come up for a variety of reasons. It could be because it’s an unusual bird, and so it’s just not kind of included in the filter of birds that are likely in that area.
It could be a little bit earlier than normal or later than normal, or any number of things kind of in that category. And so it won’t come up in the regular asking questions or answering questions flow. In those cases, if you’re confident in what you saw and you want to record it and add it to your life list, submitting an eBird checklist is the best way to get that added to your life list.
For Sound ID so I know there’s like questions about accuracy, and like, should I add this to my list, and a lot of things kind of wrapped up in that. It is a really interesting question, the accuracy one. And one of the initial things that I try to wrap my head around is what I would consider my accuracy to be and how I would grade that with one single number.
There’s so much that goes into ID. Like, how long I was able to observe it? Did it sing? Did it call? Is that call actually distinctive or not? And how familiar am I with all the plumaged or all the sounds that a bird or all the birds in that area make? And so even just putting an accuracy number is super challenging for a human. For a computer, maybe even harder just depending on how we look at it.
One thing we can do– also for Photo ID, one thing we can do is we can test it against all the photos that are uploaded to Macaulay Library. And so we have a good sample size of photos that we didn’t use to initially train the model but have now been uploaded. And what we see there for the 9,000 species that the model supports, usually in the 90 plus accuracy for Photo ID which we’re pretty excited about.
For Sound ID, it’s even more complicated to talk about because with Photo ID you’re talking about this like static, there’s a photo, a still image, is Merlin right or wrong when it gives back an answer? With Sound ID, it’s continuously monitoring every second is there a bird singing, and if there’s a bird singing or multiple bird singing, is it confident enough to show– is it a high enough score to show a result.
And for each of these birds, everything is a little bit different depending on how variable they are and things like that. So it’s hard to nail down like a meaningful number. I think the important thing is for birds that we show in the app, from like kind of the testing that we do.
Like when Merlin shows a result, we’re 95% accurate on that from our test set. So that’s not really delving into like a user’s real world experience, it’s in the lab in the scenarios that we’ve set up. But we’ve optimized it so that we’re showing results when we’re happy with them, when Merlin is happy with them. And those results are– with the caveat that the results are a starting place for you to make your identification.
And so hopefully, it’s super helpful for you to find a bird, to identify a bird, or to maybe become aware of some birds that are singing that you didn’t initially detect. But yeah, just use it as a starting place for your kind of identification and a way to broaden your ability to identify the whole soundscape of birds that are singing.
[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. Thank you. That’s helpful. Yeah. And thinking about the incredible technology that goes into making these tools, is, I know, something that some people are asking about. And I should mention that we actually did a whole webinar a few months back on Sound ID specifically when it launched. And one of the developers did a really fascinating presentation talking about the machine learning that goes into this. So we can put the link to that in the chat.
So for any of you interested in sort of the how, the making of Merlin, Sound ID especially, you can watch that. It’s really fascinating. So I can’t believe we only have a couple of minutes left. I do want to answer one question that I’m seeing a lot, which is about Sound ID struggling to identify whether there’s ambient noise from traffic or even just if you’re by a river that happens to be flowing quite loudly.
Are there– Drew, do you happen to have any tips or recommendations for what people could do to help along Merlin when trying to identify sounds?
[Drew Weber] Yeah, certainly. So a couple of cool things to point out. We are working to add a lot of noisy examples to our training so that Merlin understands like what traffic sounds like or what walking sounds like so it can try to filter those things out.
When you’re using a phone’s microphone, it’s still going to be, it’s always going to be a struggle because it’s really, really pulling in sound, like a broad set of sounds, it’s optimized for picking up all the sounds. So one thing you can actually do that I found really helpful is there’s small shotgun mics that you can plug into your phone.
It doesn’t amplify the sound, it just– it basically, the bird that you’re pointing the shotgun mic at, it basically isolates that sound a little bit more and cancels out the sound coming from the sides. And we definitely find that that helps a lot when you’re trying to identify something in a noisy environment or there’s a lot of birds singing or something like that.
Even without a mic, there are some things you can do. Like, you can hold up the phone– kind of use your body as a block from all the other sounds and point the phone at the bird you’re interested in. Or like use a car or a building or something like that, just to limit the sound that’s coming to it from like 180 degrees rather than 360.
[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. So we could talk for another two hours and probably still have a bunch of unanswered questions. But we are nearly out of time and I want to make sure I get through a couple of final announcements. So everyone understands where they can see the archived version of this talk.
But thank you, Drew and Jenna and Marie, so much for joining us today for all this fantastic information, and for the work that you do on continuously improving Merlin and eBird and these amazing tools that we all love to use. And hopefully, we’ll get to use a lot more as the weather starts to improve, at least where we are mostly located.
[Drew Weber] Thank you so much for having us.
[Lisa Kopp] Yeah. Yeah. Tomorrow, if you signed up over Zoom, will get an email with the recorded video. So if there’s things that you missed or you want to review, you can go back and check that out. If you’re watching on Facebook and you want to check out the recorded link, you can go to our Bird Academy Open Courses page and you’ll be able to watch the video there, along with videos to all of the other archived talks that we mentioned today.
And this webinar is part of a series. As I mentioned, we’re going to be speaking next week with one of our best known ornithologists at the Lab, Kevin McGowan, to answer your bird related questions, because we know there’s so much amazing stuff that’s going to be happening with bird behavior over the next few months. So we hope you join us for that, as well as a few other exciting webinars coming up over the next few months.
And we are able to put these programs on thanks to funding primarily from people like you. So we would love it if you’d be open to joining the Lab as a member. And you can do that by visiting birds.cornell.edu. So thank you all so much for joining, for all the fantastic questions that you submitted in advance and you asked today. And thank you again to Drew and Jenna and Marie. I hope everybody has a lovely day. Thanks again.End of transcript
The free Merlin Bird ID app can help you to identify birds by sight or sound, anywhere in the world! But Merlin is more than just a bird ID wizard. Merlin is also a powerful field guide that can track your life list and help you become a better birder. Discover all that Merlin can do and get your questions answered by the Merlin Team during this live Q&A. Submit questions in advance when you register or live during the webinar.