Scientific evidence suggests dinosaurs met their extinction through asteroid impact. Today, if a species goes extinct, chances we as humans had something to do with it. In this century alone, we’ve lost animals by sea (such as the smooth handfish), by land (the Northern white rhinoceros), and, yes, by air (the ivory-billed woodpecker), all driven to extinction.
“Birds are really important because they are indicators of environmental health; basically, what’s good for birds is good for humans,” said Jesse Barry, program manager of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University.
“Birds are really the canaries in the coal mine in a lot of ways,” she said. “They’re helping us understand the health of the planet. Right now, all the indicators are pointing to bird populations declining. And so, that’s a really critical warning sign for us right now.”
But hope is not lost. Barry and her team at Cornell have given all of humankind a chance at redemption – and it’s sitting in the palm of our hands, quite literally.
Enter the Merlin Bird ID app.
Barry said, “The idea for this app came from just wanting to help people answer the simple question, what’s that bird I’m seeing? Because you might be outside, or you look in the backyard and you’re like, Hey, what is that? And we wanted Merlin to be able to give a list of possibilities without having to go back to a field guide, where maybe if you don’t even have a bird book, and if you do have a bird book, there’s all these choices, and you might not even know where to start.
“So, Merlin was all about helping you figure out what’s that bird I’m seeing in a quick and simple way.”
The app allows users to identify birds by a picture, or by songs and calls, and can create a digital scrapbook of the birds you discover.
Originally launched in 2014, early versions of the app could ID 400 North American species. Today, the app (available free for both iPhone and Android) can identify more than 6,000 bird species across six continents.
Apple: Merlin Bird ID runs on iPhones and iPads with iOS 15 or newer, and M1/M2-equipped Apple computers. Download app here.
Android: Merlin Bird ID runs on devices with Android 6 or newer. Download app here.
“I found the technology to be really useful,” said Denver amateur birder Vicki Miles. “I was really a novice birder when it came to anything outside of my backyard.
“If you see a small bird with some yellow on it,” she said, “you can narrow it down to five or six possibilities and not have to know whether to look for a warbler or look for a virio or look for a gold finch. Merlin just puts them right in front of you.”
Alabama wildlife photographer Lisa Moates Smith is also an avid user: “Being a wildlife photographer, it’s very nice to be able to look up a particular bird so that I can identify that bird on my website when I post my photographs. I absolutely fell in love with it.”
And more good news: the app is educating scientists on how climate change is affecting the migratory patterns of birds.
Barry said, “The question is really, will species of birds be able to adapt to these changing ecosystems? Some are more adaptable than others. So, we’re certainly watching very carefully to see how bird populations are doing in trying to understand how climate change is affecting species across their ranges.”
Story produced by Roman Feeser.