If you’re a budding birder struggling to identify all the weird and wonderful feathered creatures you happen upon, the latest version of a free bird ID app could be just the ticket when you’re out and about.
Developed by Cornell Tech and California Institute of Technology computer vision researchers in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the powerful Merlin Bird ID app was built using machine-learning technology to help it instantly identify hundreds of different species from across North America.
Snap a picture of the bird with your smartphone, or upload one from a more powerful camera, and the app will search its database for a match among the 650 North American species that it’s designed to recognize.
The team behind the app trained the software to distinguish between all the different kinds of birds – including more than 30 types of warbler, 18 species of owl, and 14 different hummingbirds – by inputting images of more than a million birds collected and annotated by a team of dedicated enthusiasts.
Information on location, climate, and time of year was also entered to help the software improve its hit rate. Accuracy is currently at around 90 percent, though of course much depends on the quality of the photo. While it’s true that it may be hard to get a decent bird shot using a smartphone camera, if you do manage to get close enough there’s clearly a good chance the app will be able to ID it.
Professor Pietro Perona of the California Institute of Technology told the Cornell Chronicle the app is “the culmination of seven years of our students’ hard work and is propelled by the tremendous progress that computer vision and machine learning scientists are making around the world.”
He added, “All of a sudden, our smartphones can really see. This was a distant dream when I was a graduate student, and now it’s finally happening.”
Designed for beginner and intermediate bird watchers, the iOS and Android app also includes more than 1,000 bird photos, audio recordings of bird songs and calls, and a slew of ID tips from Cornell Lab of Ornithology experts.
Future versions of the Merlin Bird app are planned for other countries around the world, giving birders everywhere an additional way of instantly identifying their feathered friends.