Call of the wild: A new birdsong identifier app distinguishes 400 species, for free

July 5, 2021

A new bird call identifier—called the Merlin Bird ID app and created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithologycan now help you distinguish more than 400 bird species found in the United States and Canada, just by sound, Psych News Daily reports.

If a user holds his or her phone up in the direction of the sound, Merlin will listen and use AI to pinpoint the species. Even if multiple species are singing at once.

A previous version of the app was able to identify 7,500 species based on photos or descriptions. And now the app has added audio.

How did the Cornell researchers do it? Merlin’s AI technology is powered by tens of thousands of citizen scientists who have contributed their bird observations and sound recordings.

“Thousands of sound recordings train Merlin to recognize each bird species, and more than a billion bird observations in eBird tell Merlin which birds are likely to be present at a particular place and time,” Merlin Project Coordinator Drew Weber explained recently.

“Having this incredibly robust bird dataset—and feeding that into faster and more powerful machine-learning tools—enables Merlin to identify birds by sound now,” he added. “This would have seemed like a daunting challenge only a few years ago.

According to Psych News Daily, instead of cracking the problem by teaching computers to identify the actual sounds, researchers at the Cornell Lab trained Merlin to recognize the visual patterns of each bird song based on spectrograms . Those are images that capture the amplitude, frequency, and duration of the sound. The massively popular song-identification app Shazam uses a similar technique.

“The sound recordings that each user makes get quickly turned into spectrograms. And in the same way that Merlin can identify a bird by what it looks like, it can now also now make an ID by what the bird’s sound looks like,” said Merlin’s lead researcher Grant Van Horn.

With one-touch access, a user can also go deeper and learn more about each bird. The app offers ID tips, maps, and more than 80,000 photos and sounds from the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library.

“The Merlin app really unlocks a whole new world of sound,” said the Cornell Lab’s Jessie Barry, whose team led the project, adding, “It helps everyone solve the mystery birds they’re hearing around them.”

Research contact: @PsychNewsDaily1

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