Science & Technology news: Tools for better birding

Apr 13, 2016 · Megan O'Donnell

When I took a course in ornithology as an undergraduate I was warned: Once you learn ?how to bird? you never stop. Learning how to identify birds by sight and sound isn?t hard, but it does take practice. Luckily there some great tools for getting started and sharpening skills.

App: Merlin Bird ID, Cost: Free

bird iconMerlin is?the best free app available to help with bird identification for North America. The app currently covers over 400 species and is easy to use. It has a manual browse and an identification "wizard" to help new birders. The wizard asks a series of basic questions such as location, size, color, etc. and then returns a list of possible species.?

Merlin is driven by a citizen science database (eBird) and a computer-learning program,?the identification wizard,?which is what makes it unique. The wizard was ?taught? by experts and volunteers and new identifications are added to the growing database, which helps Merlin improve results. The downside to Merlin is that it?s a large app, meaning it?requires more than 750MB and may take a while to load depending on the device.

Website: Birds of North America Online, Cost: Free for ISU affiliates.

Birds of North America logoTo learn more about the birds identified with Merlin, try Birds of North America Online (the University Library is a subscriber). Produced by the same group that created Merlin, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds contains more photos and birdcalls than the app as well as the occasional video and a detailed life history for the more than 716 species found in North America.

Walk: Brookside Park, Ames, Iowa

Want to test out the app and new birding skills? Try taking a walk in Brookside Park, an identified birding hotspot just East of campus. The Iowa Ornithologist?s Union recommends visiting in April?May as one of the two best times for song birds and offers route advice on its site guide for Brookside Park.??