How To Watch Birds With An iPhone

Wood Thrush

Get the Merlin Bird app! 

Seriously, this app for both IOS and Android from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a game-changer for identifying birds in your yard on hikes.

If you’re like me, you always see or hear the most interesting birds when you don’t have your binoculars with you. 

In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that if I take my binocs I will never see a single bird. 

But since I almost always have my phone with me that’s all I really need—at least for ID purposes. 

Most of the time I hear my bird before I see it.

The other day I heard a thrush.

Oh, be still my heart! I love the flute-like sound of a thrush. Thrushes thrill me. Their song goes straight to my heart. Their habitat is deep woods though, so they are becoming endangered, which is unspeakably sad.

The thrush I heard on the Hike and Bike is in the woods near a swampy area.

I stopped and listened. I know there are a few varieties of thrush: Wood thrush, Song thrush, Hermit thrush, and Swainson’s thrush, and they all have slightly different songs. As I stood listening to this thrush, I wondered what kind it was. 

So I opened the Merlin app, found the Sound ID function, held up my phone, pushed Record, and this is what I got:

Merlin Bird app
Merlin Bird app

It was a Wood thrush. The app also picked up a Common Grackle and a Blue Jay.

If I had seen the bird, I could also have taken a picture of it and the app could have ID-ed it from the picture.

For example, there’s a Green Heron who hangs in that swamp. I could have used the Merlin Bird app, taken a pic of that heron, and it would have identified it for me. 

To use this free app, all they ask you to do is download a Bird Pack when you first open it. They want to narrow the search to your geographical area. 

I downloaded the US Northeast pack which includes PA, NJ, and north to Maine.

Emily, who lives in Oregon, would download the US West Coast Pack which includes California, Oregon, and Washington. 

It’s such a terrific app.

I can’t believe it’s free. I love the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And, I love that I live so close to it. 

A long time ago I met the famous Roger Tory Peterson there, and he autographed my copy of his Field Guide to The Birds.

It’s one of my most prized possessions.

But now I use the Merlin Bird app instead of his field guide.

I hope the late great Roger Tory Peterson would be okay with that.

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