Ever looked out your window and wondered which of our flying feathered friends is perched on your feeder? Or maybe you even take note of the variety of beautiful birds that pass through your backyard or favorite hiking spot, but have no idea what kind of birds they are and don’t own a field guide. (Let’s be honest — even if you did, who has time for flipping through hundreds of pages in this ever-accelerating digital age?
Fear not, though, as new smartphone apps are here to help you identify birds and other wildlife. Now, the modern birder — or someone just casually interested in the wildlife around her – can learn on the go with apps like Project Noah and Merlin.
If you can answer a series of questions about your mystery bird, Merlin, from our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, can help you figure it out. Named for the figure from Arthurian legend, the Bird ID Wizard triangulates your location and comes up with the most likely candidate for the mystery bird’s species. Drawing on more than 70 million observations from the the eBird citizen-science project, Merlin also includes professional pictures, maps of a species’ range and even examples of bird calls in the form of audio recordings, making it the perfect app for a birder in need of a quick answer.
If you can snap a photo of your mystery species, you can upload that and additional information to Project Noah, from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. The app works by users contributing photographs of wildlife stamped with relevant chronological and geographical metadata. Within 24 hours, information and exact identification of the species is sent back — the goal of Project Noah is to empower, educate and inspire citizen-scientists and connect them to each other and the scientific community. By contributing data to various field missions, users can have fun documenting species while at the same time supply valuable data to ongoing research projects.
In cooperation with Project Noah, we released the National Wildlife Refuges: Chesapeake Bay app. With it, you can explore the largest estuary in America and understand its network of 11 National Wildlife Refuges. Our myRefuge app is also a great tool for explorers of the National Wildlife Refuge system to find the best spots for viewing wildlife.
These and other apps are designed to aggregate data for scientists to track the movements and behaviors of wildlife. When the scientific community can better model the ranges and tendencies of a species’ behavior, they can better manage the species’ protection. iBat, for instance, is a convenient way for lovers of the only flying mammal to collaborate with the scientific community by tracking bats.
With digitization, almost anyone can take part in studying these important species, and in effect, the scientific method becomes democratized. Now with this technology at your literal fingertips, get to the window and check in later with what birds you identify!
Tom Barnes is a communications intern for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.