I was excited to receive an email from Cornell this morning announcing a new online tool called Merlin Photo ID. This tool, similar to Bird Snap, uses “computer vision technology” to identify birds online from photos that you upload to the software.

online bird identifer - merlin photo id
After uploading your photo, you confirm the location of the photo and the date. It then asks you to draw a crop box tightly around the bird and place markers to pinpoint the tip of the beak, the bird’s eye, and the tip of the tail. Merlin Photo ID then does its magic, and returns a few suggestions for the likely species in the photo. I tried it out with several nice DSLR photos I’ve taken and it was very accurate. I found my species usually in the first suggestion, sometimes the second.

The tool is currently in “beta” but is very polished for something they claim is a work in progress. From what I understand, Merlin Photo ID pulls data from eBird to narrow down the list of possible bird species for identification. This is very similar to how it works with the standard “Merlin” mobile app. These types of tools tend to get smarter and smarter the more people use them, so try it out a few photos and contribute to citizen science!

online bird identifier - merlin photo id

I’d love to see this feature be built into their already-excellent iOS/Android App, Merlin. One day, I hope to see software like this be available on DLSR cameras to provide on-site identification. Until then, sharpening your personal field identification skills is your best bet.

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