I can tell you that a cardinal couple frequents a tree in my front yard. I also know a blue jay when I see one. Robins, too. Beyond that, my bird knowledge quickly wanes. I am often curious about birds I see when I'm hiking in the woods or just walking around town, but can't see myself as a birder so I have never purchased a bird book, let alone carry one with me on a hike. With the free Merlin Bird ID app for iOS or for Android, I can identify birds by answering a few quick questions on my phone. Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the app includes information on 400 North American birds.
When you first launch Merlin Bird ID, it asks for your email address to confirm your account in order to give you "long-term access" to the app. You can skip the confirmation step, however, and jump right into the app.
From the home screen, you can Start Bird ID or Browse All Birds. When browsing, you can use the different bird icons along the right edge to browse by bird family (from swifts and swallows to wrens and wood-warblers). You can also search by keyword. But the main thrust of the app is the five-question bird ID process.
Question 1: Where did you see the bird?
Question 2: When did you see the bird?
Question 3: What size was the bird?
Question 4: What were the main colors?
Question 5: What was the bird doing when you saw it?
After you hop through the quick questionnaire, you'll be given a list of possible matches. For each, you can read a description, view multiple photos, hear its songs and calls, and see where it lives, breeds and winters.
When you find a match, you can tap the Yes, This Is My Bird button to ID the bird, which helps improve the app's accuracy.