Long-billed Thrasher © Dorian Anderson / Macaulay Library

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Does Merlin let me track birds I've already identified?

When you identify a bird in Merlin Bird ID, you can save it to your Life List - a list of all the birds you have confidently identified. If you use eBird, your Merlin Life List also includes species reported on your eBird checklists. Learn more.

I can't find a bird in Explore, or I think a bird is missing. Why?

If you search for a bird by name and don’t get any results, try changing the filter settings. Open Explore Birds, tap the filter button in the upper right corner of the screen, switch ‘Refine Bird List’ from Likely Birds to Bird Packs, and then select your bird pack of interest. You can also flip the toggle for All Installed Birds to see all species in your packs at once. Refining by Bird Packs functions like a field guide for all the birds in the pack’s region, and Likely Birds gives you a customized list of birds that are commonly found near you, with bar charts of when they can be seen throughout the year.

Why didn't Merlin list my bird as a possible match?

The first thing to check is whether you have the appropriate Bird Pack installed for your region. If a common bird is not appearing, you may not have it downloaded to your phone. You can download a bird pack for your region in the Settings menu. 

If you’re identifying a bird with the Step by Step ID tool, try changing your size, color, or behavior selection:

  • Size: We suggest shifting your size response one to two notches from your original selection. It can be very hard to estimate the size of a bird you see.

  • Color: Try another combination of colors. Only enter colors that you are certain you saw. Take into account tricky lighting conditions or things that may have led you to see a color that Merlin didn’t expect.

  • Behavior: Choose the behavior that fits what the bird was doing for the majority of the time you spent watching it. For example, if you saw a bird make a short flight into a tree, you are more likely to find a match if you select “In trees or bushes” because that is where the bird spends more of its time.

    • Merlin typically matches “flying or soaring” to birds that spend much of their time in flight, such as hawks searching for prey or swallows hunting insects on the wing. If you chose this behavior and got a confusing result, try a different behavior.

    • Since a lot of birds spend time “on the ground,” try to give Merlin another clue—for example, if the bird also spends time in or near water, try “swimming or wading” to see if Merlin will find your bird.

Finally, the bird you sighted could be too rare in the area where you reported it, or there may be limited eBird observations from your area. Merlin depends on sightings reported to eBird in order to predict likely species at a given location. In some areas, particularly rural regions, there are too few observations in eBird of a species for Merlin to consider it a possibility. 

We are working to improve Merlin’s functionality in these situations. You can help by visiting eBird to submit your sightings. Remember, birds reported to eBird will also show up on your Merlin Life List! eBird is the largest worldwide database of bird sightings and it is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Reporting your sightings is free and easy. eBird also keeps track of your life lists while also making your observations available to scientists and other birders. Not only will you be helping Merlin, but you’ll be helping hundreds of other science and conservation projects. Here are instructions to help you get started with eBird.

Is Merlin free?

The Merlin app is free to download and use, and Merlin will not ask for your credit card number. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers Merlin Bird ID for free because it’s our mission to advance the understanding and protection of birds.

What do the red and orange dots next to some bird names mean?

These icons tell you if a species is rare (red dot) or uncommon (orange semi-circle) for the bird to be seen at the location and on the date that you selected. The same species that is common in summer might be rare in winter. Merlin knows which species are common or rare based on observations submitted to eBird, a citizen-science project that gathers observations from birders around the world.

Why are some of the bird photos grayed out?

If Merlin seems to be missing photos, or it's asking you to install a bird pack, there may have been an error with the bird pack you installed. You can delete your installed bird pack, and download it again to get the latest photos, sounds, and ID help.

Can I use Merlin when I don't have Internet? 

Do you frequently find yourself off the beaten path, far from reliable internet? Merlin works offline too!

Before you go, work through one test identification using your destination location. Then, when you are offline, you can just select that stored location and Merlin will still do its magic. Merlin will save your six most recent locations, so make sure your offline destination is among those.

Why do I have to provide an email address and what do you do with my email?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers Merlin Bird ID free because it’s our mission to advance the understanding and protection of birds. However, there are costs to improving the app and keeping it updated on ever-changing mobile platforms. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on donor support to sustain efforts like these. Providing your email address helps us achieve our mission by enabling us to share updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to support conservation. You can unsubscribe from these communications at any time.

We will never sell or give your email address to others. You are welcome to enjoy the app for a five-day trial period before confirming your email address.

Why should I enable Location Services and allow Merlin Bird ID to access my current location? 

Assuming that you saw the bird at your current location, granting access to your current location is the best way for Merlin to find out which birds are near you. Location is also essential for Sound ID to give you accurate results. If Merlin does not know your location, results will be inaccurate and Merlin may suggest bird species that are not found in your area.

Before adding a sighting to your life list in Merlin or to an eBird checklist, be sure to enable location permissions. If your saved sound recording doesn't have a location, you can manually set a location for the file using the edit button at the top of the screen.

Does Merlin Bird ID work in my location?

Merlin contains identification support and photos, sound recordings, maps, and descriptions for 10,000+ species around the world. Merlin may not be as precise in remote regions of the world where there may be limited data (eBird observations) to inform Merlin’s results list. Sound ID is not yet available worldwide (check which species are currently supported by Sound ID here), but will be expanding to new regions in the future. Stay tuned!

Why did you name the app Merlin?

We named the app “Merlin” because of its uncanny, almost magical way of guessing which bird you saw (or at least that’s the goal we’re working toward). Of course, the real magic comes from science: Merlin knows which birds are near you, based on sightings submitted by bird watchers to the eBird citizen-science project. A Merlin is also a pint-sized falcon found across the northern hemisphere. It’s a speedy, powerful, and exciting bird to watch!

What is the best way to set up Merlin for use in a class or group, like in a school or nature center?

Merlin can be a fun tool to use as part of a class or group field trip. If you are using the app on many devices as part of a class - for example, on students’ personal phones in school, or on tablets at a nature center - it can be impractical to have each student enter their email address when prompted upon starting Merlin. In this case, our recommendation is to have a shared email that the students can use. The teacher or trip leader will want to enter this shared email into Merlin themselves ahead of time at least once, and then confirm that email address via the email we send. This will allow students to have immediate and uninterrupted access to both the Merlin web widget, and Merlin Bird ID app.

To use the Merlin Bird ID app:

This app is free and is available for iOS and Android devices. The app includes the step-by-step tool described above, and also includes the ability to identify birds by sound or by using a photo. The app also includes the ability to save bird sightings to the user’s life list, if the user has created an account and is signed in. When a user saves a bird sighting to their list, the location and date of their sighting is saved and associated with their account, but is not publicly visible online. If you are saving bird sightings as a class, we recommend the teacher create an account for the group to use and have students log in to that account.

To get the app search the App Store or Play Store for “Merlin Bird ID”, or visit