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John Fleet

iBird versus Merlin

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I currently use Cornell University's Merlin. It appears to have the same functionality as iBird but is a) free and b) has worldwide coverage. I'm based in the UK, so what benefit might I expect if I purchased the iBird app?

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Hi John

Great question. BTW I moved it from the Help Me Identify a Bird forum to this forum which is specifically for discussing iBird apps.

So Merlin is a nice app, especially since it combines identification via a Q&A session with photo recognition and is free. However, in our comparing of Merlin and iBird Photo Sleuth we have found a number of advantages of iBird Photo Sleuth.

Advantages of iBird over Merlin.

  1. iBird is about 10% to 15% more accurate than Merlin on birds of North America. This figure will likely change over time as we are constantly improving our recognition algorithm. If you have found any photos that Merlin guesses correctly and iBird does not, I would love for you to post them here so we can figure out what the reasons are.
  2. There are many more steps to initially setting up Merlin compared to iBird. For example you must download specific databases for the areas you wish to identify which means you must be connected to the internet. iBird is ready to go right out of the gate.
  3. iBird needs less steps to submit a photo. For example, Merlin expects you to enter the geographic location where you took the photo and the date. iBird doesn't require these steps. Granted they may help with the identification but in our testing this has not been the case.
  4. Merlin is missing photos of some very common NA species. I don't really understand this as they have a very large number of photos at the Cornell web site.
  5. The field guide information for the species in Merlin is no where near as comprehensive as in iBird.
  6. The world-wide coverage is missing large chunks of field guide information. Most of this species outside of North America lack photos, range maps and sounds.

Advantages of Merlin over iBird.

  1. While iBird provides field guide information such as the overview of the bird and a range map, a separate iBird app (e.g. iBird Pro for iOS or iBird Pro for Android) is needed if you want elaborate field guide information.  However, some people may consider this an advantage.
  2. Merlin coverage extends worldwide. iBird Photo Sleuth is about to cover the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Those are a few of the things I have noticed so far. Hope this helps.

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So at the moment Photo Sleuth isn’t covering the UK or Europe? I don’t bird in North America so the pros re North America aren’t relevant to me. As a registered user will I get notification when you do extend coverage?

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Posted (edited)

Okay, with those differences noted, is it advisable to start with a free app like Merlin if I've never used an ID application?

I'm not sure how an app will fit the way I bird, or how I would need to change my practices to best take advantage of one.  Generally I record what I see on the eBird app as I go.  If I see something I don't recognize, I take a photo (with a camera, not a phone) and research it when I get home.  I'll use field guides (Sibley and NatGeo), AllAboutBirds, and the forum here.  I feel that attempting to ID a bird in the field takes up time I could be better observing the unknown bird, observing other birds, etc.

I'm trying to avoid buying something only to find I won't use it.  I've loaded Merlin on a tablet several times but have always removed it when I find I haven't touched it.   Maybe I just don't know how to use it effectively.  One of my concerns with an app on a phone is the small screen size; I'm used to my big ol' honkin' 24-inch monitor.  :classic_biggrin:  And I'll admit I don't feel any pressure or urge to ID a bird immediately.  I have to filter out the photos and refine the eBird entries when I get home anyway.

Thanks for any feedback.

Edited by Charlie Spencer

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10 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Okay, with those differences noted, is it advisable to start with a free app like Merlin if I've never used an ID application?

I'm not sure how an app will fit the way I bird, or how I would need to change my practices to best take advantage of one.  Generally I record what I see on the eBird app as I go.  If I see something I don't recognize, I take a photo (with a camera, not a phone) and research it when I get home.  I'll use field guides (Sibley and NatGeo), AllAboutBirds, and the forum here.  I feel that attempting to ID a bird in the field takes up time I could be better observing the unknown bird, observing other birds, etc.

I'm trying to avoid buying something only to find I won't use it.  I've loaded Merlin on a tablet several times but have always removed it when I find I haven't touched it.   Maybe I just don't know how to use it effectively.  One of my concerns with an app on a phone is the small screen size; I'm used to my big ol' honkin' 24-inch monitor.  :classic_biggrin:  And I'll admit I don't feel any pressure or urge to ID a bird immediately.  I have to filter out the photos and refine the eBird entries when I get home anyway.

Thanks for any feedback.

Charlie you seem to have your own work flow for identifying birds so I don't know how more value using an app like Merlin or Photo Sleuth will give you.

However, for beginning and novice birders we are discovering that iBird Photo Sleuth gives them a tremendous advantage: they can use the iPhone camera to take a picture, instantly submit it to the app and get an immediate guess at the birds identification. They can then open iBird from within Sleuth and get tons more information including range maps, songs, identification parameters, photos, illustrations, field marks and so on.  All this takes a few seconds so they get immediate gratification. Regarding price, I believe for most people the fact that Merlin is free and iBird Photo Sleuth is only $5 makes the cost pretty much a non-issue. 

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4 minutes ago, Administrator said:

they can use the iPhone camera to take a picture,

Part of my concern is that I don't know how to get decent photos of birds (or of anything else) with a phone.  I gave up on trying if the bird was more than a few feet away, then just gave it up entirely.  I'm a mediocre photographer awhen I'm using a camera but abominable with a phone.

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6 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Part of my concern is that I don't know how to get decent photos of birds (or of anything else) with a phone.  I gave up on trying if the bird was more than a few feet away, then just gave it up entirely.  I'm a mediocre photographer awhen I'm using a camera but abominable with a phone.

This is the main reason apps that use AI are so fantastic -- the photo does NOT need to be of great quality. Sure it helps but check the collection of photos I've attached that iBird Photo Sleuth got all identified correctly. I consider these pretty poor quality. I have another set of photos that are horrendous that the app still got right.

14 Medium JPGs.zip

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