The Merlin app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a free app for your smartphone that offers lots of functionality!  After you download it, you pick a bird pack to install (choose “US: Midwest” for Iowa birds), and then you’re ready to begin.  Besides letting you explore birds, it can listen and tell you what birds it hears, and it can identify the bird in your photo.  You can also limit to Dubuque for today and sort by most likely.  Give it a try!

Merlin  includes multiple photos of every species along with sound recordings.  It also knows what birds are likely to be seen where on what dates (because it’s powered by eBird data). 

Exploring Birds

You can include all birds in a bird pack (or in all installed packs), or you can limit to likely birds for a location and date (or choose year-round).  You can also control how birds are sorted, such as by family or by most likely.

You can scroll through the birds and choose one to see more photos, hear sound recordings, and read descriptive details.

You can limit to Dubuque for today and sort most likely first!

Option:  If Merlin knows what birds you’ve seen before (either because you track your data in eBird or just in Merlin), then you can filter out the birds already on your life list.  So you can limit to Dubuque for today, excluding birds you’ve seen before, and sort most likely first!  You can use this option when travelling too (provided you’ve downloaded the appropriate bird pack), to see what new birds to look for in an unfamiliar area.

Identifying Birds

Merlin can help with identification as follows:

  • Merlin can listen to your surroundings and show you which birds it hears.  It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s impressive.
  • Merlin can try to identify birds from your photos.  (Unlike eBird, Merlin cannot store your photos.)
  • Merlin also offers a step by step ID option, where you answer a few questions about the bird you saw (location, size, color, etc.), and it will give you some possibilities.

See the eBird Help Center for information direct from the Cornell Lab about Merlin and eBird.


Some of our members use eBird extensively.  It has revolutionized the way birders worldwide report and share their observations. With its launch in 2002 as a joint project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, birders of all experience levels could start entering when, where, and how they went birding, entering checklists of all birds seen and heard during their outings (both past and present).

What does this mean for you?  First, it means that you can find which locations have had the most bird species reported, and you can look up which birds have been seen most recently.  You might use this information to decide where to go birdwatching.  If you go a step further and create an eBird account, then you can start reporting your sightings.

eBird has both a website and a phone app, which may be a little confusing initially, since they don’t have the identical functionality.  If you want to track your checklist electronically while you’re birding, the app is the way to go.  When done, you submit your checklist from the app, and then you can optionally pull it up on the website for editing or adding photos.  (You can’t edit a checklist with the app after it has been submitted.)  You can also enter and submit a checklist on the website, which is best on a computer rather than a phone due to screen size.

If you add photos to your checklists, you’ll want to read the related eBird guidelines.  

There are options to sign up for bird alerts for rare birds or birds you haven’t seen before in a particular location.  

eBird is powerful and can do more than we’re covering here.  There’s definitely a learning curve, but you can figure things out as you go along.  

See the eBird Help Center for information direct from the Cornell Lab.

Informational Links

eBird  eBird Hotspot Supporting Details

You can help build this hotspot repository by submitting suggested edits!  The idea is to provide details on eBird hotspots, including descriptions, location photos, tips on parking, restroom availability, whether there is roadside viewing, etc.