App identifies birds with just a photo

There's a big world out there and it's full of birds. But figuring out the names of those birds can be intimidating and difficult work for the novice among us.

Enter Merlin Bird ID, a program that lets you upload your bird pictures and then uses computer-vision technology to present possible species. It's sort of like Shazam, but for birds. The mobile app asks the user questions about the bird to generate a list of possible species, even accompanied by bird calls.

Researchers from Cornell Tech and the California Institute of Technology teamed up with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to develop the bird identifier.

Merlin Bird ID is an outgrowth of the Visipedia research project, which engineers started about five years ago as a sort of "visual Wikipedia." The program can identify 400 of the most common North American bird species, and there are plans to expand the database to include other geographic regions and more birds.

The engineers tapped into a vast network of people associated with the ornithology lab, who volunteered to help develop and constantly refine the data set. Merlin also utilizes bird sighting information from The more people use Merlin, the more accurate it becomes.

"We're not aspiring to remove the human element and experts from the loop," said Serge Belongie, a computer science professor at Cornell Tech. "What we want to do is use their time much more efficiently."

Washington Post