Birding, or birdwatching (let's try to avoid the "trekker" vs. "trekkie"-style argument), is as popular now as it has ever been.

How Popular Is Birdwatching in the U.S.?

In fact, according to All About Birds, one-third of Americans identify themselves as birdwatchers. They cite the most recent Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which found that the number of birdwatchers has doubled since the previous survey in 2016.

Tufted Titmouse In a Berry Bush
Getty Images

These studies look at social media activity and related mobile app usage, so while they're not super precise, they do tell us something: People are really into bird and wildlife hobbies these days. And it's probably only increased since the COVID lockdowns when everyone was stuck at home and got to know their own backyards a whole lot better.

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During that period, I found myself paying closer attention to the birds in my own backyard. With less airplane noise and fewer cars passing by, it was noticeably quieter. This made the birdsongs stand out even more. However, I wasn't sure which birds were responsible for which sounds.

The Merlin App Revolutionized Birdwatching for Beginners (and Bird Listening)

Now, I can pretty much identify all the bird calls on my property, and it's mostly thanks to the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Despite its somewhat misleading name (no, it's not about magic), this app effortlessly identifies the sounds of birds in your backyard just by recording them.

READ MORE: Large Ball of Leaves You See Up in the Trees Isn't a Birds' Nest

You know how people say something's the "Netflix of ____" or the "Uber but for ____"? Well, Merlin's like the Shazam for birds. Instead of telling you what song you're hearing, it tells you what bird you're hearing.

And it's seriously good at it.

What Does the Merlin Bird ID App Do?

Merlin uses what is called Sound ID, which tunes into the birds nearby and gives you instant suggestions on who (what?) is belting out their signature tunes. Don't believe it? The app also provides a huge library of song recordings so you can confirm what you heard (this works offline—no Wi-Fi or signal needed—so it's great for remote walkabouts).

Bonus: The existing sound library also allows you to attract birds. I played a cardinal recording and three cardinals showed up almost immediately.

Does the Merlin Birding App Also Identify Visually With Your Camera?

The Merlin app does currently allow you to capture a bird photo with your camera (or import one from your phone's camera library) and will provide you with a list of possible matched. I personally have not tried this functionality so I am unable to say if it works as well as the Sound ID.

RELATED: If You're Hiking in the Woods and Hear a Drum, Don't Panic

Now, here's where it gets a bit bird-nerdy, but it's pretty cool: Picture yourself on a quiet spring afternoon, placing your phone on the table. As each bird enters the backyard chat, Merlin seamlessly adds them to the list. My personal best? Twelve birds in a 3-minute recording at dusk. Pretty thrilling! And educational.

Merlin Bird ID app is free and is available for iPhones and Android

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