Below are our recommended best practices when identifying birds with Sound ID in Merlin Bird ID. Following these guidelines will help to ensure your eBird observations appear in public outputs and are available for scientific research.
1. The best bird ID tools are your own eyes and ears.
Merlin’s suggestions are just a starting point. You should always independently verify each suggestion before reporting it.
Tap a Merlin suggestion to see and hear it in the spectrogram. Compare each suggestion against Merlin’s example recordings. Then tap “Details” and consider the range map, behavior, and habitat description of the bird that is vocalizing–does it seem like a good fit? You’ll also want to consider the seasonality of the species (try Merlin bar charts under Explore Birds). If possible, try to see the bird making the sound to confirm the ID.
Like all birders, Merlin can make mistakes. If you're not confident that Merlin's suggestion is correct, or if you have not considered it independently, don't report it to eBird. (Do not report whatever Merlin says without considering it first!)
2. Set your location.
Merlin works best with an accurate location, which requires location services to be enabled. If Merlin was unable to find your location, you can manually select a location after you are done recording. Always set a location for your recording before reaching a final identification or submitting to eBird. Never report birds to eBird from recordings marked “Location Unknown”.
Always set the location of your Merlin recording before reporting birds.
3. Upload your sound recording to your checklist.
Don't delete that file! Instead, upload it on your eBird checklist. The sound recordings you upload to your eBird checklists are safely and permanently archived in the Macaulay Library where they can be accessed by researchers and used to improve Merlin Sound ID.
Your Merlin sound recordings also provide valuable documentation for unusual or interesting observations. We ask that you always include your recording when reporting a species suggested by Merlin Sound ID, especially if that species is uncommon or rare in eBird.
Add a Merlin sound recording to an eBird checklist:
When you're done, take a moment to rate your audio recordings. More tips for uploading media files to eBird checklists
3b. Add notes. After uploading your sound file, add a few comments about the location of the bird (high in a tree, under a bush, out in the field, etc.) and any other behavioral or descriptive notes. These comments are often as useful as the sound recording itself!
For rare species or long recordings, please note the timestamp(s) when the species vocalizes. E.g., "High-pitched calls at 0:02 and 0:11 seconds".
3c. Additional documentation may be required. For particularly rare species, multiple, clear vocalizations and/or supplemental evidence (photos or a detailed physical description) may be necessary for the record to appear publicly. Read our best practices for documentation.
4. Prepare your recordings for archiving.
We strongly recommend trimming and normalizing (raising the volume of) your recordings before uploading them. This can make your recordings easier to hear and more useful to anyone listening to them. For more information, see our article on audio preparation.
Trimming (removing noise or blank space at the beginning and end) is particularly important and helps to keep your recording focused on the species you are reporting. Please do NOT upload a continuous, untrimmed Merlin recording unless the reported species vocalizes throughout the entire recording.
If you are in a hurry and unable to trim or prepare your recording before uploading it, please go back and replace the raw recording with an edited version later on.
Please keep the original file name as it appears in Merlin. If you add information to the recording name—such as a species name or location note—append it to the end of the original title.
When reporting multiple species from the same Merlin recording: report all species on the same eBird checklist. Trim and normalize the recording for your primary subject (often the loudest, rarest, or most interesting species in the recording) and upload your recording to that species. Then, report the other species as 'Additional Species' in the Manage Media tool. Remember to evaluate each Merlin suggestion independently before reporting it!
Add background species in your recording as ‘Additional species’ in the Manage Media tool.
5. Use good recording techniques.
For best results with Merlin Sound ID:
Get as close to the bird as you can without disturbing it.
Keep the microphone clear of obstructions, stand still, and remain quiet.
Try to get clear recordings with minimal noise and multiple examples of the bird vocalizing.
Record continuously for at least 30 seconds or longer if the bird is cooperative.
Merlin Bird ID is a community-built resource, relying on the data and media collected by hundreds of thousands of birders around the world. By following these suggestions, you'll not only improve the accuracy of the eBird database, but also help to expand and improve Merlin Bird ID.