Did you know that according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bird watching is America’s favorite sport? It’s a bit hard to believe as we hit Super Bowl fever, but there are now 51.3 million birders in the U.S. alone. There’s even a delightful movie about birding “The Big Year” that you might find an enjoyable alternative to the big game this weekend.We’ve been getting into this sport a bit in the past year but feel frustrated that our eyes aren’t always sharp or quick enough to help us identify a bird. So we are thrilled with this new, free bird-watching app called Merlin from the very smart people at the Cornell University lab of ornithology. It makes bird identification easier by showing you the birds in your area that match what you’ve seen.

Merlin will ask you a few questions: When did you see the bird, where, size, etc. Then it shows you the birds that would have been in your area on that day by tapping into technology that tracks information from birders around the world.

The results are tailored for your location. Once you identify a bird you’ll hear its sounds, where the bird lives, migration and range as well as professional photos of the birds. Merlin covers all birds in North America. This is a wonderful tool for first-time bird watchers or intermediate watchers who want to want to learn more.

Audubon also has a  nice site on birding basics that can get you started. It helps with choosing binoculars and a field guide as well as where to look for birds and the etiquette of watching. For a local reference the “Birds of Arizona Field Guide” by Stan Tekiela is a staple at Southwest Gardener.

And if you want to know more about birds in general subscribe to the
All About Birds blog at Cornell. It’s great reading.