Birding Without a Phone

Is It Possible to Go Birding Without a Phone?

We got out of the car yesterday and Karen declared, “I forgot my phone.  I can’t go birding without a phone!”  Of course we did go birding without a phone but it highlighted our dependence on the phone while birding – the Merlin App in particular.  We have gotten into the habit of turning on the Sound ID feature of Merlin as we walk along to alert us as to which birds might be in the vicinity.  As a rule we don’t include every bird that pops up on the Sound ID screen on our eBird checklist, as it isn’t infallible (sometimes it will show a bird that could not be anywhere in our region of the country).


If Merlin does pick up the sound of a bird of interest, like a hard-to-find warbler, we will search the area more thoroughly for that bird.  For instance it picked up the song of a Hooded Warbler the other day and we spent 15 minutes trying to find it.  We wouldn’t have even known it was there because we don’t recognize its song, but Merlin did.  Sometimes it picks up the song of a bird we can’t hear very well.  Blame it on “old ears” but bird songs that have a high pitch or are very buzzy are difficult for us to hear, but Merlin picks it up.

Our phone-less birding excursion reminded me of a conversation I had with Master Birder Denis Kania recently about using the Merlin Sound ID.  As he was designing a Beginning Birding course I suggested he include instruction on how to use Sound ID.  I argued that you can learn bird songs as you bird using the App.  He disagreed, saying that it is best to learn bird songs then to go out into the field and identify the species you hear.

As Karen and I went back to the car, we discussed our phone-less birding experience.  We knew that there were several bird songs that morning we didn’t recognize.  Had we been studying the bird songs instead of relying on Merlin, we would have identified more birds that morning.  Merlin has become a crutch for us when birding by sound and I don’t learn the bird songs as much as I thought I was when using Merlin.  So Denis was right – to become a better birder you must learn the bird songs yourself before going into the field.

So does that mean we won’t use Merlin Sound ID on future walks?  I think we will.  However we will spend more time learning the sounds of the birds we might encounter ahead of time so we don’t have to rely on a phone to go birding.


Go Birding.  Take Pics.  Share Here.  Repeat.


If you would like to learn more about GreatBirdPics Click Here.  Members can post their own great bird pics, create an online gallery of their works, and regularly receive emails about bird photography.

Please Login to comment
Notify of