Drew Weber, Merlin ID app creator. Photo courtesy of Drew Weber.

As Drew Weber walked along the Onondaga Creekwalk, one of his many birding locations, he instinctively pointed to various bird species native to Onondaga County. He saw the osprey, the yellow-rumped warbler, the bald eagle, the ring-billed gull, the warbling vireo, and the great blue heron. 

“I started birding when I was pretty young with my father mostly,” Weber said. “My grandmother was casually into it. She passed along the casual love to my dad.”

Picking out bird species has become second nature for Weber, who lives in the Syracuse area and created a bird identification app used by seven million people in North America. Weber has had a passion for birding since he was a child, growing up in Reading, Pennsylvania.

He has committed himself to conservation and the environment. In the last 50 years, North America’s bird population has dropped by three billion birds.  

Weber has been involved with the development of the Merlin Bird ID app and eBird DataBase in 2012. The Merlin Bird ID is free and can be used to identify birds using sounds and images. Seven million people in Canada and the United States have used the Merlin Bird App to identify birds.

Since 2013, the Merlin Bird ID’s database has expanded to feature 10,000 species, 100,000 bird sounds, and photos from over 50 million files submitted to the eBird database, Weber said. The app has expanded to include additional features like photo and sound ID of birds. Weber was recently featured by Syracuse History.

A team at The Cornell Lab of Orinthology, where Weber now works as a project manager, helped him name the app after the merlin bird. 

“We have a whole team of scientists who are using all of the data that people are uploading and we can actually see what the trends are. The population trends are in every region of the world for each species,” Weber said. “It’s super valuable for people to keep submitting these birds.”

Weber uses the app for bird sighting regionally and internationally. He spends anywhere between an hour or two daily bird watching and recording his sightings in the Merlin Bird ID. 

After years of birding, Weber knows the best time of day and year for birding, ways to identify bird species’ notes and how to detect mating calls.

During this time of the year, most birds are preparing to migrate south as the summer season winds down in the north, Weber said. 

“They fly overnight. You can actually see most birds first thing in the morning because they’re trying to find a good area to rest, eat, and drink for the day. So they’re moving around a lot,” Weber said. 

Weber began melding his interests in app development, technology and birding in 2012. Prior to the creation of the Merlin Bird ID, he created Birdseye, a mobile app used for submitting bird sightings to eBird, a virtual database and app for global contributors to upload bird observations. To date, the database has received over 1.5 billion bird observations.

“This is all driving our scientific research, but also it is super valuable for people that want to find birds.” Weber said. “And, so, BirdsEye was like a third-party app that took all those sightings and made them easy to explore.” 

Birders who use the Merlin Bird app can download it without having to create an account, instead they can log in with their google accounts. Users can log their sightings based on dates, postal codes, address, bird size, colors and activity.

This information allows the app’s AI database system to search for birds or match with species in the app, based on the user’s description. The app then gives the user information about the bird.

The database receives an influx of bird images, however, Weber encourages more users to record audio of the birds because it helps to identify each bird species’ unique calls. 

People in other countries, particularly in Central America, South America and Australia have started using the app. 

“The idea is just to make it easier for people to get into birding, kind of get that first answer of what this bird is,” Weber said. ”Our ultimate goal is that a lot of people get into it and become more aware of birds, the challenges of conservation.”

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