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Rachel Lipkin
April 10, 2020

While most families are stuck indoors amidst this global pandemic and leaving the house or apartment seems less and less likely we, as public librarians, aim to make this time easier for you and your child. Having been quarantined for the last three weeks I found ways to entertain myself and learn a new skill all at the same time and while exploring my own urban backyard. You do not need to live near a park to participate in this activity. The only thing you need is a sense of exploration, curiosity, and the Merlin Bird ID app. Bonus points if you can get your hands on a pair of binoculars (or, make your own binoculars!).  

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed an open source application for smartphones to make identifying birds and birdsongs easier and more accessible for even the most novice of bird watchers. “ Merlin asks you the same questions that an expert birder would ask to help solve a mystery bird sighting. Notice that date and location are Merlin’s first and most important questions. It takes years of experience in the field to know what species are expected at a given location and date. Merlin shares this knowledge with you based on more than 200 million sightings submitted to eBird from birders across the United States and Canada. Merlin also asks you to describe the color, size, and behavior of the bird you saw. Because no two people describe birds exactly the same way, Merlin presents a shortlist of possible species based on descriptions from Cornell Lab experts as well as thousands of bird enthusiasts who helped “teach” Merlin by participating in online activities. They’ve contributed more than 3 million descriptors to help Merlin match your input with the most likely birds. When you identify a species and click “This is My Bird,” Merlin also saves your record to help improve its future performance.

Now imagine your child and you have some time to spare and go for a short walk around the block, near your park, or go on your roof to breathe some fresh air. With the Merlin Bird ID you can take some moments to ask questions that pertain to your environment and your surroundings. By doing so you and your child become more aware of your neighborhood, of the other living things that share your space, and a little self-discovery while the car horns and ambient city noise ceases to a whisper.  

In just the last three weeks I have discovered and identified over thirty unique bird species in Prospect Park (see a few examples in the slideshow above) and it has given me a new appreciation for the wildlife and nature that lives just within a few blocks of where I call home.

Want to learn more about our feathered friends? Check out these ebooks from our collection:

Book Cover: A nest is noisy
A nest is noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

Introduces the world of nests, revealing the variety created by the world's birds, animals, and insects.

Check the Catalog
Book Cover: Little Bird takes a bath
Little Bird takes a bath by Marisabina Russo

The only thing Little Bird likes about rain is the puddles it leaves behind, but after flying through Manhattan to find the perfect puddle, his bath is interrupted again and again.

Check the Catalog
Book Cover: Falcon
Falcon by Tim Jessell

A young boy imagines himself as a falcon, soaring in flight over sea and city in faraway places.

Check the Catalog
Book Cover: Telephone
Telephone written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace

In this picture book a string of birds on a telephone wire plays a game of telephone, with the usual mixed up results.

Check the Catalog

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