DAVE ROSS

Ross: Listening to a symphony of tweets from the ‘other twitter’

Jul 7, 2022, 6:48 AM

Last weekend it was sunny, and so instead of spending the afternoon absorbed in CSPAN reruns, I dragged a lawn chair out onto the lawn, sat down, and opened up an app that I’d downloaded a long time ago but never used.

It’s called Merlin.

And what it does… is listen.

It listens to birds.

But it doesn’t just listen to birds – it can identify them.

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Merlin is a service of the Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory, which studies birds and collects high-resolution recordings of their songs. It uses AI and a huge database to detect 684 bird species in real-time based on their calls.

And when you open the app and authorize it to use your microphone – it basically starts taking attendance.

It was an especially quiet afternoon because everybody was out of town for the holiday, probably doing something extraordinary, except me.  I was just sitting there in the front yard.  No kids playing, no cars, not even a leaf blower. It was just me and the birds.  And I hear those birds all the time, but now… using this app, I wasn’t just hearing them, I was listening to them.

Because with every bird call, a name would pop up on Merlin.  And soon I’m seeing names like  “Dark-eyed Junco,” “Black-Capped Chickadee,” and “Orange-crowned warbler.” Suddenly I realize I’m surrounded by all this exotic wildlife.

The “Song Sparrow” came up a lot, clearly showing off, and then the crows would heckle them because crows hate being upstaged.

Then I noticed a hummingbird in the tree right above me – and just like that the name “Anna’s Hummingbird” popped up on the list – like guests being announced at the Royal Ball.  Then came the “Chestnut-backed Chickadee,” the “Northern Flicker,” the “Steller’s Jay.”

– All of them tweeting what sounded like the same message over and over again – YES! – they were ripping off Twitter!

Except because I couldn’t understand what they were saying, it sounded like they were all getting along!

Maybe they were actually embroiled in furious debates over avian issues, like killer Wind Turbines, or the Bird Flu, or who’s the dude in the lawn chair eavesdropping. But since I don’t speak bird, it sounded like one big outdoor concert to me.

So I highly recommend the Merlin app.  It’s the only app on my phone that delivers all of the tweets and none of the anxiety. And for the crows… stop heckling me.

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