New AI Tool Can Identify Individual Birds

Monday, July 27, 2020 - 11:28
Individual Birds

For the first time, artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to train computers to recognize individual birds, a task humans are unable to do.

According to a research published in the British Ecological Society journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, researchers from institutes in France, Germany Portugal and South Africa describe the process for using AI to individually identify birds. This involves collecting thousands of labelled images of birds and then using this data to train and test AI models. This study represents the first successful attempt to do this in birds, Science Codex reports.

"We show that computers can consistently recognize dozens of individual birds, even though we cannot ourselves tell these individuals apart. In doing so, our study provides the means of overcoming one of the greatest limitations in the study of wild birds - reliably recognizing individuals." Said Dr. André Ferreira at the Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), France, and lead author of the study.

The researchers trained the AI models to recognize images of individual birds in wild populations of great tits and sociable weavers and a captive population of zebra finches, some of the most commonly studied birds in behavioral ecology. After training, the AI models were tested with images of the individuals they had not seen before and had an accuracy of over 90% for the wild species and 87% for the captive zebra finches.

In animal behavior studies, individually identifying animals is one of the most expensive and time-consuming factors, limiting the scope of behaviors and the size of the populations that researchers can study. Current identification methods like attaching color bands to birds' legs can also be stressful to the animals.

These issues could be solved with AI models. Dr André Ferreira said: "The development of methods for automatic, non-invasive identification of animals completely unmarked and unmanipulated by researchers represents a major breakthrough in this research field. Ultimately, there is plenty of room to find new applications for this system and answer questions that seemed unreachable in the past."

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