The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is really good at getting me addicted to bird-watching once a year when their Great Backyard Bird Count happens. There isn’t another GBBC until next February, but I’m afraid I may become a year-round bird addict now that I’ve discovered the organization’s All About Birds project.
The Cornell Lab is in the process of creating a super-smart bird computer named Merlin that can see birds in photos and identify what species they are. But in order for Merlin to get that smart, Cornell needs help from people like you and me to train it.
So, Cornell has assembled a collection of addicting bird games that people can play online. Merlin uses the data collected from those games to get better at spotting and identifying birds.
“Merlin will be a new kind of bird identification tool — one that combines artificial intelligence with input from real-life bird watchers,” according to the lab.
If you visit www.allaboutbirds.org/labs, you can play the games, including:
- Mark My Bird: answer questions about a photo of a bird so Merlin can identify which species it is.
- Bird Crop: crop photos tightly around birds so Merlin knows where they’re located in the photos.
- Hot Spot: show Merlin where different parts of a bird are located in a photo.
Cornell also needs people to upload their own photos of birds to add to Merlin’s massive database. All of the games help train Merlin’s artifical intelligence, which means while you’re looking at cool photos of birds, you’re also helping to construct a powerful scientific tool.
Once Merlin has been trained and tested, Cornell plans on making his bird identifying skills available to everyone online for free. That means you’ll be able to upload a photo of a bird you saw in your driveway, and Merlin could potentially tell you what kind of bird it is.
I think this project is a great way to get people involved in science and interested in nature. And the resulting bird-identification technology will help anyone anywhere learn about the world around them. I think scientists could also learn from how Merlin learns and might identify new patterns or trends in bird appearance.
The All About Birds website (www.allaboutbirds.org) has tons of other information on bird-watching, too, like tips for beginning birders and databases to help you learn how to spot birds in real life.
Amanda’s Animal Fact of the Week
American Avocet chicks leave the nest within 24 hours after hatching. Day-old avocets can walk, swim, and even dive to escape predators.