song recognition apps

To: "'Allan Richardson'" <>, "'Michael Hunter'" <>
Subject: song recognition apps
From: "Paul Dodd" <>
Date: Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:56:19 +1100
Hi All,

Actually, I'm not sure your response is entirely accurate, Allan.

There is a project by the University of Wisconsin called "WeBird" that is
designed to do exactly this. You can capture the sound of birds calling
using the microphone on your iPhone, and the software will tell you the
species of bird. Or so the blurb goes... I am not sure how close
WeBird is to commercialisation - it was slated for release in 2013, but I
haven't seen or heard anything about whether this date was met. There is a
free download of an iPhone app, but it hasn't been updated since 2011, so
you'd have to wonder if it has been abandoned.

I suspect, though, that in many respects, Allan's response is accurate.

The way that the music recognition app Shazam and similar work on the iPhone
and similar devices is that they take a sample of the music playing (even
humming and whistling) and compress this into a small amount of data that
can then be compared with a vast library of captured and recorded tunes.
Once a subset of the vast library has been identified, larger data samples
are compared until a match is found (or not).

What makes all of this work is two things fundamentally: a HUGE library of
sampled songs and a HUGE array of servers with incredibly high performance.
What is likely missing in the birding world is both of these - there is no
huge library of sampled bird song and I suspect that the University of
Wisconsin and any other birder-related organisation is unlikely to have the
funds to afford a huge array of fast servers needed for the data processing.

Interestingly, the variety of calls wouldn't matter greatly as the software
uses an averaging approach - tightening the parameters to do with the
averaging would simply mean that a closer match was required, or relaxing
the parameters would allow for more matches (and more likelihood of
erroneous matches).

I think that it is likely that we will have apps that can do this in the
reasonably near future provided that a large enough sample set of calls
becomes available - the servers and hardware will be cheap enough in time as
computing power doubles approximately every 18 months - and prices probably
halve in the same time period!

Paul Dodd
Docklands, Victoria

-----Original Message-----
From: Birding-Aus  On Behalf Of
Allan Richardson
Sent: Wednesday, 15 October 2014 3:27 PM
To: Michael Hunter
Subject: song recognition apps

Hi Michael,

The short answer is no.

What you'd like and what technology can provide in this case are miles

There is a recording device available that records bird calls and has
software for reading the calls. However, you have to record, identify and
then build a library of calls for the software to identify.

However the technology is not reliable for a number of reasons, and the
number of call variations you would require to cover Australia's avi-fauna
is beyond computation.

The software has difficulty in identifying the calls, due to variation in
intensity, pitch, shape and other noises masking the calls, so finding a
good set of "standard calls" that the software could recognise would be

Not only that, in any given area you may have as many as 200 or more birds
that could be possible, and this multiplied by the number of call variations
and loudness would be very difficult for software to work out.

Hopefully a new way of deciphering calls will become available, but at the
moment it doesn't exist.

The ability of the human ear and brain to identify the calls of birds is
very difficult to emulate in the electronic world, due to the often subtle
variation between species and within species vocalisations.

I wish the answer could be of more help - the best thing to do is get out,
hear a bird call and then track it down and identify it.

Yes it's slow and time consuming, and often frustrating, but these problems
are what makes bird identification so rewarding in the long-run.

Happy birding,

Allan Richardson

On 15 Oct 2014, at 10:28 am, Michael Hunter <>

> Hi All.
>           Are there any Australian Bird apps which identify bird calls or
songs in the field.  ie which "hear" the vocalisations and can identify the
species which is calling?
>                           Cheers       Michael
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