Computer ID of birds

Subject: Computer ID of birds
From: Ian Reid <>
Date: Fri, 16 Nov 2012 14:24:20 +1030
Dear All,

I'm new to birding-aus and have some comments questions about this.

In my non-birding life I work on computer vision, having just moved to Adelaide from Oxford two months ago. I know Pietro Perona who is the computer vision lead and have had some discussions with him about the project. I have also birded once or twice at conferences with one of the postdocs associated with another group who collaborate, Ryan Farrell. If you are interested in the state of the art then as well as checking out Pietro's site, also look at Ryan's paper from last year's International Conference on Computer Vision at this web page

The state-of-art is some way from being able to identify birds in general images, or even from nicely posed photographs. Most human biometric stuff that actually works relies on quite controlled conditions for acquisition of the imagery (e.g. passport photo recognition), including the pose and lighting. These are two key factors that make identifying a bird in a photo or video really tough. Furthermore it is an open research question to what extent one needs to program expert knowledge into a machine recognition system for this kind of subordinate categorization task, versus being able to learn it from training data. The latter has met with some stunning successes in recent times, and in terms of general object class recognition computers can do reasonably well on 10s or sometimes 100s of distinct classes, but there is no clear answer as to how far this can be pushed when trying to distinguish very closely related subordinate classes.

This area of so-called "Fine-grained Visual Categorisation" is one that interests me and I would love to think there is a will within Australia to do something similar to the Cornell/Caltech, so it would be great if there is any advice from this list that people could offer. In partic, (i) is there any equivalent to Cornell (or the Edward Grey Institute in Oxford) in Australia that would have an interst in engaging in such a project; (ii) what databases of photographs exist and how can they be used/accessed/etc; (iii) would there be any will from the birding community at large to participate in markup of a database with a view to building an identification tool for Australian and/or Australasian birds?

Cheers, Ian

On 15/11/2012 10:04 AM, Carl Clifford wrote:
Dear B-A,

Cornell Lab of Ornithology is developing a project called Merlin. This aim of 
this project is to develop software that enables computers to identify birds 
from images. See

Given the advances in human biometrics, I imagine that computer ID of birds is 
quite doable. Wonder how long it will take for the technology to appear in 
handheld devices? After all, how many of us say, 10-15 years ago, would have 
thought that an all singing, all dancing field guide in a smartphone type 
device would be possible?

An interesting space to watch.


Carl Clifford

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Prof. Ian Reid
School of Computer Science
University of Adelaide
Adelaide, 5005
ph: +61 (08) 83132135


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