Computer ID of birds

To: Ian Reid <>
Subject: Computer ID of birds
From: Carl Clifford <>
Date: Fri, 16 Nov 2012 16:43:52 +1100
Hi Ian,

Thanks for the post, very interesting. It is going to take me some time to read 
Ryan Farrell's papers and to digest them. The field of computer vision is 
exciting and very rapidly evolving with so much potential to bring about 
interesting changes to our lives. I have been a nerd with a wide range of 
interests all my life and still have trouble keeping up with tech, mainly due 
to the gobsmack factor. Things have changed so much since my first boyhood 
foray into tech (a crystal set radio made from scratch using a Galena crystal 
and a tuning coil made from wire scavenged from a model A Ford ignition coil, 
way back in the depths of the last century). I still find myself staring at my 
iPod Touch and shaking my head over what I can do with it.

To answer your questions: (i) no; (ii) none of any great size, though there are 
plenty of excellent collections of images out there in the hands of individuals 
and (iii) ? maybe.

This is a space I am going to keep under observation.


Carl Clifford

PS, welcome to Aus. We can always do with a bit more depth in the gene pool.

On 16/11/2012, at 14:54, Ian Reid <> wrote:

> 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.
>> Cheers,
>> Carl Clifford
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> -- 
> Prof. Ian Reid
> School of Computer Science
> University of Adelaide
> Adelaide, 5005
> ph: +61 (08) 83132135
> www:
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