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In a multi-billion-dollar industry, mobile bird app takes flight

Every year, more than 45 million Americans engage in birdwatching, an activity that creates jobs and revenue for communities

The NSF-funded Merlin Bird ID app identifies bird species based on descriptions or photos.

The NSF-funded Merlin Bird ID app identifies bird species based on descriptions or photos.
Credit and Larger Version

January 2, 2018

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NSF-funded researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology launched Merlin Bird ID, a mobile app that can identify more than 1,150 species of North American birds. The app now has more than 1.6 million users.

Users answer five questions to describe the bird they see, and Merlin reveals the most likely species based on the user's location and time of year. The app taps into more than 415 million observations from the NSF-funded eBird citizen science project to make the best match. Merlin also identifies birds from photos using machine-learning and computer vision algorithms developed by Visipedia, a research group at Cornell Tech and Caltech, supported in part by a Google Focused Research Award. More than 4 million images of birds were used to train the computer's vision recognition system.

Wildlife watching is one of the most popular outdoor pastimes in the U.S., according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). A 2016 USFWS survey found that of the 86 million Americans engaged in wildlife watching activities, 45 million of those were bird observers. Wildlife watching expenditures reached $76 billion in 2016, sustaining millions of jobs and generating local, state and federal revenues.

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Related Awards
#1010818 Crowd ID: Collaborative Tools Connecting People to Biodiversity through Social Networks and Machine Learning (Preproposal #0947206)

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