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In race against time to save native birds, researchers hope AI gives them an edge

The University of Hawaii’s Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems Lab in Hilo is trying to find a way to improve AI technology that tracks birds.
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 4:57 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2022 at 5:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii’s Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems Lab in Hilo is trying to find a way to improve AI technology that tracks birds.

Researchers put weather-proof recorders out in the wild and normally have to go through days of audio. Now, they are holding a computer coding competition in hopes of improving the AI technology that identifies the different species of birds.

“There had been some work on animal communication by sound in the ocean by like whales and dolphins, but very little about our native land animals like birds,” said Patrick Hart, the UH professor who founded LOHE.

And with so many fragile species in Hawaii, it’s important to gather as much information on them as they can. “We’re basically in a race against time right now, with climate change,” Hart said.

Hart, his staff, and students can’t be everywhere on the islands to survey these species. So they rely on weatherproof recorders.

“Manually going through each recording takes a very long time,” said Amanda Navine, an acoustic bioinformatics specialist at the LOHE Lab.

“And even though we have a really dedicated group of students in the lab, who do go through those files, it just is too much information for us to process without outside help”

So now they’re incentivizing a competition for coders.

With help from Google and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they’re giving ten grand to the person whose code can help them identify the most birds using AI technology.

“Hawaii presents some really unique challenges in that our forests are very dense, they’re very wet, a lot of them are at high elevation,” said Navine.

“So they’re a little bit harder to monitor in the traditional way of going out and doing surveys.”

So the better the technology, the more music to their ears.

“We just get a better understanding of how our birds are doing, improving the way we can monitor our remaining birds, potentially using this technique,” said Hart.

“And that’ll help us to mitigate some of the threats.”

The competition ends May 24. For more information, go to the LOHE lab website.

If you’re interested in helping the birds, but you’re not a coding expert you can take your own recordings and submit them to a lab.

Navine said you can submit your own recording through xeno-canto.

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