How Technology (and You) Can Protect Birds

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Some will argue we’ve connected with technology and lost touch with nature. But, perhaps technology is now beginning to help us get back to nature. We’re becoming more aware once again of our natural environment and the human effect upon it. Technology is increasingly helping bird conservation efforts in the backyard and in the wild. 

Whooper Swan With Satellite Tag
A Whooper Swan Fitted With a Satellite Tag. Image by Fiona Grant via Flickr

In this article, we’ll cover a few of the ways technology can protect birds. First, we’ll look at national and global efforts using drones, tags, and satellites. Then, we’ll discuss some tech we can all use in our backyards. And, also ways to easily report bird sightings to help conservation efforts!

Drones, GPS Tags and Satellites

Bird tracking was revolutionized by smaller transmitters, launched in 1984, that use the ARGOS satellite network. Then, in recent years, even lighter-weight sensors, geolocators, and tiny nanotags allow ornithologists and scientists to understand bird behavior and migration in acute detail. For example, the bar-tailed godwit travels 11,000km from West Alaska to New Zealand. From one of these birds carrying a solar-powered location device, we know it flapped its wings for an entire 239 hours and covered 13,000km.

Bar-tailed Godwits Flying
Image by Steve Arena via Flickr

Today, the International Space Station (ISS) can receive data from tiny GPS tags, and mobile phone networks are used for tracking. The US National Weather Service (NWS) Doppler radar stations can track bird migration. What’s more, decades and millions of weather radar images can now be analyzed by powerful computers and AI to calculate how the number of migratory birds has changed. Scientists estimate a third, around three billion, of North America’s birds have disappeared. Quantifying bird population loss is a key way these technologies can protect birds.

Furthermore, building operators in the US are now using monitoring technologies in apps like BirdCast. These can forecast heavy migration patterns and then encourage the dimming of building lights to prevent collisions. This type of technology may be useful in the future to prevent collisions with wind turbines. 

Drones, too are helping to map migration and bird populations. They can provide unprecedented views of nests. Like this Osprey nest from Audubon magazine, and also of remote colonies. They can collect data, monitor birds in their natural habitats without human intervention, as well as identifying threats and climate impacts. Drones also deliver conservation equipment.

AI & Identification- A New Technology In Conservation

A report by found artificial intelligence (AI) was one of the top three new technologies in conservation. Not only can AI identify species, as with Nest Box Live, but it can also pick out rare species from thousands of photos or hours of recordings. It can also identify a bird or animal call. All this saves conservationists hours of time and provides valuable data to support conservation efforts. 

Notably, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Cornell Institute for Computational Sustainability are developing a tool to model patterns in nature for bird species and for ecosystems across continents. This team is using data from 9 million checklists provided by 900,000 birders who use Cornell Lab’s eBird. The information is also combined with data from 72 environmental variables. The eBird program and app can be used by backyard birders and ornithologists alike to report bird sightings and explore bird hotspots based on data from the latest bird sightings. Of the AI tool in development, Cornell researcher Courtney Davis says:

“This method uniquely tells us which species occur where, when, with what other species, and under what environmental conditions. With that type of information, we can identify and prioritize landscapes of high conservation value – vital information in this era of ongoing biodiversity loss.”

A GPS Tagged Seaside Sparrow
A Seaside Sparrow with a GPS Tag. Image by Jack Rogers via Flickr.

Growing Awareness

The fantastic array of bird identification apps, smart garden nest boxes, and bird feeders are helping bird conservation in a big way, right at home. These technologies can protect birds by raising our awareness of the abundance of nature around us. 

These interactive, engaging apps and tools teach us about species and behaviour. But, also about rare birds and threats to bird populations. In addition, this growing awareness creates new generations of birders and conservationists, and the impact of conservation campaigns gets stronger. 

How Can You Use Technology To Protect Birds?

Backyard birders can easily contribute to bird conservation efforts right from their own homes. These “citizen scientists” now play a vital role in research and engagement in conservation efforts. We’ve already touched on the impact citizen scientists have had in Cornell’s project, contributing 9 million checklists to form a key part of the data set for the tool. BirdLife International explains:

“Anyone can be a citizen scientist. Community volunteers are especially useful in big projects where scientists need to gather information from across the whole country, or even the whole world. In these situations, there are not enough qualified scientists to carry out this research all by themselves, so the help of the general public is vital.”

Citizen Science Bird Monitoring
Image by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences via Flickr

Being a citizen scientist as a backyard bird enthusiast is easy. You can simply take photos videos, and report sightings. This is all made more accessible with AI-powered bird identification tools and mobile applications. As a result, you can have a role in using the technology that can protect birds.

Past and current programs where citizen scientists and birders make a difference:

Cornell Lab – eBird (current) 

Cornell Lab  – NestWatch (current)

Cornell Lab – Project FeederWatch (current)  

RSPB – Big Garden Birdwatch (Every year in January) 

The Great Backyard Bird Count (Every year in February)

BirdLife International – Spring Alive Programme (2022)

The eBird Mobile app is free; you can use it year-round to report bird sightings. The Merlin Bird ID app, powered by eBird, is also free and can identify birds in four fun ways. Birda is another free app where you can share sightings and participate in gamified bird challenges. 

If you have a Nest Box Live or are considering purchasing one, this AI-powered birdhouse camera system automatically detects different bird species. It sends notifications to your smartphone and live streams nest box videos to social media. You can help to raise awareness of the wonders of backyard birds. Share amazing nest box videos (like these) and even report your observations to Cornell Lab using eBird or NestWatch!

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