Moore’s Law for New Zealand’s birds

I Listen

The Cacophony Project

Every day, all around New Zealand, the dawn chorus tells us that our birdlife is one of our greatest treasures. Yet, New Zealand’s native birds are under threat from introduced predators such as possums, rats and stoats. How can modern information technology help to solve this problem?

The Cacophony Project is developing a set of technologies that will be deployed throughout New Zealand. These will:

  • Lure invasive predators with sound and light
  • Observe predators using a thermal camera
  • Identify predators automatically using machine learning algorithms
  • Eliminate positively identified predators
  • Monitor the bird song over time to measure the impact

We think this approach has the potential to increase trapping efficiency by up to 80,000 times, long term.

TEDx Cacophony Talk

NZ Hi-Tech Awards 2019

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The birds have always talked to us. This is a new way to listen

As soon as people arrived in New Zealand, they recognised the importance of our birds. Māori beliefs about birdsong were passed down for centuries. The placement of a kāreke cry foretold your future. Kōmiromiro brought good news; piopio bad. The song of the riroriro signalled when to plant crops, and the tōrea’s cry told you when to dig for shellfish. The matuku mourned the dead.

When the Endeavour first sailed to the shores of New Zealand, the botanist Joseph Banks kept a journal. Anchored in Charlotte Sound:

"This morn I was awakd by the singing of the birds ashore... The numbers of them were certainly very great who seemd to strain their throats. Their voices were certainly the most melodious wild musick I have ever heard...the most tuneable silver sound imaginable."

But people don’t just listen to birds. We hunted them, and introduced pests like rats, stoats, possums and cats. The birds that we loved hearing made easy prey.

In recent decades, conservation has made a huge difference. Trapping, poison, hunting, and fences have all been turned against the pests. Bird sanctuaries all over New Zealand are attempting to bring the music back. (The book ‘Paradise Saved’ tells this remarkable story.)

We’re trying a lot of different thing to help our birds out. To restore the “wild musick” that once woke up Joseph Banks, we need to know which efforts work best. The Cacophony Project will let the birds tell us.