Moore’s Law for New Zealand’s birds

I Listen

The Cacophony Project

Moore’s Law tells us that it keeps getting cheaper and easier to crunch data. And every day, all around New Zealand, the dawn chorus tells us that our birdlife is one of our greatest treasures. But which way is the volume trending? And what can we pick out from the individual voices? What impact are our pest traps making?

The Cacophony Project will turn birdsong into data and use the best of breed IT technologies to dramatically improve our trapping ability. The new device we are creating is called  the Cacophonometer and it will be able to;

  • Lure predators with sound and light
  • Identify using camera and Artificial Intelligence
  • Eliminate the identified predators
  • Monitor the background bird song 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


Project Update, June 2017

How you can help


Tinker with the hardware or data:

Looking for a technical challenge? This is a non-profit open source project. We’re looking for ways to get Moore’s Law on our side - improving the Cacophonometer, getting the collection and storage of data right, and finding the best ways to analyse the sound and video, testing different lures and see what’s happening in the wilderness. Read more about Cacophony hardware, software, and data analysis.

Tell other people about the project

At the moment it is still quite a technical project but the more minds we have working on it the better. Please sign up for our newsletter (see bottom of the page) and we will keep you informed of progress. The blog also has the latest news.


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 James Cook first sailed the Endeavour to New Zealand, his 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.