Birds live at the edge of our world, signaling changes in global weather patterns or problems related to habitat loss through their behavior — like canaries in a coal mine, you might say. For reasons such as these, studying the activities of birds is a popular pastime for professional researchers and citizen scientists alike. Their diverse behaviors, migrations, and nesting habits provide valuable insights into the health of our ecosystems, helping us track shifts in biodiversity and the impact of weather patterns. Furthermore, the beauty and intrigue of these feathered creatures have inspired countless people to connect with nature, fostering a deep appreciation for the environment and driving conservation efforts worldwide.
But keeping a close eye on our feathered friends can be challenging. Many birds like to keep out of sight, which means they are much easier to hear than see. However, the diverse calls and chirps that these birds make are often exceedingly difficult to identify. And of course there are birds, like owls, that are largely active at night, which makes them difficult to see — not to mention that most people would prefer some sleep over keeping watch for them all night.
An ongoing Kickstarter campaign is offering a solution to these problems called the BirdWeather PUC. This portable bioacoustics platform is packed with technology to both enhance the experience of birdwatching, and also automate the process when you have other matters to attend to. The PUC is capable of recognizing and logging the songs of more than 6,000 global bird species.
The device has a simple one-button interface to turn it on, and when it is on, it is always recording audio data. This data is sent to a cloud service that classifies the data using a BirdNET neural network. The network can detect bird sounds while ignoring man-made sounds, or the noises made by other types of animals. A companion smartphone app allows users to see what birds the device has detected, and when. It also provides users with audio samples of the detected birdsongs.
Inside the PUC is an ESP32-S3 microcontroller for processing and wireless capabilities. A pair of MEMS microphones are included to capture high-quality sounds from its environment. A GPS receiver and real-time clock provide the data needed to tag the location and timestamp of bird sightings. The PUC also has a suite of environmental sensors to capture data related to temperature, humidity, pressure, light levels, and more to give further insights into the behavior of nearby birds.
The PUC is weatherproof and has an adapter that allows it to be connected to a tripod for long-term installations, or a backpack to act as a birdwatching companion. As an owner of one of these devices, you can contribute to a global network of data about the habits and migratory patterns of birds — at present, the BirdWeather library already contains data on over 173 million bird vocalizations.
Backing a Kickstarter campaign always comes with some risks. There is a chance that the final product might never be delivered, however, the BirdWeather team has already completed a pilot build of 100 units, which is a very positive indicator. They anticipate shipping rewards to their backers in December of 2023, with the PUC starting at $199.