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Merlin interacts with online users through games to learn how people see birds.
Merlin interacts with online users through games to learn how people see birds.

Cornell project uses artificial intelligence to ID birds

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More than one in five Americans engage in bird watching. Now, researchers at Cornell University are making it easier to identify different species with an artificial intelligence program called Merlin.

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Reported by

Kate O'Connell
Reporter, The Innovation Trail

Type the words "orange bird" into Google hoping to identify one of our feathered friends, and you're more likely to get an image from the hit game series Angry Birds. But help is at hand for the nation's amateur birders.

Miyoko Chu is the principal investigator of the Merlin project at Cornell University. She says the more people who interact with the online tool through a range of games, the smarter Merlin gets. "Merlin is a machine and Merlin needs to understand how people see birds, describe birds, remember the birds they've seen. And in order to do that we ask people to play these games on our website."

Chu says if they're successful in training Merlin, scientists hope the system will eventually be smart enough to narrow down bird species from a basic search. It might even become possible to I-D birds on the spot.

"Someday in the future you might be able to have capability on your camera or on your binoculars where, as soon as you've gotten that shot, your camera or your binoculars might help give you an identification on that bird."

Cornell is working with four other universities around the country to get Merlin up and running for the spring bird migration.

Reporting by the Innovation Trail is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Visit

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