Drones for Ducks Launches on Zooniverse!


Posted: May 10, 2021 - 09:00am

A duck and a drone in silhouette against a clear blue sunny sky

Ever wanted to get a bird’s eye view…of birds?

Now you can! ASPIRE, in collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), has launched a new project through the citizen science platform Zooniverse. We are asking the public to help us tag images of ducks, geese, and cranes from drone imagery collected at wildlife refuges in New Mexico.

Every year, USFWS biologists count populations of migratory birds that spend the winter at wildlife refuges. They need accurate counts to ensure enough resources to support the population, and to track changes in the population over time. Migratory birds are important not only to one ecosystem but many as they complete their seasonal treks: they perform vital roles like nutrient cycling, seed dispersal, and pest control, along with having significant cultural, economic, and aesthetic values to human beings. However, traditional methods of surveying can be imprecise, time-consuming, and stressful to waterfowl. 

ASPIRE is working with USFWS to develop a new way of surveying waterfowl populations that is less disruptive and more accurate than surveying on foot: using drones!

However, the large number of images that are produced during a drone survey makes counting birds by hand an extremely time-consuming task. To mitigate this issue, we are developing an automated workflow using machine learning to detect and identify different kinds of waterfowl. The algorithm needs a large number of examples provided by humans of what each type of waterfowl looks like so that it can learn how to detect them on its own.

This is where you come in! By labeling ducks, geese, and cranes our drone imagery, you will help make that library of examples the algorithm needs to identify the birds. No birding experience is required to participate! At the project site, you can find a short tutorial that will teach you to identify ducks, geese, and cranes. You can also ask questions and connect with the researchers and other citizen scientists through the Zooniverse message board.

Learn more, and participate at: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/rowan-aspire/drones-for-ducks

Are you an educator interested in incorporating this program into your science curriculum? Get in touch with the project manager, Rowan Converse: rowanconverse@unm.edu