Smart phones, networked with remote sensors, have taken the uncertainty and exertion out of tracking birdcalls in the wild, according to a new study.
Earlier, such observations during a census or survey of bird populations saw biologists rising as early as 3 am and making frequent trips to the site of the study.
“These repeated visits raised the risk of disturbing the very creatures under investigation, altering their behaviour,” said Richard Mason of Microsoft Queensland University of Technology and the study's author.
Besides, traditional methods of carrying out such onsite surveys, often by a number of observers in different areas at the same time, could be time-consuming and expensive.
The remote controlled network is based on four smart phones that have the site wired for round-the-clock sound, and a web-based interface for sensor control and data management, said Mason.
Acoustic signals captured by a network of smart phones track the location and population of different bird species.
“Sound provides the heartbeat of the environment; like listening to someone's heartbeat, it reveals a lot of information about health,” he added.
Mason said some birds were difficult to study because of their shyness, camouflage and ground-dwelling nature.
However, thanks to the sensor network, researchers already have a better understanding of the activity periods of such birds.
Information collected through the smart phones is fed into an acoustic database with automated pattern recognition software developed for bird species' recognition.
Crucially, all data can be viewed remotely, minimising disruption to the birds' natural behaviours and significantly reducing the time spent on site by the researchers.
“In future, that could mean smart phones are not just for the birds, but also frogs, bats and other wild creatures,” Mason said.