BTO to launch bird droppings identification app

01 Apr 2024 | No. 2024-x

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has developed an app that will enable birdwatchers and scientists to delve deeper into species identification by analysing bird droppings.   

BTO has been involved in the development of Acoustic Pipeline technology for several years. This innovative tech utilises ultrasonic and audible sound recordings in the detection and identification of wildlife, including birds, bats, and even bush-crickets and moths.

Building on these developments, scientists at BTO have now created an app, nicknamed ‘The Poopline’ that will allow naturalists to accurately identify bird droppings to species and subspecies level. Using ultrasound DNA sampling, any bird faeces can now be scanned in the field, to confidently reveal the identity of the bird responsible for the deposit.

Want to know whether that splatter on your window came from a Herring or Lesser Black-backed Gull? Keen to know which bird has been roosting under your eaves? Trying to determine the exact race of that tricky, pale late-autumn Lesser Whitethroat?

Previously, the only way to carry out this kind of work was to physically collect a sample and send it the University of Aberdeen for screening. Of course many cryptic species’ identities have been revealed this way (Stejneger’s Stonechat, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, etc.) but there are still a number of pitfalls with this methodology. Indeed, currently there is only a 50% chance of successfully generating an ID from a faecal sample.

It is hoped that the new app, which is scheduled for launch today (1 April 2024), will help birders and researchers unlock the many mysteries contained within avian evacuations.  

Prof. S. Platter, Systems Head (Information Technology) at BTO, said “This new technology, with easy-to-use software and machine-learning algorithms, will help take the guess work out of tricky identifications, and will expand our knowledge of vagrancy in birds. With a simple photo, we can gather essential data without having to scrape the bottom of the barrel, branch or fencepost.”

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