The study, published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, involved collecting thousands of labelled images of birds. They included wild great tits, sociable weavers and captive zebra finches – among the most studied animals in nature.
They then trained a computer model to recognise dozens of individual birds. After programming, the programme successfully identified over 90 percent of great tits and sociable weavers and 87 percent of captive zebra finches.
Dr Ferreira, of the University of Montpelier, France, and lead author said: “Deep learning has the potential to revolutionise the way researchers identify individuals.
“To our knowledge, this is the first successful attempt at performing such an individual recognition in small birds.”
Bird populations around the world face a number of existing pressures including climate change, intensive farming and deforestation.|
Global warming has already had a significant impact on numbers – increasing the extinction risk for many species.
Dr Ferreira added: “The development of methods for automatic, non-invasive identification of animals completely unmarked and unmanipulated by researchers represents a major breakthrough in this research field.”