For bird watchers, Being able to identify birds by their singing is the holy grail. It seems natural for some people to listen to a song and remember it forever. If you’re like me — not one of those people — you’ve probably thought, “Why not? Shazam for birds? “Surely if Shazam could identify a song that had a few seconds of bad sound playing through some blown speakers, someone could figure out how to do the same for a bird singing clearly in a nearby tree. .
In short, that’s what the creators of Haikubox did – create the Shazam of birdsong.
That in itself was welcome and notable, but Haikubox turned out to be so much more. It’s one of those rare technologies that actually increases your connection to the world around you, rather than cutting you off.
The bird migration started earlier this year. I know this because my Haikubox told me. Not too many words, but it does start to announce new warblers coming in mid-August, which means they’ve headed south to wintering areas in Central and South America.
With a full-time job and three kids, I don’t have time to go out and have a snack every day. I may have missed the Cape May warblers as they passed a few weeks in late August. They never stayed long, and I always thought they were stuck with birch strips a good mile down the road. Thanks to Haikubox, I know that while they tend to spend the day elsewhere, they pass by my house in the morning. I can see them because Haikubox alerts me whenever it hears one.
This is the magic of Haikubox — it expands your world.
For something so remarkable, Haikubox has a very vulgar look. It’s a 4 x 6 inch round square box about 2 inches thick. At the bottom is a sealed outlet for the power cord and a small microphone that captures the sound around the Haikubox. While the device is weather resistant and I had no problems with it in the rain, the company recommends keeping the device out of direct sunlight. Don’t submerge it. Once you’ve got a good spot, plug it in and connect it to your Wi-Fi network via the Haikubox Connect app. Haikubox will start recording 24/7.
That’s the hardware end, but that’s not where the real magic lies. Once connected to your wireless network, Haikubox sends its recorded sounds to world famous servers Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The Bird Lab has thousands of songbird samples and a neural network to process them. Neural network is a form of machine learning software well-suited for recognizing sound patterns — that’s how Siri and the Google Assistant understand your voice. Likewise, neural nets can filter out bird songs from background noise. To find patterns, it is first necessary to find out what patterns are. Cornell’s Bird Song Recording Library provides the training the AI needs to learn which sounds are bird songs and which sounds you’re watering your garden.
Cornell has been tweaking his neural network for a while. If you want to experience this without investing in Haikubox you can get Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID app, based on a small set of data and an AI processor similar to what Haikubox uses. Haikubox creator David Mann told WIRED that Haikubox uses a modified version of BirdNetcalled BirdNet for Haikubox.
Neither BirdNet nor BirdNet for Haikubox are perfect, but it’s consistently been impressively accurate. Even better, you can use the Haikubox app to help the AI improve.
Multiple viewing modes
To see what birds your Haikubox has heard and try to identify, you can use the Haikubox app for Android, iOSor web-based interface. The first time you open the app, you’ve set up an account, and you can then log in through that account from any device. The data in each app is the same, and I used all three during my testing. I find the mobile app more useful for notifications, but I prefer to browse and explore species information in the web app, as I can open the eBird and other additional information in background tabs.