Automatic detection of migrating soaring bird flocks using weather radars by deep learning

Inbal Schekler, Tamir Nave, Ilan Shimshoni, Nir Sapir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of weather radars to detect and distinguish between different biological patterns greatly improves our understanding of aeroecology and its consequences for our lives. Importantly, it allows us to quantify passerine bird migration at different scales. Yet, no algorithm to detect soaring bird flocks in weather radar is available, precluding our ability to study this type of migration over large spatial scales. We developed the first automatic algorithm for detecting the migration of flocks of soaring birds, an important bio-flow phenomenon involving many millions of birds that travel across large spatial extents, with implications for risk of bird-aircraft collisions. The algorithm was developed with a deep learning network for semantic segmentation using U-Net architecture. We tested several models with different weather radar products and with image sequences for flock movement identification. The best model includes the radial velocity product and a sequence of two previous images. It identifies 93% of soaring bird flocks that were tagged by a human on the radar image, with a false discovery of less than 20%. Large birds such as those detected by the algorithm pose a serious risk for flight safety of civilian and military transportation and therefore the application of this algorithm can substantially reduce bird-strikes, leading to reduced financial losses and threats to human lives. In addition, it can help overcome one of the main challenges in the study of bird migration by automatically and continuously detecting flocks of large birds over wide spatial scales without the need to equip the birds with tracking devices, unravelling the abundance, timing, spatial flyways, seasonal trends and influences of environmental conditions on the migration of bird flocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2084-2094
Number of pages11
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Methods in Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society.


  • U-Net
  • bird migration
  • convolutional neural networks
  • deep learning
  • flight safety
  • soaring birds
  • weather radar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling


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