Using computer vision, image analysis and UAVs for the automatic recognition and counting of common cranes (Grus grus)

Assaf Chen, Moran Jacob, Gil Shoshani, Motti Charter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Long-term monitoring of wildlife numbers traditionally uses observers, which are frequently inefficient and inaccurate due to their variable experience/training, are costly and difficult to sustain over time. Furthermore, there are other inhibiting factors for wildlife counting, such as: inhabiting inaccessible areas, fear of humans, and nocturnal behavior. There is a need to develop new technologies that will automatically identify and count wild animals in order to determine the appropriate management protocol. In this study, an advanced and accurate method for automatically calculating the number of cranes (Grus grus), using thermal cameras at night and visible light (RGB) cameras during the day onboard unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), based on image analysis and computer vision, was developed. The cranes congregate at night in a large communal roost, making it possible to count the birds while they are relatively static and all together. Each bird was counted individually by creating a standardized tool to determine population numbers for management, using image analysis and automatic processing. A dedicated algorithm was developed that aimed to identify the cranes based on their spectral characteristics (typical temperature, shape, size) and to effectively separate the cranes from the typical background. The automatic segmentation and counting of roosting common cranes using UAV nighttime thermal images had an Overall Accuracy (OA) of 91.47%, User's Accuracy (UA) of 99.68%, and Producer's Accuracy (PA) of 91.74%. The computer vision and machine learning algorithm based on the YOLO v3 platform of daytime RGB UAV images of common cranes at the feeding station yielded an overall loss accuracy level of 2.25%, with a mean square error of 1.87, OA of 94.51%, UA of 99.91%, PA of 94.59%. These results are highly encouraging, and although the algorithms were developed for the purpose of counting cranes, they could be adapted for other counting purposes for wildlife management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116948
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • Deep learning
  • Image processing
  • Remote sensing
  • Thermal imaging
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
  • Wildlife detection and counting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Environmental Engineering


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