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Ear Candy for the Ages

Bearded Seal or alien spaceship? Exotic Bird or R2D2? It’s a tough call. 

Psarocolius Montezuma

Psarocolius Montezuma
By Dominic Sherony [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s largest collection of natural sounds can be found in the archives of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. Over the past 80 years, more than 165,000 recordings of birds, bats, whales, insects, frogs, elephants, and other animals have been collected. The entire archive is now digitized and available online for public listening and viewing. And you can help them expand the archive with your own recordings.

The first recordings, made in the 1930s, were created using motion-picture sound film. Over time, there have been many technological advances in the recording technologies the ornithologists used: direct-to-disc recording replaced film, which was in turn replaced by magnetic tape. With the introduction of magnetic tape, field recorders became truly portable, which enabled researchers and amateurs to record in places that were previously difficult to reach with the required recording equipment. Digital recording techniques further advanced and consolidated the information recordists have been able to capture, including sound, images, and field notes.

The folks at the Library would like your help: they’re on a mission to archive recordings of every bird in North America:

“Our goal is to build the most comprehensive collection of animal sound and video as possible, but we cannot do it without the support of recordists worldwide. Being a professional recordist is not a prerequisite for contributing. Our material comes from recordists of all backgrounds and occupations, from students to retirees, from “bird bums” to researchers, dentists, consultants, and cinema photographers. We are continually grateful for the dedicated, talented, creative, and generous people who have donated their time, recordings, and other resources in support of the archive.”

To that end, they’ve created two most-wanted lists:

Brown Booby

Brown Booby

Audio Top 10

  1. Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri)
  2. White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca)
  3. Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus)
  4. Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
  5. Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)
  6. Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
  7. Red-faced Cormorant (Phalacrocorax urile)
  8. Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
  9. Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)
  10. McKay’s Bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus)

Video Top 10

  1. Black Noddy (Anous minutus)
  2. Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)
  3. Eared Quetzal (Euptilotis neoxenus)
  4. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris)
  5. Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera)
  6. Hermit Warbler (Dendroica occidentalis)
  7. Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea)
  8. Olive Warbler (Peucedramus taeniatus)
  9. Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)
  10. Brown Jay (Cyanocorax morio)

If you have recordings of these birds or others you’d like to contribute to the archive, contact the Macaulay Library for more information.

If you’d like to start doing your own recording, consider this: each year the experts from Macaulay Library hold a week-long Sound Recording Workshop in the Tahoe National Forest, where participants learn how to handle a portable field recording system to make scientifically accurate recordings. Through workshops and informal training sessions, recording experts teach field techniques and share their technical knowledge about recording birds and other animals in the wild.


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