Amazing wildlife sounds for all ears

World’s largest natural sound archive goes digital

(Ithaca,N.Y. 15 January 2013.)  “In terms of speed and the breadth of material now accessible to anyone in the world, this is really revolutionary,” says audio curator Greg Budney, describing a major milestone just achieved by the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All archived analog

Top images (L-R): Great Horned Owl by Ruth Baker; walrus by Captain Bud Christman, NOAA; African forest elephant by Peter Wrege; recording sounds in the arctic by Mike Anderson

Images (L-R): Great Horned Owl by Ruth Baker; walrus by Captain Bud Christman, NOAA; African forest elephant by Peter Wrege; recording sounds in the arctic by Mike Anderson

recordings in the collection, going back to 1929, have now been digitized and can be heard at www.MacaulayLibrary.org. “This is one of the greatest research and conservation resources at the Cornell Lab,” said Budney, “and through its digitization we’ve swung the doors open on it in a way that wasn’t possible 10 or 20 years ago.”

It took archivists a dozen years to complete the monumental task. The collection contains nearly 150,000 digital audio recordings equaling more than 10 terabytes of data with a total run time of 7,513 hours. About 9,000 species are represented. There’s an emphasis on birds but the collection also includes sounds of whales, elephants, frogs, primates, and more.

“Our audio collection is the largest and the oldest in the world,” explained Macaulay Library director Mike Webster. “Now, it’s also the most accessible. We’re working to improve search functions and create tools people can use to collect recordings and upload them directly to the archive. Our goal is to make the Macaulay Library as useful as possible for the broadest audience possible.”

The recordings are used by researchers studying many questions, as well as by birders trying to fine-tune their sound ID skills. The recordings are also used in museum exhibits, movies, and commercial products such as smartphone apps. For example, a reserve manager in Africa could use the recordings to train staff to conduct an acoustic survey. A teacher could pull out the sounds of ten birds found on the school grounds and create an interactive learning tool for her students. And a sound engineer working on a movie could find just the right sound to create that proper mood.

“Now that we’ve digitized the previously archived analog recordings, the archival team is focusing on new material from amateur and professional recordists from around the world to really, truly build the collection,” Budney said. “Plus, it’s just plain fun to listen to these sounds. Have you heard the sound of a walrus underwater? It’s an amazing sound!” Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu.