Ornithologists and bird watchers rejoice. After a dozen years, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library has fully digitized its nearly 150,000 audio recordings (a total running time of 7,513 hours), representing close to 9,000 different species, such as the very unsettling-sounding Barred Owl (above). While the collection also includes the sounds of whales, elephants, frogs, primates, and other animals, the primary emphasis here is on birds (it is a Lab of Ornithology, after all), and there is an incredible range of calls. Cornell recommends some of the highlights below:
Earliest recording: Cornell Lab founder Arthur Allen was a pioneer in sound recording. On a spring day in 1929 he recorded this Song Sparrow sounding much as they do today
Youngest bird: This clip from 1966 records the sounds of an Ostrich chick while it is still inside the egg – and the researchers as they watch
Liveliest wake-up call: A dawn chorus in tropical Queensland, Australia is bursting at the seams with warbles, squeals, whistles, booms and hoots
Best candidate to appear on a John Coltrane record: The indri, a lemur with a voice that is part moan, part jazz clarinet
Most spines tingled: The incomparable voice of a Common Loon on an Adirondacks lake in 1992
Most erratic construction project: the staccato hammering sounds of a walrus under water
Most likely to be mistaken for aliens arriving: Birds-of-paradise make some amazing sounds – here’s the UFO-sound of a Curl-crested Manucode in New Guinea
Whether you’re an enthusiastic birder, practicing scientist, or sound-sample hunter, you’ll find something to blow your mind at the extensive collections of the Macaulay Library. Both amateur and professional naturalists, for example, can acquire, visualize, measure, and analyze animal sounds with a free version of the Cornell Lab’s proprietary interactive sound analysis software, Raven.
And admirers of the astonishing variety and beauty of the bird-of-paradise should stay tuned for the Bird-of-Paradise Project website, launching this month. Sign up to receive an email when the full site launches. Meanwhile, watch the project’s spellbinding trailer below.
Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's YouTube page for more fascinating bird videos.
Josh Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness