Bird, mammal, human sounds on the Internet

This video from the USA says about itself:

14 September 2011

A small sample of HD footage in the Macaulay Library’s collection.

From Round Robin, The Cornell Blog of Ornithology in the USA:

With Digitization Complete, Hear 7 of the Coolest Natural Sounds in Our Archive

To a computer, it’s just a complex combination of ones and zeros. Decoded for our ears, it becomes wondrous sound—a symphony, or the song of a lark. Thanks to digital technology, recordings of bird, insect, mammal, fish, and amphibian voices in the Lab’s Macaulay Library will last virtually forever. It’s taken more than 12 years, but all archived reel-to-reel analog recordings going back to 1929 have now been digitized to the highest industry standards and made available online. It’s a major milestone.

“Our audio collection is the largest and the oldest,” explains Macaulay Library director Mike Webster. “Now, it’s also the most accessible. Having the collection digitized brings the Macaulay Library into the 21st century. Now we’re working to improve search functions and create tools people can use to collect recordings and upload them directly to the archive.”

The audio and video recordings are searchable and free to play online, whether to brush up on familiar sounds or to explore the nooks and crannies of the wider world. As a sort of sampler plate, we’ve compiled a list of seven great sounds plus a video—they’re listed at the end of this post.

The archive now contains about 150,000 audio recordings: 10 terabytes of data with a total run time of 7,513 hours (313 days). More than 7,000 species are represented, with a heavy emphasis on birds. But you’ll also find whales, elephants, frogs, tigers, primates, and more. New material is coming in all the time from recordists around the world, both amateur and professional.

In all, 18 audio archivists took part in digitizing the sounds. Archivist Martha Fischer takes the award for most clips: she handled more than 17,000 recordings since 2000. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Older tapes were often in poor condition. Saving a recording sometimes meant heating the tape in a vacuum oven to reseal shedding oxide particles and get perhaps one or two more passes through a playback machine. You might have only one chance to get it right.

It can be a strain to listen intensely all day. “I do get a little squirrely, sometimes,” Fischer said. “But it’s a nice feeling to know I’ve contributed to making all this material available to people.” But some moments transported her to another time and place. A dawn chorus recording featuring 19 bird species in Queensland, Australia, captured by recordist Eleanor Brown, is one of her favorites. Fischer also mentions recordings of the indri, a large lemur native to Madagascar, with an unforgettable voice (see list, below).

And sometimes archivists hear more than the intended target. “Snoring,” Fischer laughs. “I’ve heard dogs barking, construction, cars, chimps passing gas, and a lot of stomach rumblings.”

Collecting the recordings can apparently be tiring, hungry work, too.

The archive cannot rest on its laurels however. In addition to collecting new material, the technology is always changing so even digitized material will likely have to be migrated to new media types in the future. What will remain the same, though, is the human need to listen and perhaps better understand the many creatures who share the planet with us.

“Sound is a huge component of most animals, including most vertebrates and insects, “Webster says. “I think you don’t really know an animal until you pay attention to the sounds it makes. I feel people are missing a lot about nature itself if they don’t experience it with their ears.”

A Sampler: Seven Top Sounds—Plus a Video

This post was written by Pat Leonard.

More bird and other wildlife sounds: here.

3 thoughts on “Bird, mammal, human sounds on the Internet

  1. Pingback: Birds in 2012, video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Soon, app for recognizing wild birds’ songs? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Many wildlife sounds on the Internet | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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