The world’s largest archive of animal vocalizations and other nature sounds is now available online.
This resource for students, filmmakers, scientists and curious wildlife aficionados took archivists a dozen years to assemble and make ready for the web.
“In terms of speed and the breadth of material now accessible to anyone in the world, this is really revolutionary,” audio curator Greg Budney said in a press release, describing the milestone just achieved by the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“This is one of the greatest research and conservation resources at the Cornell Lab,” added 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.”
The collection goes way back to 1929. It 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. Many are 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.”
Budney said, “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. 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.”
Here are just a few of the highlights from Budney, Webster and their colleagues:
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 likely to be mistaken for aliens arriving: Birds-of-paradise make some amazing calls – here’s the UFO-like sound of a curl-crested manucode in New Guinea.