Add Audio to Your eBird Checklist!

By Team eBird December 4, 2015

Bird recordist in action!

How many times have you been out birding, heard a sound, and thought, “I wish I had a recording of that!” Maybe it was a common bird giving an odd vocalization that you’ve never heard before, or a mystery sound that you want to research when you get home. Or perhaps you were in a quiet, pristine setting with a spectacular dawn chorus. With the advent of smartphones and small digital recorders, it’s easier than ever to make recordings of the sounds that you always wanted to record. And, with the new eBird/Macaulay Library media upload tool, it’s now easy to add these sounds to your eBird checklists and at the same time have them permanently archived at the Macaulay Library.

The eBird/ML media upload tool is the latest development in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s decades-long commitment to creating, preserving, and sharing the world’s premier collection of bird sounds. This effort began in 1929, when Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg made North America’s first bird song recordings in Ithaca. Since that time, the Macaulay Library has grown to include nearly 190,000 archived recordings from over 150 countries, contributed by more than 1,000 recordists.

Now, with the new eBird/ML media upload tool and your help, we have the potential to create a sound collection that would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago: millions of high-resolution recordings of all the world’s bird species, recorded by thousands of contributors from every country on Earth, archived in perpetuity. Whether you are a dedicated sound recordist or an avid birder with a cell phone, we hope that you will contribute your recordings to eBird and ML to build this next generation sound collection.

The exciting thing is that there are so many different ways to contribute: collecting sounds in a place where nobody else has ever recorded, documenting the sounds of the 2,000+ species not currently found in ML, or taking part in a coordinated citizen science effort to record a common species like American Robin all across North America. Each of these activities, and many more, can be of value to the thousands of birders, researchers, and conservationists who already use the existing Macaulay Library collection in their work.

Hundreds of recent eBird submissions contain uploaded audio, including this great checklist from Lake Boyo in Ethiopia with audio from Andrew Spencer and photos from Ian Davies.

Are you interested in uploading audio to your eBird checklists, but don’t know how to get started? The ML staff has created some great instructional materials to help:

  • Uploading audio files for the first time? Check out ML’s one-page Best Practices primer.
  • Likely to just make the occasional recording with your phone? Here are some tips on recording with a smartphone.
  • Interested in buying sound recording equipment? See below to learn what recordists at the Macaulay Library use.
  • Looking for advice on how to make recordings in the field? Be sure to download the “How to Record Bird Songs” tip sheet.
  • Wondering how to edit your sound files before uploading them to eBird? The Best Practices document has general editing guidelines. In addition, these video tutorials cover bird sound editing in Adobe Audition, and there are also written instructions for editing in Audition and Audacity.

If you follow these guidelines, you will create audio specimens just like those created by ML archivists for decades. The best part is that your recordings will be uploaded and added to the archive in minutes, and then be instantly playable with the great new eBird/ML moving spectrogram player!

Baird’s Sparrow recorded by Paul Marvin near Glasgow, Montana

We are excited to launch these new audio upload tools, and will be working hard in the coming months to create additional tools for an even better audio experience!


What equipment do we use at the Macaulay Library?

The Marantz PMD 661 MKII and Roland R-26 are two portable sound recorders that Macaulay Library staff regularly use for making field recordings and training biologists. These recorders are lightweight (approximately 14 oz or 400 g) and can record continuously for at least 4-5 hours using quality batteries. In addition, they both offer a number of other features that we look for in a field recorder:

  • The ability to record 24-bit .WAV files
  • A sampling frequency of 48 kHz and higher
  • Stereo recording capability
  • XLR microphone connectors
  • +48V Phantom Power to power certain external microphones

Marantz PMD 661 MKII and Roland R-26 field recorders

We typically use these sound recorders in combination with a Sennheiser ME 67 shotgun microphone or a Telinga parabola setup. The Sennheiser ME 67 is a highly directional microphone, and while it doesn’t actually amplify a target sound, it does help focus on a target sound while potentially diminishing competing background sounds. The ME 67 must be used together with a Sennheiser K6 power module. In addition, we highly recommend using a shock mount and windscreen with the ME 67 (or any other shotgun microphone). A shock mount eliminates any direct contact between the microphone and a recordist’s hand, which can be the source of significant handling noise. A windscreen, meanwhile, reduces direct wind noise, which can be a major problem when recording in open habitats.

Sennheiser ME 67/K6 (above), and with a Rycote Softie windscreen and Rycote pistol grip handle

When our goal is to make very high quality recordings, Macaulay Library staff will use a Telinga parabola setup in the field. When aimed properly, a parabola amplifies a target sound, resulting in a “cleaner” recording with less background noise than a shotgun microphone recording. The Telinga Universal Kit is a traditional mono parabola setup with an omnidirectional microphone (sold separately), while the Telinga Pro Series offers stereo microphone pairs. Both types of Telinga setups can be used with their foldable 22-inch (57-cm) plastic dish, which is very convenient when traveling.

If you’re interested in a parabola, check out this video from Macaulay Library curator Greg Budney, explaining how parabolas work and what their advantages and disadvantages are.

Chris Wood recording dowitchers with a Telinga parabola setup. Click here to hear the results.

If you are interested in purchasing audio equipment, Stith Recording offers a number of recording packages recommended by Macaulay Library staff.