The Call Of The Wild! World’s Largest Archive Of Natural Sound Goes Digital

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Common Loon. Greg Budney says, of its call, "That long mournful quality seems to reach inside all of us and grab us."

Have 7,513 hours to spare? That’s about how long it would take you to listen through to the entire digital holdings of the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York -- one of the world’s largest archives of natural sound. We’re talking 150,000 recordings of birds, whales, elephants, frogs and more.

After twelve years of work, the entire collection was recently made available to the public. The collection's audio curator, Greg Budney, tells us more. 

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On making the collection public:

The whole idea behind digitization was to literally swing the doors open on the collection to everyone. Teachers, scientists, birdwatchers -- and anyone with an interest in nature. 

On what's in the collection:

We have in our archive any animal that makes sound. Birds are fascinating singers, they lead compelling lives -- you can imagine why we have them. We also have mammals, insects, frogs, toads -- even geophysical activity, including mudpots firing from Yellowstone National Park.

Earliest recordings:

The earliest recordings in the collection are from 1929 - a Song Sparrow and a Rose Breasted Grosebeak, made with the help of Theodore Case, who is also one of the early inventors of sound sync in film.

 

On why the call of the Common Loon is so gripping:

I think it's the haunting nature of its call. That long mournful quality seems to reach inside all of us and grab us. That's one of the really amazing things about sound, it transports you to another place and time, and evokes emotion in ways that other media don't often do.