World's Largest Natural Sound Archive, by the Numbers

What an ostrich sounds like. What an ostrich chick in an egg sounds like. Photo: Shutterstock

You might know what an ostrich sounds like because you watched that episode of Dirty Jobs, but do you know the sound an ostrich chick makes as it's trying to crack out of its egg? There's now a place online where you can find out.

On January 15, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced that it had converted its Macauley Library sound archive into a digital catalog that anyone can click. "Our audio collection is the largest and the oldest in the world," said Macaulay Library director Mike Webster. "Now, it’s also the most accessible."

The institution said the new digital archive will help expert and amateur birders and other naturalists train, offer video and audio editors a place to find specific sounds, and allow the library to assemble a larger collection. "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," said audio curator Greg Budneyaid.

Here's a bit more about the sounds that have been collected and digitized, with a selection of some of the best recordings and a look at the numbers.

150,000: Digital audio recordings now accessible online.

7,513: Total run time, in hours, of all the clips.

9,000: Species represented. Most of the clips come from birds, but other animals represented include frogs, whales, primates, and a walrus under water.

1929: Year of the oldest analog recording—a song sparrow—now online.

12: Time it took archivists to convert the analog recordings to digital files, in years.

10: Data storage required to house the sounds, in terabytes,—an amount that will increase over time.

For more, check out the Macauley Library, or listen to a selection of favorite sounds gathered by the library staff to celebrate the launch of the digital archive.

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 sounds—here’s the UFO-sound of a Curl-crested Manucode in New Guinea.

Most likely to be mistaken for your dog: Three walrus pups bellowing in an uncanny canine cacophony.

Most erratic construction project: The staccato hammering sounds of a walrus under water.

—Joe Spring

Filed To: Science / Nature
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