The Blue Jay Challenge

Blue Jays are excellent vocal mimics. They are especially known for their imitations of hawks, but they are also known to utter sounds with an uncanny resemblance to the “kent” calls of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.

Did autonomous recording units in the Big Woods of Arkansas capture “kent”-like calls from Ivory-billed Woodpeckers or Blue Jays? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustics Research team developed a computerized classifier program to help distinguish among calls of the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and Blue Jays, using data from known recordings.

This software has identified nearly all of the calls from the Big Woods of Arkansas as similar to known recordings of ivory-bills. None matched the calls of Blue Jays from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's extensive audio collection. Researchers would like more recordings of Blue Jays making “kent”-like calls for the next round of analysis.

How You Can Help

Researchers would like more recordings of Blue Jays making sounds that resemble calls of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.

What to Do:

1. Record Blue Jays that are uttering sounds similar to the calls of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The research team is also interested in recordings of murmured vocalizations that may include softer versions of the tooting note.

For information about recording equipment and techniques, visit the Macaulay Library’s Recording Knowledge Base.

2. Note as much of the following information as possible:

a. Name, address, phone number, and email address of recordist
b. Details about the recording location, including latitude/longitude or GPS coordinates, if possible.
c. Time of recording
d. Weather conditions
e. Description of habitat
f. Type of equipment used, including manufacturer and model number
g. Did you only hear the bird, or did you see it too?
h. Distance to the animal
i. Notes about behavior, context, etc.

Special request: If you use an analog recorder, it would be most helpful to record a 440-Hz reference tone for about 10 seconds after making the recording. You can purchase an A 440-Hz pitch pipe at music stores for a few dollars. This reference tone will allow analysts to make corrections if the recorder is running off-speed.

3. Make a copy of the recording on analog tape, digital tape, or CD. Send a long sequence of calls if possible, not just the “kent”-like calls in isolation.
The copies you send us cannot be returned. Please do not send originals unless the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds contacts you later to ask whether your recording can be archived in the Macaulay Library.

By sending your recordings, you authorize the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to use the recordings analyses and to publish results, including the sounds themselves, in scientific publications and on its web site You will be credited as the recordist.

4. Send your recordings to

Anne Hobbs
Communications Department
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14850

Many thanks for your help!