Mission: Technology

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Technology

Technical innovation has been a hallmark of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology since 1929, when Cornell Lab founder Arthur Allen and colleagues used motion picture film to capture the first sound recordings of North American birds.

Cornell engineers later developed the parabolic microphone and portable tape recorder, enabling people to record animals around the world. Many of these recordings are archived in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library, today the world’s largest collection of natural sounds.

This spirit of innovation and exploration live on today, as our scientists, engineers, and computer programmers invent new tools to understand the natural world and protect wildlife.

Project Highlights

The Macaulay Library's Online Archive of Biodiversity Media

We are building the world’s most comprehensive online archive of audio and video recordings of animal biodiversity. This online database can be used to explore the largest collection of avian vocal diversity in the world, to search for recordings of a given species, or to find scientific information about animal behavior and species occurrences in space and time. Explore the online archive, or learn how how you can contribute your own recordings.

eBird

eBird offers innovative online tools for birders to keep track of their own lists and contribute their bird sightings for use in science and conservation. Birders, scientists, and conservationists can collect, manage, and store their observations in eBird’s globally accessible database—or use graphing, mapping, and analysis tools to better understand patterns of bird occurrence and the environmental and human factors that influence them. This real-time data resource produces millions of observations per year from across the hemisphere. eBird is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

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The Birds of North America

Birds of North AmericaThe Birds of North America is the preeminent source of life history information for more than 750 bird species that breed in the United States and Canada. Maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership with the American Ornithological Society, this comprehensive resource is authored by experts on each species. Each species account includes information on systematics, distribution, identification, behavior, breeding biology, conservation, and a comprehensive bibliography. Content is compatible with mobile devices and includes significantly more photos, videos, and audio selections from the Lab's Macaulay Library--the world's largest scientific archive of biodiversity photos, audio, and video recordings.

Neotropical Birds

Birds of Neotropical Birds OnlineNeotropical Birds is an innovative collaboration of researchers, birders, and the conservation community to create an authoritative online resource with life histories of Neotropical birds from Mexico and the Caribbean to South America. Learn more about birds south of the border and consider contributing your own information, sounds, video, or translations.

Creating Automated Devices for Recording Animal Sounds

We develop the technology to remotely record the sounds of animals on land or in the ocean. Our underwater “pop-up” devices record sounds from the ocean floor, then pop up to the surface when the data are ready to be retrieved. Researchers have used pop-ups in more than 20 countries worldwide to monitor the sounds of marine wildlife as well as human-caused noise pollution.

In collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, we developed an auto-detection buoy system to detect vocalizing right whales in near real-time. This enables us to notify ships of the presence of whales within a 5 nautical mile listening range of the buoy, alerting them to slow down and avoid deadly collisions with these endangered whales.

To record the sounds of animals on land, we developed devices that can be programmed and left in remote locations to record the sounds of rare and elusive wildlife for months at a time. We have used these devices to monitor endangered forest elephants, to detect the presence of endangered Black-capped Vireos and Golden-cheeked Warblers, and to document the calls of migratory songbirds as they migrate overhead at night.

Developing Digital Tools to Analyze Animal Sounds

We create software applications for biologists and the interested public to visually display, measure, and analyze sounds. With support from the National Science Foundation, we created Raven and Raven Lite, powerful user-friendly research and teaching tools for understanding sounds.

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Acoustic Technologies for Monitoring Bird Migration

Most songbird migration happens at night, when it’s hard to detect. With durable, autonomous recording devices pre-programmed to run for months at a time in remote sites, we gather information about the timing, location, and species composition of nocturnal bird migration. These audio recordings describe massive movements of migrating birds and they represent data that are unavailable by any other methodology. The recordings are crucial for conservation plans for migratory species. Andrew Farnsworth and colleagues developed a “Rosetta Stone” for the calls of 48 warbler species. Using remote microphone and analysis software, the team can identify birds flying overhead in darkness, yielding new information about migration over military bases, planned wind farms, and other locations. We have processed tens of thousands of acoustic recordings of more than 200 species of birds. Cornell Lab scientists have also developed sophisticated software enabling them to monitor Whip-poor-wills and other elusive species.

The Macaulay Library's Online Archive of Biodiversity Media

We are building the world’s most comprehensive online archive of audio and video recordings of animal biodiversity. This online database can be used to explore the largest collection of avian vocal diversity in the world, to search for recordings of a given species, or to find scientific information about animal behavior and species occurrences in space and time. Explore the online archive, or learn how how you can contribute your own recordings.

Protecting the World’s Last North Atlantic Right Whales

We use our high-tech systems to hear, monitor, and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales. Fewer than 500 of these magnificent animals remain in the world, and they are difficult to see and track as they migrate along the Atlantic seaboard. Our sound-detection systems provide valuable information about the whales’ numbers, locations, and activities along the East Coast. We use this information to understand how whales are affected by disturbance and noise pollution from energy exploration, shipping, and other human activities, and to advise industry and government on how to minimize harm to marine wildlife. In collaboration with other research agencies and the energy industry, we have established a right whale listening network in Massachusetts Bay. This network notifies shipping vessels to slow down when right whales are detected nearby, preventing deadly collisions between whales and ships.

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Tracking Bird Migration in the Gulf of Mexico Region

Each spring and fall, hundreds of millions of birds embark on a 600-mile, nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. It is not just the numbers that are mind-boggling but the diversity of birds that make this journey, from Blue-winged Teal to Forster's Tern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo to Eastern Kingbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird to Scarlet Tanager, and many more. There is still much basic natural history we do not know about this specific migration. At what altitudes do the greatest densities of migrants occur as they cross the Gulf? How does migration traffic vary from year to year, from Key West to Brownsville? What effects do climatic patterns such as El Niño and the Arctic Oscillation have on the timing and location of peak passages of migrants? We are collaborating with the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Delaware, and Oklahoma University to study migration patterns in this region on weather surveillance radar as part of a project funded by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Southern Company. We are using technologies developed as part of the BirdCast project to study arrival and departure of migrants in the region, taking advantage of eBird data.

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