Macaulay Library

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The Macaulay Library is the world’s leading scientific collection of biodiversity media, with more than 175,000 audio and 60,000 video recordings documenting the behavioral diversity of birds and other animals. The collections in our care inspire, educate, and entertain people around the globe. We provide training, expert consultation, and equipment that enable scientists, educators, and nature enthusiasts to discover and record the natural world.

Explore the sound and video archive on the Macaulay Library website.

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.

Expanding Awareness and Use of Special Collections

In partnership with individuals and institutions around the world, we are building a growing body of special sound and film collections that highlight particular strengths within our archive, and that can be explored online, including the Macaulay Library Marine Collection, the National Public Radio-National Geographic Society Radio Expeditions Sound Collection, and the Winged Migration collection in partnership with Galatee Films.

Preservation and Management of Media Specimens

We maintain the highest standards for preservation, specimen creation, editing, quality control, storage, and output. Learn more about the audio and video curatorial processes.

Sound Recording Workshops

Sound Recording WorkshopEach year, the Macaulay Library leads recording workshops to teach state-of-the-art techniques for recording the sounds and behavior of animals in the wild. Participants learn through daily field recording sessions, coupled with lectures and demonstrations from our skilled staff. In collaboration the Cornell Lab’s Conservation Program, we also conduct capacity-building workshops in developing nations. To date, participants from Guyana, Cuba, and Guatemala have received training in recording techniques and systems for bioacoustics research and conservation.

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Recording Equipment

recording equipmentRecording birds, frogs, mammals, insects, and other natural sounds can be very challenging as well as rewarding. The proper selection of field recording equipment will help you make the most out of every recording opportunity and will probably save you time and money in the long-run. The Macaulay Library’s engineering staff thoroughly test and evaluate the latest digital audio recorders to provide the reliable information you need to select a recording system.

Techniques for Audio Recording Vocalizations of Tropical Birds

Audio recordings of tropical birds are important tools for the study, management, and conservation of birdlife. Recording methods, equipment, and the condition of equipment can affect the accuracy and quantity of audio recordings collected. Find out more about recording techniques.

Documenting Courtship Behavior of New Guinea’s Birds of Paradise

For more than a decade, video curator Edwin Scholes has used digital video to document and study the courtship behaviors of New Guinea’s birds-of-paradise (family Paradisaeidae). In collaboration with wildlife photojournalist Tim Laman, this project has grown to become the most comprehensive collection of bird-of-paradise video footage in the world.

Reproduction, Climate Change, and Songs of North American Warblers

Mike Webster, director of the Macaulay Library, graduate student Sara Kaiser, and collaborators at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center are investigating how birds’ behaviors may change in response to climate change. The team studies Black-throated Blue Warblers to understand how changes in weather and food abundance affect reproductive hormones and behavior, and the prospects for the species’ long-term health. The study also uses recordings from the Macaulay Library to examine how song differences between populations may be leading to the splitting of this species in two.

Sexual Signals in Australian Fairywrens

In a collaborative study, Mike Webster, director of the Macaulay Library, studies the evolution of sexual signals in Australian fairywrens. The study aims to reveal how social and ecological environments interact to determine the plumage signals that males display during breeding, and how hormonal mechanisms maintain these plumage ornaments as honest signals of male health and condition. Graduate student Jenélle Dowling is further examining the role of male and female song in mating behavior, especially the information that song conveys to other birds and how females use song to select mates. Graduate student Dan Baldassarre is studying the evolutionary forces that lead to divergence in sexual signals across populations and the role that this might play in generating new species.

Research Using Sound and Video from the Macaulay Library

Each year, dozens of scientists around the world use Macaulay Library recordings for a wide range of fascinating research projects. (See the growing list of scientific publications dating from the 1950s to the present.) For example, Nathalie Seddon and Joe Tobias (Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology) are examining the evolution of social signals and their role in speciation. Jordan Price (St. Mary’s College of Maryland) is studying the evolution of song among female birds. Anthropologist Jonathan D. Amith (Yale University) uses sounds from the Macaulay Library to elicit Nahuatl names and information about bird species from native peoples to create an online encyclopedia of language, flora, fauna, and other aspects of Nahuatl culture.

Recordings Help Endangered Bermuda Petrels

For nearly three centuries, Bermuda Petrels (Pterodroma cahow) were believed to be extinct. In 1951, this endangered species was rediscovered, and conservation efforts continue today. To help draw displaced or prospecting pairs to new nesting burrows on higher and safer ground, the restoration team used recordings of Bermuda Petrel vocalizations from the Macaulay Library to attract courting birds.

Audio Guides

Macaulay Library staff have selected the best recordings of particular species or regions of interest to produce audio guides for birders, scientists, and nature lovers. You can purchase our most popular animal sound collections and audio field guide CDs online through the Lab of Ornithology store or Amazon. You can also download these collections or even individual tracks at the Apple iTunes Store (search for “Cornell Lab of Ornithology”).

“What is Missing?” A Multimedia Exhibit by Artist Maya Lin

The Macaulay Library provided numerous sounds and videos that enabled world renowned artist Maya Lin to create a one-of-a-kind multimedia experience. Called What is Missing, this effort raises awareness of the global extinction crisis.

Movies and Media

If you’ve heard a strange, prehistoric cry from the mythical phoenix Fawkes in the Warner Brothers movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or European bird songs in Pixar’s animated film Ratatouille, or animal sounds while your toddler watches “Go Diego Go!” on Nickelodeon, then you have heard a small sample from the Macaulay Library’s archive. Macaulay recordings are used frequently for media productions; recent examples include NPR’s Wild Sounds series and BirdNote from Seattle Audubon. Filmmaker Ken Burns says, “We wanted our film, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, to sound as authentic and as beautiful as it looked, so we turned to the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In terms of getting the bird sounds, that was our ‘best idea.’”

Museum Exhibits

Recordings from the Macaulay Library enhance exhibits and educational displays at public museums across the country, such as the Smithsonian Institution’s Sant Ocean Hall, the Wild Center—Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, and the WDCS Wildlife Centre at Spey Bay. The Science Museum of Minnesota used Macaulay Library sounds and expertise to develop their Wild Music traveling exhibit in collaboration with the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

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