Bioacoustical Research at Powdermill Avian Research Center
The Powdermill Avian Research Center (PARC) is advancing the
techniques and technologies of avian bioacoustical monitoring,
research used to aid population surveys and songbird
Most songbirds migrate at night, and many variables affect
the timing, duration, and location of each night’s migration.
Traditional field counts and banding efforts are often slow to
detect long-term population trends, and often only after those
trends have become pronounced. Bioacoustical monitoring
can aid significantly by opening a new window on our
understanding of bird migration.
PARC’s Bioacoustics Lab
At PARC, our bioacoustics lab takes advantage of the decades
of experience and expertise available at our bird banding
station. Selected songbirds which have been captured for
banding spend a short additional time at PARC in a specially
constructed recording booth.
Most songbirds emit short flight notes during their nocturnal
migrations. By playing vocalizations from an archive of
bird calls, return notes from the captured birds are elicited
and recorded. Bird calls recorded in our booth are
far cleaner than those captured in the field, and PARC is
building a remarkable library of calls which will be of use to
researchers and in developing automated population survey
Raven interactive sound analysis software, developed by
Cornell Lab of Ornithology aids in recording isolating, and
analyzing these acoustic signatures.
A discovery made by PARC’s Bioacoustics Lab Supervisor,
Michael Lanzone, resulted in the design of the “acoustic cone”
used to record the banded birds. This has resulted in a rapid
increase in the number of species for which flight calls and
variation in these calls are known.
Bioacoustic Bird Counts
One of the biggest practical applications of the bioacoustic
data gathered at PARC involves establishing field recording
stations, from which nocturnal recordings can be compared to the
flight call database, providing new and potentially far reaching
techniques for monitoring populations and migration
Field microphones feed captured sounds to computers which
operate from sunset to sunrise, after which the recordings are
analyzed for flight call notes. Once isolated, the calls
are individually saved by date, time, and frequency, as well as
being sorted into species groups. Analysis then allows us to
determine the minimum number of individuals, temporal patterns
of flight calling, and peak passage times.
Field microphones developed at PARC use readily available,
commercial components. The goal was to fabricate an
effective microphone assembly that would be within the means of
birding enthusiasts, Boy Scout troops, and high school classes,
as well as ensure that research stations would need minimal
investment to begin capturing quality vocalizations from
migrating nocturnal bird species.
Contact PARC for more information.
With its bioacoustic program, PARC is playing a role in the
advanced application of bioacoustics to the monitoring of
geographically remote songbird populations in North America and,
eventually, around the world.
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