Interview with student employee in the Borror lab

Kira Edic, a Forestry, Fisheries & Wildlife major, has been a student employee in the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics since May 2016.

Kira's digitizing station in the Borror lab

Kira’s digitizing station in the Borror lab

Kira has helped digitize recordings made by Arthur Borror, son of Don Borror, who founded the acoustics lab. To date Kira has digitized 167 cuts of 117 bird species in three different countries, Canada, Ecuador and USA, from 1995 through 1997.

Kira Edic, undergraduate student in BLBListen for yourself to find out what Kira’s favorite and most bizarre bird has been, what some of the challenges are of working in our lab, and what she enjoys most about her work:


Kira’s favorite bird is the Screaming Piha Lipaugus vociferans.

To make this recording, Arthur Borror traveled to Ecuador and stayed at the Sacha Lodge, South America’s best Primary Rainforest Amazon sanctuary. The bird itself is rather plain looking but it makes up for it with its loud, shrill call. Listen for yourself (BLB46823):

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The bizarre sound, Kira mentions, was made by a black lion tamarin Leontopithecus chrysopygus,

photo of black-lion tamarin (Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 4.0)

a critically endangered member of the lion tamarins.

Listen to the recording Kira added to the collection (BLB46605):


Kira also mentions antbirds, a large family of songbirds (passerines) that occurs across subtropical and tropical Central and South America, from Mexico to Argentina. More than 200 species are known within this family Thamnophilidae. They are generally small birds with mostly somber plumage coloration. They get their name from a peculiar behavior: These birds follow foraging army ants that regularly swarm across forest floors in Central America and feast on the hordes of fleeing insects that these ants flush into the surrounding foliage.

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Interview by Angelika Nelson, curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics with Kira Edic, undergraduate student employee in the lab.


Happy Turkey Holiday!

It’s the time of year when ONE BIRD receives all the attention, at least here in the USA: the turkey. Turkeys have been part of the human food chain for a long time, Native Americans hunted them for food and so did the first settlers. Due to unregulated hunting turkeys declined dramatically with the increasing human population. By 1904 turkeys had all but disappeared from Ohio. Today the Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo is again a common sight in many metro parks in Ohio. Blendon Woods, for example, has a good population that can be observed easily, often even at the feeders at the nature center.

Note the bristly “beard” extending off the chest of male turkeys and the spurs on their legs as seen in the photos above. The two males on the right are displaying and probably make some “gobbling” sounds.

As a bioacoustician I am of course most interested in the sounds these birds make. You are probably familiar with the famous “gobble” call males make in spring to attract a mate but also in response to other males calling. Here is a recording from our archive (BLB21391):

The gobble is a loud, rapid gurgling sound, it’s the turkey’s version of a rooster’s crow.

Females make quite different calls (BLB12583):

Here is an example of calls given by a juvenile female (BLB13261):

I hope this made you appreciate the diversity of turkey calls and you will listen for their calls next time you visit one of the metro parks.

All recordings are of captive birds at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Wooster, Ohio in 1974. You can listen to the full recordings by clicking on the cut numbers above.


angelika_nelson_birdingAbout the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics.


The holy grail of sound recognition: a birdsong recognition app

Listen to the cacophony of bird sounds at dawn. Does it make you want to be able to tell which species chime in? Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app “listen” with you and list all the bird species that are vocalizing? You are not alone, this is what researchers have been and are still working on. If you are somewhat familiar with bird song, you can imagine that it is not an easy task. Every species has its own characteristic sounds. But even within a species every individual most likely sings more than one rendition of the species-specific song and does so with variations.

Listen to the songs of the Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler, three species in the wood warbler family, that commonly sing in Ohio in spring.

Here is an example of two different song types sung by the same Yellow Warbler male:

Training software

To develop a bird song recognition app, software needs to be trained with real bird songs. An animal sound archive that houses thousands of recordings is an ideal resource for this endeavor. The Borror lab has provided many of our 47,000+ recordings to different researchers. Recently, Dr. Peter Jančovic, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Birmingham, UK collaborated with us. He and his colleagues developed and tested an algorithm on over 33 hours of field recordings, containing 30 bird species (To put this in perspective, to-date 10,000 species of birds have been described and half of them are songbirds – so 30 species is really only the tip of the iceberg). But, his results are promising, the developed system recognizes bird species with an accuracy of 97.8% using 3 seconds of the detected signal. He presented these first results at the  International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing in Shanghai.

Sonogram of Yellow Warbler, not Yellow-throated Warbler song

The software correctly identified this sonogram as song from a Yellow Warbler.

Birdsong recognition apps

Some prototypes of birdsong recognition software and apps are already on the market.

bird song recognition apps: Warblr, Chirpomatic, Birdgenie

These are some of the already available bird song recognition apps that you may want to try.


Think of them as the Shazam of birdsong (For those of you not familiar with Shazam, it is an app that identifies music for you). Instead of sampling audio being played you record the bird’s song in question. The software will then compare features of the recorded sound against a database based on pre-recorded, identified sounds, a sound library.


Challenges and problems

This simple sounding process has challenges and problems: You need to get a really good recording of the bird you want to identify, i.e. no other birds singing nearby, no traffic noise, people talking or lawn mowers obscuring your target sound. Once you have managed this, a good app takes into account where in the world, even within the USA and within Ohio you recorded the song. Birds sing with local variations. Research in our lab has focused on this for many years: Birds learn their songs by imitating conspecific adults where they grow up and will incorporate any variations these birds sing in their repertoire. Thus the recorded sounds need to be compared to geographically correct songs of each species. Once the location has been set, the app needs to compare the recording to thousands of songs, because most of our songbirds sing at least 5 types of typical song, some sing over 100. Some like the Northern Mockingbird imitate the sounds of other species.

Geographic variation in song of Yellow Warbler YEWA

Listen to and compare Yellow Warbler songs from Ohio, Maine and Mexico, Baja California and Sonora.

I hope I have not completely discouraged you from trying one of the bird song recognition apps. They truly are an innovative application of the thousands of songs that have been recorded, archived and can be listened to for free. Have you already tried one of these apps? We would love to hear your experiences!


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics.



Jančovic, M. Köküer, M. Zakeri and M. Russell, “Bird species recognition using HMM-based unsupervised modelling of individual syllables with incorporated duration modelling,” 2016 IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP), Shanghai, 2016, pp. 559-563. doi: 10.1109/ICASSP.2016.7471737

Bird song ID apps

Bird Song Id USA Automatic Recognition and Reference – Songs and Calls of America


A comparison of Chirpomatic and Warblr for birds recorded in the UK.

Puffin time on Eastern Egg Rock

Have you heard of the Atlantic Puffin, a species of seabird in the auk family? It is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean.

Two Atlantic Puffins on Eastern Egg Rock

Atlantic Puffin on Eastern Egg Rock

I have been lucky to see this bird on both, the eastern and western   coast of its breeding range. In 1996 when I studied at Bangor University in Wales, UK I first encountered Atlantic Puffins off-shore from Puffin Island, an uninhabited island off the eastern tip of Anglesey, Wales. The island, as you may have guessed, was named after a breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins. Unfortunately puffins no longer breed on this island after the introduction of a fierce predator of eggs and chicks, the brown rat. On the other side of the Atlantic Oceans puffins faced similar problems, they were extirpated from many areas by a combination of egg collection, hunting for meat and feathers, and displacement by expanding Herring and Great Black-backed Gull populations. Now, thanks to Dr. Stephen Kress, I have seen Atlantic Puffins off the coast of Maine, on a small island named Eastern Egg Rock.

Eastern Egg Rock is a small, treeless island in the outer Muscongus Bay area. It is designated the Allan D. Cruickshank Wildlife Sanctuary in honor of Allan Cruickshank, a Maine ornithologist and photographer.


In 2015, when I taught at one of the Hog Island Audubon camps, I was lucky to land on Eastern Egg Rock as the instructor of a group of teenagers enrolled in the Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens.

Crossing in DoryWe landed on the island in one of the traditional fishing boats, a dory.

Access to Eastern Egg Rock is strictly limited, a small group of researchers spends the summer in the single hut on the island monitoring the numerous birds that breed on the island. Common Terns and Laughing Gulls are probably the most common species on the island that establish nests. Less common breeders are Arctic and Roseate Tern, Black Guillemots, Common Eiders and also Atlantic Puffins.


The Atlantic Puffins are a success story for conservation, the world’s first restored seabird colony. When Dr. Stephen Kress started the project in 1973 the last puffin breeding on the island had been seen in 1885. He was determined to bring a population back to this area and with the translocation of nearly 1,000 young puffins from Newfoundland, and social attraction through decoys and mirror boxes he succeeded!

Atlantic Puffin and decoy on Eastern Egg Rock

Atlantic Puffin (right) and decoy (left) on Eastern Egg Rock

The first pairs of puffins began nesting on the island in 1981, now more than 100 pairs nest regularly on Eastern Egg Rock and can be seen in the waters of near-by islands.


When we visited the island for the day, we each had the opportunity to spend some time in a small hut (bird hide) of which numerous are distributed across the island. There you sit in solitude, well hidden from the breeding birds that surround you and get to absorb views and sounds.


I brought my recording equipment (a Audio Technica 8035 microphone connected to a Marantz PMD670) and captured the multitude of sounds:

Listen to this recording of Laughing Gulls (note the gull chicks calling in the background!):


Listen to this recording of Common Terns (also with chicks calling in the background):


It is a truly unforgettable experience to become part of this fragile ecosystem for a few hours! You can visit Eastern Egg Rock on a puffin cruise which leaves from New Harbor, ME daily during the summer months and circles the island to provide amazing views of the Atlantic Puffins and other seabirds.


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the Curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and instructor of Hog Island Audubon camps.

Different songs for different places

In my last post I talked about how Carolina Chickadee songs have changed (or not) in Columbus and the surrounding areas over the past ~60 years. This post takes a different perspective on how Carolina Chickadee songs can vary: over geographic space. If you were paying close attention in the last post, you may have gotten a sense of geographic variation in song even on a scale as small as Columbus – some songs only appeared in certain areas during certain time periods.

One major component of my dissertation here at OSU has been to quantify how Carolina chickadee songs vary over their entire range, the southeastern United States, and compare this variation to geographic variation in their sister species, the Black-capped Chickadee. Despite Carolina Chickadees being very common birds, not many recordings of their songs were archived in museum collections for me to use. The Borror Lab had the most recordings, but the vast majority of those were made in Ohio.

So in spring of 2014 I embarked on an expedition to record as many Carolina Chickadees in as many different places as possible. Over 5 and a half weeks (divided into three trips), I drove about 6,000 miles through 22 states and recorded over 120 chickadees.

Sample locations during recording trip in 2014

Sample locations during recording trip in 2014

Below are samples of some of the atypical songs that I recorded on my trip. The full Carolina chickadee range is shaded in orange. All the spectrograms shown are on the same scale, so you can directly compare them to one another (the upper limit of each spectrogram image is about 10 kHz). Not included are songs or spectrograms of the typical alternating high-low-high-low Carolina chickadee song, which was also present at most sample locations.

  1. Newark, Delaware






2. Kensington, Maryland






3. Asheboro, North Carolina







4. Cartersville, Georgia






5. Camden, Alabama






6. Ajax, Louisiana






7. Meridian, Texas






8. Moyers, Oklahoma






9. Crossville, Tennessee





10. Salem, Missouri






11. Makanda, Illinois






12. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky







About the author:  Stephanie Wright Nelson is a graduate student in the department of EEOBiology. She studies song learning in chickadees and is particularly interested in the consequences of hybridization between Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees.

Time travels with the Borror Lab of Bioacoustics

Carolina Chickadee by Dan Pancamo

Carolina Chickadee by Dan Pancamo

One thing that is unique about the sound archive of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics is that it not only contains a wide diversity of animal sounds, but a great number of recordings for certain species. When I started my Ph.D. research here at OSU, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this depth of recordings also included one of my study species, the Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis).

The namesake of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics (BLB), Dr. Donald J. Borror, was one of the first biologists to take recording equipment out into the field to record animal sounds. And he started in and around Columbus. Because Carolina Chickadees are rather common birds here in the central and southern portions of Ohio, Carolina Chickadees were some of the first animals Dr. Borror recorded. The oldest recording he archived in the collection dates back to 1948. Listen to a 30-second excerpt of Dr. Borror’s recording of a typical four-note whistled Carolina Chickadee song from April 1948 (note: You can listen to the entire recording (BLB21) on the BLB’s website):

You may not think that having all these chickadee recordings across a long time period is super duper exciting, but I do. See, I study chickadee song. And we know that chickadees, like other songbirds, learn their song: young chickadees must hear other individuals of their species singing and imitate those sounds in order to produce normal adult song. However, like learning in humans, song learning in birds is not always a perfect process. As young birds make imperfect copies of the songs of the adult birds they hear, variation is introduced into the songs of a population of birds. Think about how the English language has changed in the past 100 years – some words have stopped being used, new ones have come into fashion – this is analogous to what happens with song in bird populations.

The end result is that not every chickadee sings exactly the same song and the acoustic traits of chickadee songs can change slightly from generation to generation. Using the BLB collection I can actually look at how Carolina Chickadee song has changed in the Columbus area over the past 65+ years.

What you are going to see below are a series of maps with representative spectrograms of chickadee songs from all over Columbus for different decade ranges. If you have never seen a spectrogram before, it is essentially a visual representation of sound, with time on the x-axis, frequency (or pitch) on the y-axis, and the darker color representing more energy (or the loudness) of the sound. Here is the spectrogram of one song of a Carolina Chickadee from the 1948 recording by Don Borror above:

Spectrogram of one song of a Carolina Chickadee recorded by Don Borror in Columbus OH in 1948

For each map below I encourage you to visually compare the different chickadee songs using the spectrograms (I have left the axes off for simplicity’s sake) and then listen to the recording containing those songs using the links below each map. Any overlapping spectrograms are from the same individual bird: Carolina Chickadees can sing up to 4 different song types each, although most only sing one or two types. If you want to listen to the original recording archived in the BLB, please click on the link for each BLB cut number.


As you can see, Carolina Chickadees usually have a four-note song of alternating high and low whistled notes, but check out the weird song at Blacklick Woods Metro Park (#3)! Dr. Borror’s 1948 recording is actually quite unique in that the notes in the chickadee’s song are not very different in pitch from one another; usually Carolina Chickadee songs sound and look more like the spectrograms seen in examples 1 and 4b.


#1 (BLB1354)

#2 (BLB2451)

#3 (BLB3909)

#4 (BLB3947)



map2The unique song type seen before persists at Blacklick Woods Metro Park through the 1960s. Also note that some Carolina Chickadee songs start with a note much lower in pitch than others (like song number 1 here, or song 4a in the 1950s map). Carolina Chickadees also sometimes add notes onto the end of their songs, resulting in five-, six-, and sometimes up to twelve-note songs, although they usually keep the alternating high-low pattern (see #4).


#1 (BLB6374)

#2 (BLB9942)

#3 (BLB5112)

#4 (BLB9026)

#5 (BLB7966)



Many of the songs in this decade are very similar, but one individual at Blendon Woods Metro Park (#2b) showed an interesting song with an additional introductory note. This song type is not seen in any other bird in any other decade, so it is possible this song type was never sung by any bird but this one.


#1 (BLB11032)

#2 (BLB14217)

#3 (BLB13312)

#4 (BLB11030)


map4As you can see, not much song variation was recorded in the 1980s, except for that three-note song up in Delware. While most of the songs follow the typical high-low-high-low pattern, there are subtle differences between individuals, like in the downward sweep of the first note.



#1 (BLB17075)

#2 (BLB17078)

Note the Black-capped Chickadee singing in the background of recording #2:

#3 (BLB15737)

#4 (BLB17063)



In Delaware a three-note song type persists in the population from the 1980s into the 1990s. Also, the song type that starts with a lower-pitched note continues to pop up in various areas of northern Columbus (e.g. 3b), but is not seen in the southern portions of the city. Interestingly, I had not heard that song type myself while living in Columbus until moving to Clintonville this past March; up near Dublin that song type is not common anymore.


#1 (BLB17435)

#2a (BLB17433)


#3 (BLB21124)

In the past 14 years none of the recordings in the BLB collection specifically target Carolina chickadee songs. It would be interesting to know if those strange songs from Blacklick Woods Metro Park are still sung in that area, or if any other unique song types have appeared in the Columbus area.

So, as you travel throughout the Columbus area, keep an ear out for some odd chickadee songs … you may even hear something that has not been recorded before.

About the author: Stephanie Wright Nelson is a graduate student in the department of EEOBiology. She studies song learning in chickadees and is particularly interested in the consequences of hybridization between Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees.