Migrating birds

By eavesdropping in the Arctic, scientists are able to monitor the return of migrating birds each year.

Oliver: “We put microphones out on the tundra for five summers and had them record four half-hour recordings per day during the arrival period. So this generated quite a lot of audio data – about twelve-hundred hours.”

Ruth Oliver, a PhD Student at Columbia University, says it would typically take about a year to go through those recordings. So she helped develop an automatic method – sort of like voice recognition – that enables a computer to do it in minutes.

It uses an algorithm that can distinguish bird sounds from other noise, like wind. By identifying when tweets and chirps first appear on the recordings, the system can identify when songbirds arrive.

So the technology can help scientists track how bird migrations change as the climate warms. And …

Oliver: “Some of the methodology that we use is actually fairly generalizable and could be retooled for other species.”

So it can improve our understanding of how birds and even insects or amphibians – the noisy ones, anyway – are reacting to a warming world.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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