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AudiOh!

Bird watchers must be good bird listeners, for birds are usually heard before they are seen, if they are seen at all.

The sounds that an animal makes often reveal their sex, age, health, species, emotional state, individual identity, and where they are from. But to the human ear, they may seem little more than "quack" or "bark". We are working to change that.

Our project is code-named AudiOh!, and its mission is to disentangle the information embedded in a quack or bark, and reveal it. As part of that project, we are improving our database of sounds, which currently includes 160,168 sounds and sonograms for 17,725 of the 58,520 birds on this site, and is on-track to reach many more in the next few months.

For an experienced birder listening to a common local bird, audio identification might be straightforward, but to those new to bird watching, this task is difficult.  The task is also difficult for software, because:

  • Each bird speaks with its own personal dialect within a regional dialect for the species, allowing other birds to identify it individually from voice alone. Such individual variations might make it easier for one bird to identify another, but they make it more difficult for software to identify the bird at even the species level.
  • In addition, a bird's song or call can convey information about where they are from, their age, sex, health, and other qualities. Each quality produces variations that might escape human notice, are obviously important to birds, and confusing to recognition software.
  • While the words might all sound like "honk" or "quack", in fact each bird has dozens of "words" that have very particular meanings. A Bluejay's announcement call denotes whether it has found food, a fox, or a snake. Each of these calls sound different to other jays, different to the trained ear, and different to a computer trying to identify the sound.
  • Birds process auditory information far faster than humans can, and so can "speak faster" -- packing more information into a few seconds.

We are now in the advanced stages of developing, testing, and revising our identification algorithms. The long-term goal of the AudiOh project is to create software that is light enough to run in a cell phone, and clever enough to accurately identify bird and animal sounds, and nimble enough to do this in real time. Along the way, we hope to contribute to the science of animal sounds.  Various research papers will be linked from this page.

  1. ZipcodeZoo.com contains information about more species and infraspecies than Wikipedia, WikiSpecies, and EOL combined.