Using the Archive
Scientific discovery, interactive learning and nature inspiration
Scientists worldwide use our audio and video recordings to better understand and preserve our planet. Teachers use our sounds, videos, and curricula to illustrate the natural world and create exciting interactive learning opportunities. We help others depict nature accurately and bring the wonders of animal behavior to the widest possible audience.
New Guinea's Birds of Paradise
Documenting Courtship Behavior
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.
North American Warblers
Reproduction, Climate Change, and Songs
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 lead to splitting this species.
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 this might play in speciation.
Research Using Macaulay Library Recordings
Scientists around the world use our 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.
Macaulay Library Recordings in Classrooms
The Education department at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed a curriculum for elementary, middle and high school. The lessons use rich media including sounds and videos from the Macaulay Library to spark student interest in understanding the physics underlying biological adaptations. More information can be found at the
Physics of Animal Behavior homepage.
Physics of Animal Behavior Curriculum resources for elementary, middle, and high school engage students in investigating questions about how birds and other animals can do things such as produce a complicated song or glide long distances. The lessons use rich media including sounds and videos to spark student interest in understanding the physics underlying biological adaptations. Teachers can download individual lessons or units addressing science standards about waves, forces, and motion.
Courtship and Rivalry in Birds
Why do birds do what they do? How can we tell what they are doing? This online course uses video, online discussions, and tutorials to help you develop skills and learn concepts that will increase your enjoyment and understanding of birds. Sounds and video are drawn from archives of the Macaulay Library.
Recordings from the Macaulay Library enhance exhibits and educational displays at public museums across the country. Examples include the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History Sant Ocean Hall, the Wild Center - Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society's Wildlife Center at Spey Bay, and the Science Museum of Minnesota's Wild Music traveling exhibit.
Macaulay Library staff have selected the best recordings of particular species or geographic regions to produce audio guides for birders, scientists and nature lovers. You can purchase our most popular animal sound collections and audio field guides online through the Lab of Ornithology store or Amazon.
You can also download these collections or 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 sounds and videos that world renowned artist Maya Lin used to create a one-of-a-kind multimedia experience, titled What is Missing. This project continues to raise public awareness of species extinction.
Birders and nature lovers of all abilities and ages use products developed with sounds and images from the Macaulay Library. For example, the BirdsEye application features sounds from our collection and helps you locate birds. National Geographic’s Handheld Birds is a mobile interactive field guide that puts the sounds of more than 800 North American species on your computer, iPhone or other mobile device. You can learn about the songs of North American birds using the stunning bird song guides by Donald Kroodsma and Les Beletsky. Hear more sounds from the archive by squeezing one of the popular singing plush bird toys, listening to one of our regional audio guides, or opening a greeting card that sings like a bird.
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.’”