Dec. 29 2010 12:00 AM

A new MSU database of bird sounds meant for scholars, enthusiasts

Wednesday, Dec. 29 — Michigan State University’s Avian Vocalizations Center, or AVoCet, has launched a free, public and online database of more than 10,000 bird sounds from throughout the world.

That’s big news for bird enthusiasts, says Pamela Rasmussen, AVoCet creator and MSU zoology professor.

For one, documenting bird sounds is a scientifically rigorous process that must include high-quality sound recordings along with photos and other relevant information of the species. And with more than 10,000 bird species throughout the world, whose calls can vary by just the slightest pitch or even geographical region, AVoCet is intended to be a reliable, comprehensive source for those who study birds, Rasmussen said.

“I realized it was now possible to assemble and make available bird sound recordings on a much bigger scale than ever before, and I wanted to do so using scientific best practices for their documentation wherever possible,” she wrote in an e-mail. Rasmussen is also the assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the MSU Museum.

The database is an ever-growing compilation of bird information. For now, there are 10,200 recordings of about 3,200 different species from 45 different countries. Rasmussen’s research focus has been international, but she said she collects data locally in her spare time.

“It won’t be long before the database is fairly comprehensive for Michigan,” she wrote.

The site lists species by country and scientific order and allows users to search by the bird’s common or scientific name.

Downloadable sonograms that visually chart sounds also make it easier for studying bird sounds, as you can see the pitch changes rather than just hearing them. Photos, Google Earth maps and links to other online sound collections are also part of the database.

Birders (warning: don’t call them bird watchers) can download recordings to handheld devices and take them out to the field with them.

This technology has been a “boon” for ornithologists (those who study birds), Rasmussen added. Chronicling bird species has traditionally been a cumbersome process, involving big equipment and tape cassettes.

The work is an extension of Rasmussen’s book, “Birds of South Asia,” and began about two years ago. On top of her contributions, graduate students, local ornithologists and professional guides have contributed to the database.

But everything is “vetted and given confidence details, as well as edited and documented,” before going in the database, Rasmussen wrote.

You can access the database here.