Previous: [EaS #6.5] LIVE Stories from Berlin! (Part 2)
Next: Paleoart: Painting the Land Before Time



View count:53,077
Last sync:2022-12-26 21:45
The Museum für Naturkunde is home to one of the largest collections of animal sound recordings in the world. They're studied by scientists to learn about what animals live in an area, and what time(s) of year they're active, and in what abundance.

One of the field recorders featured was initially created for use by agents in the CIA! (Scientists used it for spying, too; on birds.)
Animal Sound Archive:
Access the recordings here:

More info through Google Cultural Institute:

Research paper: Information obtained from long-term acoustic recordings: applying bioacoustic techniques for monitoring wetland birds during breeding season.

About Nationalpark Unteres Odertal:

Contribute to Berlin's Nightingale project! Join: Forschungsfall Nachtingall:
Old website:
New website (live April 14th):

More from the Museum für Naturkunde:

Learn more on their website:

Special thanks to Juliane Röhner and Manja Voß for their generous help and guidance through this process.
Help support our videos!
Under 'Designation,' put 'The Brain Scoop' - all proceeds go exclusively towards helping the show. We appreciate whatever you can give!
Come hang out in our Subreddit:
Twitters: @ehmee
We have a Newsletter! Sign up for updates!:
Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Camera, Graphics, Director:
Brandon Brungard

Producer, Camera:
Sheheryar Ahsan

Interview with:
Dr. Karl-Heinz Frommolt, Curator of the Animal Sound Archive
Dr. Sarah Darwin, Researcher at the Museum für Naturkunde
This episode is filmed on location at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany, and the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.
This episode is brought to you by the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany.

Hey, we are here in the National Park Unteres Odertal, and Poland is right there! We can see it!

Also, my feet are freezing. Let's go! People have been cultivating grain and farming cattle in the Oder Valley for more than seven thousand years. alteration of the land ramped up in the early nineteenth century and continued through the 1990s.

During the 1970s, industrialization and expanded agricultural practices had a huge impact on transforming the region. Then, the political changes in 1990 allowed for the area to be set aside and protected, and the lower Oder Valley National Park was established in 1995. Dr.

Karl-Heinz Frommolt, German accent: and when the National Park was founded, it was decided that here no agriculture will be done no more and This area will develop naturally.

Emily: This is Dr. Karl-Heinz Frommolt, the curator of the animal sound archive for the museum für Naturkunde. Today, he's going to take us into the field to show us how scientists collect field recordings in wetlands to learn more about the animals that call them home. But first, a little background The animal sound archive at the Museum für Naturkunde was established in 1951 and in the last seventy years Scientists have contributed more than a hundred and twenty thousand recordings to this collection and many of these sounds can now be heard from anywhere In the world as scientists at the Museum work to move their collection from tapes to digital online archives.

Dr. H-

F: the first recordings were made in 1951 by Professor Günter Tembrock, and this was a part of a behavioral study. On October 30th 1951, Günter Tembrock simply tested as a tape recorder and during this time we had a housing for owls in the garden and one of the Tawny Owls started to cry and When this Tawny Owl was calling, a white Tawny Owl came, and Was to adding with a captive one.

Emily: wow! that's amazing! and he caught it all on the recording? Dr. H-

F: We have the recording and we can listen to this recording. [high pitch owl sounds timed with visual peaks, lower, more throaty owl sounds] [splashing water] We have some wildlife activity here, which is evidence of a wild boar-- Apparently they use their nose to dig into the mud, make a big mess. We might see one today. That would be exciting I think I could handle it. *mumbles* me...versus a ...boar. Anyway!

We have a second sighting of evidence of boar--there, a little trail. I think if I follow it I could go find him. See you!

No, okay, I got the other stuff to do, I gotta go. We have a third piece of evidence from the wild boar some hoof prints here heading That way which is maybe East. I don't actually know And some roe deer hoofs But I appreciate how this video which is supposed to be about a bio acoustic library, has become in search of the wild boar wasn't in the script ...

Eh, let's get back to Karl. Did you use this Dr. H-

F: yes, I have used this.

Emily: Wow! for your own field recording? Dr. H-

F: For all field recordings.

E: and how much does this store like how long could you record? Dr. H-

F: Usually you can...with high quality, with good quality Approximately 30 minutes, usually, as batteries don't last more than 30/40 minutes

E: really?! Dr. H-

F: but it was already a large Advantage in comparison with (

E: yeah) uh, gramophone Technology yeah, (

E: *laughs* yeah that's true) you had to go with the gramophone to the animal and it was almost impossible. The first tape recorders of this kind were used by the CIA. (

E: so spies) yes, for spies. (

E: *whisper* Wow!) And the advantage of this of course It's (

E: it's much lighter) smaller much lighter and the recording quality Was extremely good. During the winter you always have some problems. That the batteries would be cold. (

E: Ohh!) until you could put the recorder inside Your pocket. (

E: Yeah!) it will be warm. but the advantage was it was easier to Work with the tapes--to cut large tapes, then to cut small tapes.

E: Oh, okay, so this was just for spying and for (Dr. H-

F: for fieldworkers)

E: Yeah for fieldwork. Dr. H-

F: It's excellent for fieldwork.

E: But mostly for spies! You have this nifty little box here today too--this is something that you're, you're actually using today to record field work Dr. H-

F: Yeah, it is for Doing a continuous recording. We, for this purpose, use a small recorder. (

E: Yeah,) this is not the usual way. (

E: Yeah,) for power supply. (

E: Wow!) It's self-made. Usually you have here two small batteries and can record with such a small digital recorder.

E: so this you could record for 30 minutes... (Dr. H-

F: Yeah.) How long could you record on this? Dr. H-

F: Approximately one hour.

E: one hour, and then you're going to 32 gigs it can record for 48 hours (Dr. H-

F: two days yeah) wow! That's amazing Well, we have used this equipment to look if Corncrakes are present This is very important since corncrakes are a rare species and when a corncrake is detected in a meadow, the meadow will not be used in a certain time.

E: really?! so this is what you're putting out there now in these wetland environments to get an idea of ..of what's living there... Dr. H-

F: it's at least one way.

E: Okay Karl, where are we now? Dr. H-

F: We are now at this place where we are Doing our acoustic monitoring. (

E: okay.) We have here a long-term recorder And this is a recording device is working now almost 10 months without any break (

E: really?!) The only break is when we are changing the batteries and the memory cards, (

E: okay.) And the idea is why we have placed the recorder here--in front we have the open space Where we have Water birds are breeding, and it's a violent place We where we have a high concentration of spotted crake, for example

E: And those are rare birds in this area, or? Dr. H-

F: these are again in general, rare birds. We have recorded Spotted Crake three days earlier then any ornithologist in Germany has reported a spotted Crake. [pause button press sound] E voiceover: since we recorded this, Karl found another recording showing that the spotted crake had actually migrated to the area 13 days earlier than ornithologists had initially observed, which is a pretty big deal when you're trying to track an endangered species.

E: well I love that this work is being proactive and you're recording it now with the idea that future generations are going to be utilizing the animal sound library and helping to Analyze that information and learn stuff about what you've recorded here today Dr. H-

F: Yes, no, we are already started. To use as a sound library for developing recognizing [?]

E: Great! Well, You should probably change those batteries. Dr. H-

F: Yes,

E: okay. *overlayed dialogue*

E: So, what are some of the observations that you've made by analyzing this information Dr. H-

F: We have already analyzed data for some breeding seasons and at least 60 species of Breeding birds could be detected on the sound recordings.

E: Wow! It seems like a lot of information to go through though Are you coming back here then to your lab every night and having to go through the recordings? Or are you relying on volunteers or how are you... ultimately analyzing this information? Dr.


F: you're right, uh it's Really a challenge, analyze this huge information Up to now we can only estimate as a real species composition By listening to the recordings and other way as to develop some algorithms for automated analysis using a pattern recognition Algorithm it works not perfect, but at least the algorithm gives us a good indication (

E: yeah), but We'll be here.

E: Oh, that is a large battery Oh my god, this is!...this has to be at least 10 pounds! Dr. H-

F: Almost twenty!

E: oh my god! You hike this... I guess you'd have to! You hiked all the way with it.

I wasn't carrying anything. I wasn't even helping! Dr.


F: Now we are recording.

E: ah there it goes! we're back! Dr. H-

F: for the next round.

E: good. For another month Back at it. Why am I still holding this battery? I don't know.

Dr. H-

F: When we only want to check if a certain species is there, a one channel recording or stereo recording is excellent...(

E: mm-hmm) but when we want to estimate the density of birds, we use a four channel setup you can exactly estimate the direction from which an animal is calling and When you use a set up of different four channel recordings you can make a triangulation and has an exactly localizers about

E: so you can in you just kind of have a 360 acoustic understanding of where everything might be positioned rather than Just hearing things on either side and not knowing if it's in front of you or behind you. (Dr. H-

F: that's right.) So, you mentioned that that first recording that Was made back in 1951, anybody can listen to online. So, is it just that recording? or how much of this information... is available to the public and... Why digitize it in the first place? Dr.


F: digitizing those tape recordings is only way for conservation of tape recordings. Up to now, we have digitized almost a 96% we're also analog tapes, and I expect that we will finish the process of digitizing Within the next two years. (

E: That's amazing!) and I will be having a total approximately 120,000 recordings (

E: Wow) and up to now we have approximately 30,000 or 35,000 recordings online.

E: oh That's fantastic! so our audience could go on to the library today and Listen to some of the older recordings or even the more recent recordings. Dr. H-

F: Yes. There's no need to come here...

E: Yeah, I mean come and say hi to Karl, but... Dr. H-

F: and to look at the magnetic tapes.

E: yeah, which are very cool, by the way. but that's... I think that's fantastic that you're making such an effort to preserve this information, to make it available for people, and to... You know, inspire the next generation of people who want to use these techniques to monitor areas not just in Germany But anywhere in the world (Dr. H-

F: worldwide!) yeah, that's fantastic! Voiceover,

E: Before we go--I had the chance to speak with Dr. Sarah Darwin about her work on the citizen science project Nightingale City Berlin. Sarah and her colleagues are working with the Museum für Naturkunde's animal sound library to share and analyze the recordings of the migratory nightingale song, which are submitted by people from all over Berlin. Dr.

Darwin, British acccent: so the idea is that in Berlin every spring these lovely little brown birds--nightingales--migrate from Africa, and they come to Berlin and they sing on every street corner, every park, along railway sidings, in gardens. We're gonna have two scientific components. One will be Asking the public to go and record the nightingales in their local parks and gardens and put them onto the website-- And then the other will be in the autumn when the weather starts getting a bit dreary.

We're going to hopefully train people how to Analyze this song. Nightingale songs have around a thousand of different little melodies. (

E: really!) Yeah. I... so, I tried to write, um.. (

E: You tried to transcribe this!) my intent...and it's not easy because... (

E: can you, may be, recite the poem for us? okay Well, it's not really... it is nearly a song (

E: okay!) actually, so I can perform it. Okay, (

E: good) okay, um, so it kind of goes *speak/sings mimicking nightingale song* tick tick tick tick *mid tone, prolonged* twee twee twee *high, sudden* pop! quIdditch quidditch quidditch *low, fast* Tick-tick-tick *high sudden* tweet! brrrrrrrr *low, fast* Tick-tick-tick *high sudden* tweet! *laughs, claps*

E: Standing ovation, Sarah! That's really something! Dr.

D: oh, you're sweet. Well, it doesn't really sound very much like the actual bird,

E: I was convinced ( Dr. D were you) good!

E: aah! I love it, aah! [theme song] *squishing sound* I like playing in the mud! it still has brains on it