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Last sync:2023-01-15 23:30
Considering how sweaty and dehydrated I became during this film shoot, it's remarkable that Ernesto and the rest of the bird team were diligently out for long periods of time, at all hours of the day and night, to listen for the birds of the Amazon.

These assessments - recording the calls and sightings of birds - helps inform distribution and range of known species, the information used to update maps and increase our knowledge about these animals and their habitats. Check out these revised maps!:

This is a segment in a series about The Field Museum's Rapid Inventory No. 27, a journey through the forests between the rivers Tapiche and Blanco in Peru. Every year, the Museum's conservation group [the Action Center!] gathers together leading scientific experts across a number of disciplines (botany, zoology, geology, and anthropology) in order to gain an understanding of little-known areas of the rainforest. They work with local communities and their governments to help inform decisions made for conserving these unique, precious, and threatened parts of the world.

To learn more about the Rapid Inventory program, check out the other Amazon Adventures!

Read more about The Field Museum's Rapid Inventory programs:

This expedition would not have been possible without the generosity and help of Corine Vriesendorp, Nigel Pitman, Alvaro del Campo, Tyana Wachter, Ernesto Ruelas, and the rest of the Rapid Inventory team. Thank you for allowing us to join you on this journey, and for giving us the trip of a lifetime.

Special thanks to Ernesto Ruelas for taking us along on his stroll through the jungle!


Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Writer, Editor, Camera:
Tom McNamara

Theme music:
Michael Aranda

Created By:
Hank Green

Production Assistant:
Katie Kirby

This week's songs are from:
Saint-Saëns - Le carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) (1886)
Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Filmed on location between the rivers Tapiche and Blanco in Peru.

We'd like to sing praises to our lovely transcribers and translators: Caitrin McCullough, Martina Šafusová, and Tony Chu.

(0:00) *Theme Song*

(0:07) *Bird calls with background music*

(0:33) EMILY: Hey, so we're here with Ernesto Ruelas, who is an ornithologist with the Action Center, aaaand what are we going to be doing today?

ERNESTO: What we're going to do is follow Trail 4, we're going to be looking for birds. So the way we do this work is we follow the pre-opened trails that Álvaro has worked on for several weeks.

(0:51) *Álvaro shouts something* 

ERNESTO: And, uh, we look for birds. We do this at a slow pace so we can detect as many as we can.

EMILY: What should we keep in mind while we're doing this? Like, be quiet?

ERNESTO: This is the most complex bird landscape that you can find in the world, so that takes a lot of work. First is to be aware that most of the birds that we'll be recording, we won't see. 80% of the birds we only listen to. 

(1:13) *Music and jungle sounds accompany shots of the forest and birds*

ERNESTO (Showing each item): I have 7x42 binoculars who have great light. They're really good for working in the forest with them. I have a field guide to the birds of Peru, my notebook to take notes, an iPod with headphones, a tape recorder. This is one model that a lot of the bird people really like. A unidirectional microphone with a handle. I do a lot of recordings primarily for learning....

EMILY: Mmhmm.

ERNESTO: ...and then I go back to my reference collection to figure out what I'm hearing. 

EMILY: Oh, that's great. Cool. (Thumbs up) I hope we find some birds. 

(1:59) *Music accompanies footage of exploring the forest*

(2:06) ERNESTO: We have the piha there. 

(2:11) ERNESTO: *Imitates bird call* 

EMILY: Yeah, the one that makes a lot of noise?

*Ernesto whistles again*

EMILY: Yeah, the "wee-woo"

ERNESTO: Yeah. Wizwincho, they call it in Spanish. 

EMILY: Yeah?

ERNESTO: "Wizwincho!"
*Both laugh*

EMILY: What does that translate to?

ERNESTO: *Laughing* Nothing. It doesn't mean anything. 

EMILY: It's just nonsense?

ERNESTO: It's just a call, yeah. 

EMILY: It's like the most indicative, like, rainforest bird noise. 

ERNESTO: Yeah. Right here, it is. So we have another bird back there...

(2:38) *More music and bird watching footage*

(3:06) EMILY: Does it just take practice to differentiate between, like, the insect noises and the bird noises?

ERNESTO: You got - you are mislead all the time. I mean, telling insects from birds seems like a dumb thing, but it happens often that you can't figure out what it is. 

EMILY: Yeah. 

ERNESTO: And, uh, and also mammals. 

EMILY: Really?

ERNESTO: Yes. They - some of them have bird-like calls. 

(3:31) MAN'S VOICE: That's leafcutter ants down there, Emily. 

EMILY: Really?

MAN: Yeah. On this log. 

EMILY: That's cool. Oh, that guy's got a piece of toilet paper from camp. *Both laugh*

(3:46) *More bird watching footage and music*

(3:50) EMILY: Do you know what kind?

ERNESTO: They call it "tio juan" - Uncle Juan. *Imitates call* "Tio juan, juan, juan!" *Searching through book* Where is it? White-throated Toucan.

EMILY: Wow. How beautiful. So what do you do with all of this new information? If you're seeing, like, different species, like, crossing. You're hearing them in different forests. And, and, does this immediately go into the new field guide, or do you publish a new paper about distribution?

ERNESTO: I think the speed of change and the fact that many of the places in the western Amazon haven't been explored that deeply makes you run into these range extensions very often...

EMILY: Yeah...

ERNESTO: ...and it's not that you're discovering the greatest thing, it's just that the place has been overlooked in time. 

EMILY: Yeah. 

ERNESTO: We can upload them in systems online, like e-bird, where you can map you records in different places, and whenever the next edition of the field guide to the birds of Peru comes out, then the maps will be re-drawn. 

(4:52) *Music and footage*

(5:05) ERNESTO: So I have a Flycatcher and I have an Antbird, and I was trying to focus on the Antbird, because the Flycatcher I have recorded many times - it's somewhat common...

EMILY: Mmhmm.

ERNESTO: ... and the, and I think I got a pretty bad recording of both. 

*both laugh*

MAN: So when there's, like, a cacophony of sounds like this - I'm sure it can be more intense in other cases - how do you zero in on something in your recording?

ERNESTO: You can have longer microphones that are narrower, that narrow down the angle of what you're recording, and that helps a lot, but for the most part, you can't really do much if there's competing voices in the same spot. If you have a flock of Antbirds following a swarm of Army ants...

EMILY: Yeah...

ERNESTO: ...and you hear multiple voices and there is a lot of excitement, and it's very difficult to get a recording of a single species, unless it's the only one following the ants, which is really rare. 

(6:01) EMILY: Well, we've been out for a little over an hour. I am incredibly sweaty, um, and what's the conclusion? What did we see?

ERNESTO: Today on this walk, about an hour and fifteen minutes, we probably heard, uh, twenty, twenty five species...

EMILY: Really?

ERNESTO: ... and we saw, like, two.

EMILY: Yeah, I saw one dove fly over really quickly, and you saw a toucan. 

ERNESTO: I saw a toucan. 

EMILY: So what I've learned about bird watching is it's more about the other things that you see while you are trying to listen for birds. 

ERNESTO: Right. 

EMILY: They should call it bird listening, not bird watching. 

ERNESTO: In this case, yes, you're totally right.  

EMILY: *Laughs* Cool. 

(6:45) Theme song and end credits