News / USA

    Decoding Bird Calls to Avoid Plane Strikes

    Software deciphers the calls birds use to communicate on their migration routes

    Chart showing the various birds and what the waveform of their call looks like.
    Chart showing the various birds and what the waveform of their call looks like.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Erika Celeste

    Birds and planes have been colliding since the Wright brothers first took to the air.

    There are dozens of bird strikes each day, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to airplanes each year, and putting the lives of passengers and crew members at risk. Researchers at Cornell Lab of Ornithology are now working on a way to help prevent collisions, by deciphering the calls birds use to communicate on their migration routes.

    Rosetta Stone for birds

    There's more to the language of birds than songs. They also use short calls - less than a second long. And each species speaks its own language.

    Ken Rosenberg has been an avid bird-watcher since he was a boy. Today he works at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, unraveling avian mysteries. He says that birds use these short calls most often during migration.

    "What we suspect is that these are calls that the birds are actually using to communicate back and forth, to locate each other," he says. "'Don't crash into me!' Of course, we're guessing, but given the way they call, it's really just a social thing."

    Birds use short calls - less than a second long. And each species speaks its own language.
    Birds use short calls - less than a second long. And each species speaks its own language.

    Until recently scientists weren't aware of the extent of these calls, because most bird migration takes place at night.

    "It really began with amateur bird watchers who were noticing these sounds in the sky and knew that they were birds migrating overhead," says Rosenberg. "A few people became detectives and tried to figure out what these sounds were."

    Bird call detectives

    The migratory flyways over the United States are crowded with billions of birds every spring and fall.

    By aiming special microphones at the night sky during these times and recording the passing calls, scientists realized they could determine what kinds of birds were flying overhead, and learn their migration schedules and flight paths. But there was a lot of sky to cover.

    Pat Leonard, also with the lab, says they turned to military bases and amateur birders to help record the sounds. "We couldn't do that any other way if we didn't have everyday birders out there collecting that information for us. There are just too many birds and too many places."

    Cornell's Lab of Ornithology is busy unraveling avian mysteries.
    Cornell's Lab of Ornithology is busy unraveling avian mysteries.

    And maybe too much data. Each location recorded eight hours worth of tape nightly, all of which had to be listened to in real time. And many of these short calls sound very similar to the untrained ear.

    One recording contains the calls of 48 different types of warblers. The Ornithology Lab teamed up with Cornell University's Bioacoustic Research Program to develop software that would decode the birdcalls.

    Decoding the calls

    The program can isolate the unique characteristics of each thrush species into algorithms much like voice recognition software. After processing, individual calls become more pronounced.

    "It still may always take a human to review the results, but it should eliminate all the steps of having to sit and listen and watch the thing go by on the screen," says Rosenberg.

    That means more researchers can work on night flight call projects more quickly. That data should reveal what species are flying where and when.

    Developing a knowledge base of various migration flight paths and characteristics will help scientists advise airbases and airports of the best routes and times to fly to avoid large flocks of birds.

    The information can also impact plans for wind turbine farms and communication towers, so they're not placed where migrating birds will fly into them. And, Rosenberg says, it will help environmentalists better gauge another pressing issue:

    "Birds are very sensitive indicators of the health of the overall environment. In terms of their migration, knowing whether the timing of their migration is shifting from year to year is one of the best clues that global warming is actually happening."

    A prototype of the software will be ready in approximately a year to 18 months.

    You May Like

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora