Applied Bioacoustics

Charleston, SC

Applied Bioacoustics is a service company dedicated to improving appreciation and conservation of animals in the wild, by means of the sounds they produce in their normal activities. The company is a sole proprietorship, operated by Arch McCallum. For several years we have been developing spectrogram-based tools to help birders and wildlife biologists improve their ability to identify birds by the sounds they make. Follow links below to get the flavor of this work. Or, contact us.



As part of the article on syntax for Birding (see below), I created three prototype spreads for a "field guide" to sonograms. You can review them by clicking the links below. Clicking on a sonogram will play the specific sound under the cursor. The Empidonax page, for example, is linked to 30 separate sound clips. Mouse over each sound it see its collection data.

Owls that Toot or Trill   Western Empids   Melospiza Sparrows and Allies

The links above go to pages that play sounds in the "wav" format. If you prefer "mp3" format, use the links below. MP3 files are compressed, making them smaller and faster to download. But, compression has distorted some of these mp3 cuts; the wav cuts sound better. It's your choice.

Owls that Toot or Trill   Western Empids   Melospiza Sparrows and Allies


Birding by Ear, Visually

Two articles by Arch McCallum on using sonograms to better understand bird sound and singing are in recent issues of Birding. Part 1, in the July 2010 issue, is on acoustics. It explains why sonograms look the way they do, and how sonographic shapes reflect the aural quality of a sound. Part 2, on songs and singing, appeared in the September 2011 issue. It explains syntax, i.e., how notes and phrases are combined into songs, and how songs are arranged in serenades. The magazine offers an exact replica of the print article in the form of a PDF, and also has a "Web Extra" that presents the sonograms and links to the sounds, so one can look and listen at the same time.

Birding by Ear, Visually, Part 1: Birding Acoustics
PDF of print article  Web Extra  About the Cover

Birding by Ear, Visually, Part 2: Syntax
PDF of print article   Web Extra  About the Cover

PDF of
by D. A. McCallum and N. D. Pieplow,
Western Birds 41(1):26-43, 2010.

PDF of
Analysis of multilocus DNA reveals hybridization in a contact zone between Empidonax flycatchers,
by Andrew C. Rush, Richard J. Cannings and Darren E. Irwin,
Journal of Avian Biology 40: 614-624, 2009.


"Western" Flycatcher Sounds

In 2005 I posted a site explaining the differences between the five major sounds of Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) and Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis), the species that were split out from the "Western Flycatcher" (Empidonax difficilis in the broad sense) in 1989. The unrevised 2005 version of that site may still be found at the same place, by following the link.

I am currently in the process of revising it, and modifying slightly the perspective. Go to Revised WEFL Site to see the work in progress. In particular, although the "core" populations of the two "species" are distinguishable vocally, geographically intermediate populations are also intermediate vocally. For the time being, I recommend against trying to put a name on those birds. Andrew Rush and I are currently seeking recordings of dawnsong from throughout the range to determine if the variation in measurable song attributes is continuous. We especially need recordings from Wyoming, western Colorado, Utah, northern Arizona, and Nevada. We also need recordings of dawnsong from Mexico, and recordings of the Yellowish Flycatcher (Empidonax flavescens), Western's very similar-looking and closest relative, from Chiapas through Nicaragua.

"Traill's" Flycatcher Sounds

In contrast to the situation with the "Western Flycatcher," the split of the former Traill's Flycatcher into the Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) and Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii in the narrow sense) has stood the test of time. They are "good species," and this judgment is uncontroversial. Although they are very similar morphologically and hence hard to tell apart visually, their songs and singing behavior differ profoundly. Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers have identical vocal repertoires, and use their repertoires in the same way. Their vocal differentiation is restricted to quantitative variaion in shared song-types. The calls of Alder and Willow Flycatcher are clearly related (though identifiable) and also differ only quantitatively. The major difference in their repertoires is that Willow Flycatcher has three song-types while Alder has only one. This results in Willow singing with variety, while Alder does not. I describe the entire repertoire of both species, and show how to tell them apart at Traill's Flycatcher sounds.

Empidonax Evolution

Chickadee songs in the Pacific Northwest

Downloadable Reports
on "Exploring the Use of Concurrent Sound Recordings To Improve the Reliability of the BBS"