MCCS 0526: Field Recording and Analysis of Biological Sounds for Research and Conservation

Acoustic recording and monitoring have become mainstream tools for biological research and conservation, used to explore the biology of acoustically active animals in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Recording equipment and software for analyzing animal sounds are now readily available, but few opportunities exist for biologists to learn appropriate use of the equipment and software together. This two-week course fills that training gap. Participants learn how to make and document high-quality recordings under varying conditions and how to use acoustic analysis software to visualize and extract information from those recordings to address specific research and conservation questions.

Collaboratively taught by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Smithsonian, and George Mason researchers, the course focuses on practical techniques for acquiring and analyzing animal sound recordings under real-world field conditions. Participants gain practical skills in digital field recording methods and bioacoustic analysis techniques used to address research questions in conservation biology, behavioral ecology, and taxonomy and distribution, regarding acoustically active animals such as birds, anurans, insects, marine mammals, fish, and terrestrial mammals.

Each day, several hours of early-morning field recording are followed by lab-based lectures/discussions and hands-on analytical exercises. During week two, participants also undertake their own individual or group project, making and analyzing recordings to answer a specific research question. Throughout the course, we emphasize how to avoid common pitfalls and errors in both recording and analysis. We also discuss the limitations of acoustic methods and how to set realistic expectations when employing these techniques.

While the hands-on analytical training is focused on bioacoustics, with Raven Pro the main sound analysis software employed (course fee includes student license), we also discuss soundscape theory and the emerging field of ecological acoustics, and offer an overview of several software platforms used for acoustics, including ARBIMON, Ecosounds, and R-based packages.

Several hours daily of field recording–topics include:

  • digital recording theory
  • metering
  • field recording techniques
  • autonomous recorders
  • Selection/application of audio recorders & microphones: best features & tradeoffs
  • documentation for & archiving of sound recordings


Several hours daily of Lab/Acoustical Analysis in Raven Pro–topics include:

  • conceptual foundations of spectrogram analysis
  • optimizing spectrogram parameters
  • robust measurements
  • automated signal detection
  • quantitative comparison of spectrograms
  • efficient use of software for review of soundscape recordings


By the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Use a portable digital audio recorder and directional microphone to make high-quality field recordings of target animals under a variety of environmental conditions.
  • Document field recordings with appropriate metadata.
  • Prepare audio files for and use the Macaulay Library/eBird upload system to archive audio specimens.
  • Program, deploy, and extract audio data from an autonomous digital soundscape recorder.
  • Use sound analysis software to visualize and quantitatively describe animal sounds as appropriate to various research questions.
  • Use sound analysis software to efficiently review soundscape recordings for occurrence of sounds of interest, using a combination of automated and manual techniques; understand current limitations of automated processing software.
  • Understand, recognize, and avoid common errors in recording and analysis of animal sounds.
  • Apply best practices to scientific presentation of bioacoustic research results.

Instructional Cohort

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO): Greg Budney served as Macaulay Library’s Audio Curator for 27 years. The library houses the world’s oldest and largest archive of recorded animal sounds.  Greg has trained hundreds of biologists and citizen scientists in audio recording workshops since 1984.  Russ Charif is based at CLO’s  Bioacoustics Research Program, a leading center for development and application of innovative technologies for studying animal sounds. Russ has more than 25 years of experience with visualization and measurement of animal sounds and has taught numerous sound analysis workshops in the US and Latin America. Liz Rowland has 12 years working as an acoustic analyst  in CLO’s Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP)  where she’s now leading a team of student analysts for BRP’s Elephant Listening Program. Liz has been an instructor in BRP’s Sound Analysis Workshop since its inception in 2007.

From Smithsonian: Jessica Deichmann is a Research Scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), where she leads a team of biologists designing and implementing innovative research to address questions of species and ecosystem resilience in the face of anthropogenic change. She uses soundscape analysis to evaluate the impact of anthropogenic change on sound-producing animals. Jeremy Feinberg, a James Smithson Postdoctoral Fellow, is examining bioacoustic and morphological features within a species (leopard frogs) to explore for cryptic diversity and assess potential impacts from urban soundscapes and landscapes on frog populations and bioacoustical features. Kate Christen, an environmental historian and training manager, addresses the emerging alignments among bioacoustics and soundscape ecology.

From George Mason University: associate professor David Luther’s work addresses avian communication in the presence of background noise, in both urban and wilderness settings.


2018 dates not yet announced


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, USA

Application Procedure

Field Recording and Analysis of Biological Sounds for Research and Conservation is offered through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as a professional training course for 10 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Applications should be submitted using our Online Application Page. Before beginning our online application, please have .pdf or .doc versions of your updated CV and of your Personal Statement of Interest and Qualifications (maximum 350 words). You’ll be asked to attach these with your application.

Prerequisite: in addition to the online application, prospective participants must complete and submit the online pre-course survey, found at: Bioacoustics Pre-Course Survey

Course Costs

Your acceptance to the course does not guarantee you a seat in the course. Seats are allocated as registration payments are received, and prompt registration is strongly encouraged to ensure your space in the course.

The 2017 total cost for this two-week course was $2925.50 (Course fee of $2100 + Housing and Dining Package of $825.50). Those applying as citizens of “less-developed” nations qualified for a reduced course fee of $1200, making the total cost including housing (shared double room) and dining package $2025.50. Click HERE to check if your country of citizenship qualifies you for the reduced course fee.  2017 total course payment included:

  • Registration fees
  • Instruction, course manual, and other course materials (including 1-year renewable Raven Pro student license)
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off shuttle service at Dulles International Airport (IAD), the only Washington, DC-region airport for which SMSC provides ground transportation shuttle service. Individuals whose flight options are limited should plan to arrive the night before and book into overnight accommodation in the Dulles-Washington, DC vicinity, so they can meet this Sunday afternoon shuttle. Otherwise a taxi can be privately arranged by participant for approximately $140
  • Transportation for course activities
  • Daily full-service buffet-style dining at the SMSC Dining Commons
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost)


With course coordinator’s written approval in advance of registration/payment, local participants may elect to stay off campus, waive the housing and dining package, and commute to this course. Meals in the Dining Commons can then be purchased individually as needed.

For more information:  e-mail