Preserving Acadia National Park’s Vanishing Birdsong
This article is part of The State of Science, a series featuring science stories from public radio stations across the United States. This story was inspired by an article by Murray Carpenter for Maine Public.
Acadia National Park in Maine is home to more than 300 bird species. Climate change is affecting the range of many of these birds, to the extent that some may not be found in the area in the future. A team of volunteers has made it their mission to record as many bird sounds as possible—while they still can.
Laura Sebastianelli is the founder and lead researcher of the Schoodic Notes Bird Sounds of Acadia project. She’s helped collect more than 1,200 bird sounds on tape, with the hopes of aiding future researchers. Sebastianelli joins Ira to talk about the project.
Listen to some of Sebastianelli’s bird sounds in recordings taken around Acadia National Park:
Laura Sebastianelli is the founder of Schoodic Notes Bird Sounds of Acadia in Bar Harbor, Maine
– To end the hour, how about a hike in Acadia National Park, in Maine, home to more than 300 bird species. Birds like the blue-headed vireo–
–and the winter wren.
But climate change is affecting the park’s bird populations. So a team of volunteers has made it their mission to record as many bird sounds as possible, while they still can. Laura Sebastianelli is the founder and lead volunteer for the Schoodic Notes Bird Sounds of Acadia Project. That’s based at the Schoodic institute in Winter Harbor, Maine. Welcome to Science Friday.
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Thanks very much.
– OK, so why is it so important to capture these bird sounds now?
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Because with the current trajectory. Some of these birds won’t be here. In fact, a couple of them are already missing from the park.
– Is that right? Where do they go?
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Well, that’s an interesting question. Because often we say the birds are extirpated, and we kind of imagine in our heads that they have just flown off to, perhaps, a more northern location. But often, it means death to many birds who are going into a new territory, where other birds are already established. So we say that they’re extirpated and we just hope for the best.
– Hmm. And how many sounds have you collected so far, out of all those birds?
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Well we have about 1,200 recordings, many duplicates– meaning of the same species– because birds make a lot of different sounds. So we continue to record, for instance, a white-throated sparrow–
–because there’s a lot of different sounds that birds make. And some of that is a variation among the individuals, and others are just sounds that may not be heard very often.
– And what’s your goal? How many sounds do you think– how many different birds do you think you can actually collect?
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Well, I would like to hope that eventually we can at least get all of the land birds. It will be a lot more difficult to get ducks and, you know, shorebirds and waterfowl. But among the land birds, I would hope we could get all of them.
– And what will these sounds be used for? Can we get a recording of them?
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Well, they’ll be used for a lot of things. They’ll be used by researchers who are studying song, to kind of learn the who, what, why, where and, of the birds and what they’re communicating. It can also be just for pleasure. They can be used for, like you said, I’d really love to hear a winter wren.
And you can go to the Macaulay Library, and type in winter wren, and there are recordings from all over, not just Acadia National Park. But there are recordings of winter wrens there. They can be used for educational programs or outreach projects. So there are a lot of different uses for the recordings. But I would say, first and foremost, it’s a record of the natural history of the species– of that particular individual and of the species.
– Hmm. And you think that it will be preserved for forever?
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Well, as far as forever looks, the Macaulay Library is pretty much up there. So it has the largest collection of bird sounds in the world. So if ever you were going to try and preserve audio recordings, the Macaulay Library is an excellent choice.
– And what’s your hope for the legacy of the project?
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Well, the legacy has already been accomplished, which is the recordings themselves. So we purposely set up the project so that it would not be a project about charismatic personalities, if you will. People come and go. We pass away. And if we, then, have these recordings in drawers, and closets, and wherever we tucked them away, then they really don’t have a legacy. So it’s set up right, from the beginning, to put them in a place where everyone can access them, which is at the Macaulay Library, which is Cornell’s lab of ornithology.
– Well, we wish you good luck and hopefully we’ll be keeping in touch with you.
LAURA SEBASTIANELLI: Very good. We look forward to keeping in touch with you. Thank you.
– Laura Sebastianelli is the founder and lead volunteer for the Schoodic Notes Bird Sounds of Acadia Project, based at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor, Maine.