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BOB PLANQUÉ & WILLEM-PIER VELLINGA. Xeno-canto: bird songs from tropical America.

songs from tropical America.

DB 2007:4

Two years ago, two Dutch recordists, Bob Planqué and
Willem-Pier Vellinga, started what is now the largest
free-of-costs website for birdsounds on the internet: This website is specialized in
birds of the Neotropics. What they have achieved in
such a short time is tremendous. At two years of age,
the website has reached adulthood. Around 13 000
recordings have been uploaded, by some 125 contributors,
and they are all downloadable in mp3-format.
They reflect almost 2850 species - according to the
guide lines that Xeno-canto follows. With over 4100
species recognized, the taxonomy used in this sound
database is up-to-date but also very progressive. The
guidelines of the South American Classification Committee
(SACC) are used and, when necessary, complemented
by the ones of the American Ornithologists'
Union (AOU).
The progressive taxonomy keeps recordists eager to
be the first to add a recently split, a newly described or
even yet-to-be described (sub)species to the database.
For instance, sounds of recently (re)discovered species
such as Recurve-billed Bushbird Clytoctantes alixii
(10+ downloadable recordings) and Manu Antbird
Cercomacra manu (four recordings) can be found.
Apart from Cuba and Patagonia, where relatively many
species are still missing, at least 80% - and in some
cases up to 90%! - of the birds occurring in any given
area in the region, are covered. As can be expected,
the recordings are of varying quality. It is easy to find a
good recording of a Rufous-collared Sparrow Zonotrichia
but some harder-to-record or rare
birds, such as the recently discovered Iquitos
Gnatcatcher Polioptila clementsi, can be somewhat
weak. 'Big names' from the region have uploaded their
bird sounds, like Frank Lambert and Sjoerd Mayer.
Tropical Birding co-founder Nick Athanas, one of the
most active contributors, proves that not all major tour
companies keep sounds of rare birds exclusively to
themselves. I can imagine many recording specialists
were not pleased with this initiative, as they were used
to publish CDs and CD-roms, or sell sounds on the
internet. But the share-ware generation has taken over.
The two young men in charge earn nothing with this
website. Only since recently the hosting costs are
covered by the National Museum of Natural History
Naturalis at Leiden, the Netherlands.
But just sharing sounds is not enough for the
founders. They add new tools to the site very frequently.
As a matter of fact, they are probably working on a
new tool at this very moment. Want an overview of
available sounds per country? Easy one. Interested in
threatened birds? Taken care of. Heard an unfamiliar
sound, but identified the other species singing around
your mystery bird? Check out which species associate
with other species, so you might get new clues that
lead to the identification. And if that does not help,
upload it as 'mystery sound' and some fanatic sound
nitwit will probably provide the answer. Sonagrams are
made automatically upon uploading, range maps in
Google Earth can be shown, including geographical
variation. A very nice feature is that sounds can be
uploaded to your iPod, including all the corresponding
data. In iTunes, all data are automatically shown in
separate columns. Contributors can debate with each
other on a forum about the identity of mystery or misidentified
uploaded sounds (usually corrected very
soon), improving the accuracy of the website. And
there are many more toys for birding boys (and girls...).
The founders even started to work on their ultimate
dream: fill in a mystery sound and identify it through
your computer! Planqué and Vellinga made a start with
this already, though this tool is far from perfect yet.
However, I wouldn't be surprised if they will one time
succeed in building a true sound identifier.
First of all, this website is a must for all birders
interested in Central and South America. Obtaining
bird sounds for a trip has never been so easy. More
than that, this website is a major breakthrough in presenting
bird sounds in general and should, therefore
alone, be in every birder's internet favourites list. Just
start up your computer and check it out yourself. And if
you do not have any commercial interests in publishing
CDs, DVDs or whatsoever, upload your Neotropical
bird sounds and help out your fellow birders. There is a
list of missing bird sounds. For example, common birds
like Sanderling Calidris alba and Red Knot C canutus
have still not been uploaded. And a commonly
encountered genus in the higher parts of South America,
Cinclodes, are very underrepresented: of the 13
recognized species, only three are in the database. So
go out and spend some time recording that Royal
Cinclodes C aricomae or White-bellied Cinclodes
C palliatus, two rare species that you will be after anyway!
But any recording - also the ones of common
birds already in the database - is welcome. The fact
that no sounds are refused gives you the opportunity to
store (part of) your personal collection on the internet
as well. When the world wide web became accessible
to the public, formerly expensive trip reports became
freely available. This is yet another major step in
sharing information on birds online. VINCENT VAN DER



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