Sound is a distinct part of an ecosystem. The soundscapes in the galleries are designed to add another level to the immersive experience – they aren’t just background noise! Many of the species that can be viewed in the exhibits have a corresponding sound in the gallery’s soundscape.
In an ecosystem, sounds are part of an animal’s habitat, offering clues about the surrounding environment as well as being a tool to communicate with others. For example, when a hawk flies by and screams, mice and other rodents nearby will scurry away.
Some of the sounds used in the soundscapes came from the Macaulay Library at Cornell University, which features the largest archive of animal sounds in the world, with new material constantly uploaded. For example, the Pileated Woodpecker sound, heard as part of the Regional Journey’s Temperate Forest soundscape, was initially recorded locally and uploaded to the Macaulay Library by Dr. Matthew Halley, the museum’s Assistant Curator of Birds. These resources help power Cornell’s Merlin app, which can be used by bird watchers in the field to identify birds by photo and sound.
Listen to Dr. Matthew Halley, the museum’s Assistant Curator of Birds, talk about the soundscapes in the Regional Journey Gallery and what we can learn from the sounds we hear.
Transcript: Regional Journey Soundscapes
Hi. Welcome to the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science Regional Journey Gallery. My name is Matthew Halley, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the soundscapes that we hear today in our gallery.
We’ve got multiple habitats that are found in the mid-Atlantic region, a deciduous forest, temperate forest habitat. We have the Delaware Bay and salt marshes and the cypress swamp, and each of these habitats has a different soundscape.
We hear different animals and different crashing waves or the rustling of the leaves. There’s all sorts of sounds that are happening in nature.
When we go into these habitats and the animals are calling out for different reasons that scientists like to argue about, about whether they’re saying, here I am, here I am, or they’re staking a claim to a certain area and resources, or maybe they’re trying to attract a mate or attract some companions.
But regardless of the reason, these animals have to live in a in a soundscape and they listen to all these different sounds and they react to the sounds in their life, which helps them to survive. And when the hawk flies over and gives its scream, you can be sure that the mice that are under the hawk are scurrying into a safe corner.
So, birds make different kinds of sounds and scientists call them calls or songs. But we don’t have any clear-cut definitions for those words. Some sounds are shorter and less complex, such as when a Blue Jay goes “jay…jay.”
Other songs are a lot more complicated. When the robin is singing, it’s warbling song going on and on. It seems like it doesn’t repeat itself very often.
And then we have the mockingbird, which, you know, can go on for an hour, and we don’t hear anything from the same. You know, it’s constantly coming up with new syllables in its song so that we might think of that as kind of a gradient of complexity in bird vocalizations. And one of the things that some that scientists have figured out is that some vocalizations are learned and other vocalizations seem not to be learned.
So, the Phoebe that makes it’s Phoebe, Phoebe call that will develop normally in a baby Phoebe, without hearing an adult. If it grows up in an acoustic isolation chamber, that little Phoebe is still going to say “Phoebe, Phoebe.”
And it’s going to be indistinguishable from a baby Phoebe that grew up in a forest full of Phoebes.
But some other songs: here we’ve got the wood thrush singing in the soundscape, the wood thrush, that flute section in the middle of its song. When you raise a wood thrush in isolation that’s middle, part of the song gets kind of flat and unmusical. And so, it seems that the wood thrush needs to grow up around other wood thrushes to have a tutor to learn how to sing its song correctly.
And when I say correctly, I mean just to sing to produce a normal song that will achieve the functions of the song, whatever they may be, whether it’s territorial defense or attracting a mate. The more your song deviates from the normal, that might have an effect on whether you’re successful surviving or reproducing.
Four rotating soundscapes in the Regional Journey feature many of the birds seen in the exhibits. Listen closely: there’s also a frog, squirrel, and a fishing reel!
In the Alison K. Bradford Global Journey Gallery, soundscapes including a variety of birds, mammals, and insects rotating through the land-based ecosystems.