Category Archives: Night Flight Calls

First Location of Song Meter SM3

As the first group members to use the Song Meter SM3, Sarah Kearsley and I were not only the first ones to read through the manual and set the program, but we were also the first members of our group to choose a set up location for our device to record night flight bird calls.  The location of the Song Meter SM3 is very important to our research because it needs to be in an area that exists as a habitat to birds, is removed from extraneous noises, and high up enough to catch the bird calls.  In addition, because this recording device is very expensive and university owned, we wanted to place the Song Meter SM3 in a safe area on campus where the honor code is enforced.

We began by brainstorming many different places around grounds such as the top of Observatory Hill, outside of our house on Madison Lane, in the garden area atop Carrs Hill, in the wooded area by the Dell Pond, and even on the Lawn.  Slowly though we began weeding each area out.  The Lawn and the exterior of our house on Madison Lane experience a lot of pedestrian traffic, which could potentially lead to extraneous sounds on the recording device, as well as the possibility of being stolen.  Next we removed the idea of placing the device by the wooded area near the Dell Pond.  This is because the Dell Pond is too close to the busy street of Emmet Street, which is a University Bus Route and would cause too much extraneous noise from the vehicle traffic.  Our final options were the top of Observatory Hill and in the garden area atop Carrs Hill.  Because we planned to research two separate areas around grounds, we chose the location of the garden area atop Carrs Hill because it was closer to our house, a more unique space, and more secluded than other surrounding areas.  This location can be seen in the satellite image below, designated by the red arrow.  In addition to the map below, I have also included some images of the sound recording device as we secured it in the tree with a thick string between two branches.

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Post by Sarah Riedel

Learning How to Use the Song Meter SM3

My housemate Sarah Riedel and I were the first group members to attempt to use the Song Meter SM3. Before we were able to begin recording the first Birds Night Flight Calls (NFCs) for our blog we had to learn how to use this device and program it for the appropriate time decided at our group meeting – dawn for three hours. At first glance the SM3 looked very easy to use however, after turning the pages of the manual a few times we realized that it would not be as easy as anticipated.

“The most advanced and most adaptable professional bioacoustics recorder available,” according to the Bioacoustics Monitoring Systems homepage, the SM3 is a long-deployment acoustic recorder that is used to record combinations of birds, frogs, and insects and or marine life. It can be powered by batteries or by an external power source, and runs on low power during standby before or after the hours of the day that are recorded. This is important because there are long periods of the day, primarily at dusk and dawn, when birds are likely to make NFCs and it is crucial that the recording device collect accurate data during these times.

The first steps involved in setting up the SM3 were turning the machine on, clearing the SD card, and testing the two built-in microphones to ensure that they were functioning and at a frequency sensitive enough to record the NFCs. After this we checked the SM3’s GPS unit to confirm that the longitude and latitude were correct so it would record during dawn and not an earlier or later time of the morning that may not have as much bird traffic. Once the preliminary steps were completed we had to select and load one of the preset programs, for our research purposes this was dawn for three hours, then start the program. Once the program was started a message came up alerting us that the SM3 was waiting to record. On the night of April 14, 2015 we set up the machine in a tree in the garden above Campbell Hall, and retrieved it the next morning.

Initially it seemed as if the machine had not recorded any data, which worried us briefly before we went back to the handbook and realized that exporting the program to the SD card was an additional step outlined in the recording process. We then passed it on to another group member to listen to and analyze the data that was collected! Learning how to use this device was both entertaining and a bit stressful, but I believe that advanced technology such as this is the best way to record NFCs, and more, in a highly efficient and reliable way. Its unique ability to record simultaneously makes it a really great resource to have available to the planning and architecture department, and could be used to study wider breadths of species in the community.

 Post by Sarah Kearsley

Information regarding the SM3: “Bioacoustics Monitoring Systems.” Wildlife Acoustics. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <>.

Research Goals and Strategies

As we begin our research we have decided to study the nighttime bird activity and calls around grounds through a set of simple comparisons of site, consisting of altitude, tree coverage, and time of night. We have chosen two sites; the first, on top of Observatory Hill, at a high altitude with a relatively large amount of tree coverage, and the second at the bottom of the UVa Arts grounds, at one of the lowest altitudes on grounds with relatively little tree coverage.  Both sites feature building structures, but relatively low pedestrian traffic, and as a control we will be recording on nights with good weather and low amounts of cloud cover.

Our recordings will take place during the second week of April, for 2 hours just after sunset and another two hours between 2am and 4am, just before dawn. According the Monticello Bird Club, a local birding organization our group has just begun communicating with, the birds should be especially active during this time, as the primary spring migration takes place from April 15 to May 15. Also, the birds begin feeding and are most active in the early hours of the morning, especially on Observatory Hill, which is one of the Monticello Bird Clubs recommended birding sites, and where over 15 species of warblers and vireos can often be seen be seen feeding (Klotz, 2).

At this time our research is primarily focused on the amount of bird sounds heard during each time period, as this quantity corresponds to overall nighttime bird activity. However, later we would be interested to compare the activity of different bird species during these times, but we are not yet sure how capable our recording devise and computer programs are of differentiating between the sounds of different species. This information could be interesting because there is some evidence that the amount of birds as well as overall diversity of species has been decreasing in the Charlottesville area since the 1990’s (Hogg 2). The eastern Whip-poor-will, the common nighthawk, and the short eared owl are three nocturnal bird species that have been flagged by the Southern Appalachian Bird Conservancy, and Atlantic Coast Joint Venture (Watson 96).

Works Cited

Klotz, Ken, and Dave Hogg. “Observatory Mountain.” A Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia and Vicinity. Charlottesville: Monticello Bird Club, 2003. 1-2. Print.

Watson, Keith. “Night Birds.” The Piedmont Bird Conservation Region (BCR 29) Implementation Plan. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Sevierville: ACJV, 2014. 92. Print.

Post by Christine Bauk, Second Year, Architecture

Night Flight Calls of Birds – An Introduction

This semester, our team will be studying the night flight calls of birds as observed across the UVA campus. Despite their great intrigue and potentially impactful meaning, night flight calls are a topic yet to be well understood even by experts in the field. As a result, some background is necessary before delving into research.

Bird night flight calls (NFCs) are not the bird song or chirping that to which we are accustomed; not mellifluous like normal, these calls are instead usually short, low buzzes or whispers, lasting a maximum of just half a second. Though their short, monotonous nature may suggest otherwise, night flight calls are a complex language – each species features its own unique method of calling, be that in tone, length, or pattern of calls. Most often heard during migrations (hence their occurrences at night), it is speculated that these calls, at a fundamental level, are bird communication, helping birds remain in flock, keep formation, and warn others of potential collision or danger. Current professional research in the subject seeks to analyze NFCs to understand how birds navigate through cities, the way in which various bird species respond to the stress of urban areas (primarily, whether birds stop or not), and what measures can be taken to make cities more bird-friendly.

Our primary research goal will be analyzing the frequency and abundance of NFCs heard around UVA grounds. Albemarle County is on the migratory flight path of a number of bird species, and UVA has been cited as a prime spot to observe bird migration; the Monticello Bird Club has documented almost 24 different species of warblers that migrate over the O’Hill area, as well as various species of tanagers, orioles, and other forest birds. Moreover, birds over grounds are most active during spring migration (April 15 to May 15), which coincides nicely with our time of research. A brief analysis of migratory time tables of birds in Charlottesville cross referenced with a list of species found at UVA shows that our analysis will certainly take place within time range of Palm Warbler migration, and potentially within the time range of Bay-Breasted, Blackburnian, and Cerulean Warbler migrations. As a result, we should not only be able to observe great diversity in the NFCs heard, but more importantly hear enough NFCs to draw conclusions about NFC frequency and abundance.

Post by Aaron Weinstock

General background information from: “Nocturnal Migrant Flight Call Research,” by the Bioacoustics Research Lab at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, found at; “Listening to Migratory Birds at Night May Help Ensure Their Safety” by T. Edward Hickens, from the National Audubon Society’s “Audubon Magazine” Sept-Oct 2013 issue, found at

UVA and Charlottesville information from: “Observatory Mountain” by Dave Hogg, from Ken Klotz’s “A Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia, and Vicinity” published by the Monticello Bird Club, found at; “Virginia Spring Migration,” from the “Spring and Fall Migration Table,” found at

Traffic in the Sky, Unnoticed

Yet another semester has quickly passed beneath our consciousness in the transient few years of our time at UVa.  Little do we know, another fleeting force is at work this springtime in Charlottesville.  While we rest at night, it discreetly flaps by our windows; indeed, the city comes alive at night.  Springtime calls for traffic in the sky as migratory birds pass by and stop to rest on our rooftops, in our trees, unseen and above our night vision.

Distractions of the modern world unfortunately prevent humans from fully being able to appreciate our feathered friends’ swift calls.  In a city such as Charlottesville, bird migration sounds are difficult to hear, as they are often overridden by the noise of cars and other city bustle.  This speaks to the mild pressures of human growth upon the natural environment; despite city movement, bird migrations remain subdued but unaltered.

More importantly, their migration calls become muted by the conscious distractions that humans wedge between nature and ourselves.  The lifestyles humans have collectively adopted prevent us from truly being able to notice the nature surrounding us.  For instance, much of our time spent in transit, whether taking a leisurely stroll walking to class, is consumed by the distractions pulling us into our handheld electronic devices.   Walking down the road, one will inevitably pass by people staring at the screens on their phones or wearing headphones while walking.  Though these practices are socially acceptable when walking outdoors, they consume the sight and hearing senses of the person distracted by his phone, and he will inevitably miss much of the natural world surrounding him.  Practices such as listening to headphones while outdoors completely detract from one’s natural experience with the world.

Hence, bird migratory calls are an unnoticed treasure.  They surround us this spring; let us remove our headphones and appreciate music of the night.

Post by Kristen Musselman

Listening at a Higher Altitude

Our group focused on the night flight calls of birds that pass through the Charlottesville area. This involved procuring special equipment that would allow us to catch the sounds of birds as they flew hundreds of feet above the ground. The sound recording system – while it did only come in a few weeks ago – proved a very effective way of capturing these calls. Of course, many factors played into the final result, including street level disturbances and recording timings, but I ultimately was able to collect some data.

From those in the group that recorded on nights before me, I was told that the ideal time for capturing bird calls was around dusk. In fact, the recording equipment had a setting that recorded from dusk until dawn. I placed the equipment on the roof of my building on 14th Street and waited until around 1 AM to take it down.

Around the beginning of the recording, most of what I heard was coming from appliances on the roof and music from people’s apartments. As the night wore on, however, I was able to hear what seemed to be various night calls. While I still have no way of being completely certain of what I heard, I compared some of the sounds I heard to established information of birds that travel through the Charlottesville area. I believe I recorded the movement of warblers, finches, and sparrows – many of which are passing by as they migrate. This data coincides with the fact that I see many finches and sparrows during the day – although I am not familiar with warblers. A very helpful resource for my resource was the Monticello Bird Club, which is the primary database of information on bird life in the area.

For future experimentation, I would definitely suggest grouping this knowledge with the other bird group in order to figure out which species are more native to the area and which are simply passing by.

Post by Pranay Advani

Quiet Time

After learning how to set up the program on the Song Meter SM3, I started recording for 2 hours on the night of April 9th. The recordings stopped and re-started every half hour until around 2:30 am. I placed it on the top floor balcony of my 6th floor apartment here in Charlottesville. The recordings I collected sadly didn’t render any sounds from birds, but there was a lot of other nightlife recorded.

Considering that my apartment is in a pretty urban area in Charlottesville, sounds that the SM3 picked up from people and cars most likely drowned out any potential bird night calls I might have heard from nocturnal birds during the time I was recording. This made me realize how easily we overlook bird night calls in more urban areas. I also learned the hard way that birds are most active at around dusk and dawn, so recording closer to those times would have been ideal.

Although I didn’t get to hear any myself, I did some research to find out about what birds are migrating through Charlottesville right now. Looking at observations from different parks around the Rivanna trails right around central Charlottesville, I found that the Louisiana Waterthrush, Hooded Warbler, Redstart, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, White-eyed Vireo, and Yellow-breasted Chat are the most common birds seen in parks around my area in the spring.

Here is a map of the parks around Charlottesville where these birdes frequent in the Spring:


The parks I paid most attention to because they are closest to where I was recording are McIntire and Riverview Parks.

Post by Niki Goncalves, Second-Year

No Night Flight Calls

My partner and I, Nikki Goncalves, used the bird call recording equipment  to record bird night flight calls.  Nikki lives on the 6th floor of an apartment building in Charlottesville, so on Wednesday, April 10th, we placed the machine on her balcony and recorded for a couple of hours starting at 1:00AM.  We came back the next morning to retrieve the memory card and I listened to a few hours of the recording.  Unfortunately, I did not hear a single bird sound.  Through the entire recording, I heard a lot of static noises, which were probably a result of the wind and the machine itself.  At first I was concerned that the machine was not working since I was not hearing any birds but then I started hearing unexpected noises created by humans.  I heard music playing at random points, people talking, a car driving by and even a honk.  39 minutes into the recording, I was even able to make out the words in a conversation two boys were having.  I am assuming these noises were a result of the people living in apartments that surround the balcony and also just the typical noises of a Charlottesville street.  15 minutes and 46 seconds into the video, I thought I may have heard a bird but it turned out to just be what sounded like a dog squealing.

After finishing the recording, I was concerned that I did not hear a single bird call, but even as I am sitting at my desk tonight I do not hear a chirp outside.  After doing some research, I concluded that birds are more likely to migrate during the end of spring and the beginning of summer, and it is still the start of spring here.  A “Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville,” written by the Monticello Bird Club, claims that the birds that do migrate over Charlottesville during the Spring migrate at the end of April and the beginning of May, in which 50 species can be seen.  One bird specifically, the Warbler, is known to migrate over Charlottesville between April 15th-May 15th.  Unfortunately my week of recording was the week prior to this period and thus I did not hear any Warblers.  Hopefully the people in my group who are assigned to record during that period will record birdcalls!

Lastly, another factor that could have affected my results is global warming.  We have had an extremely cold and long winter, and even during the beginning of spring there are random drops in temperature.  This might affect or alter birds’ migration patterns and cause them to migrate later than expected.  Because of this, I unfortunately did not hear bird sounds during my April 10th recording.


Koltz, K. (2003, May 1). A Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia and Vicinity. Retrieved April 14, 2014, from’s%20Gude%20to%20Charlottesvile%20&%20Vicinity_rev%20June%202009.pdf

Recording notes:


-very static

-people yelling


-slamming noise

-car driving by

-man screaming (4 min)

-dog bark at 5 min

-crash noise at 9:10

-picking up neighborhood sounds but no bird sounds

-15:46- dog barking? squealing?

-alot of people talking

-23:07 car passing

-convo at 39:02

-still mainly static

Post by Jordana Greenberg, Third-Year, Architecture

Night Flight Calls and Migrations over UVA

Our group has been working and coordinating efforts to record bird calls at night over Grounds.  This information will give us an insight into bird migrations at night and what birds are flying over the University of Virginia.

This device is the Song Meter SM3 that I used to record the sounds/calls of birds at night.  It is a reliable solution for the periodic, seasonal, or ongoing long-term acoustic monitoring of birds, frogs, and other wildlife in any field conditions.  You can program the device to record when you want and as long as you need.

Photo by Justin Midkiff

The Song Meter SM3 has the battery life and memory capacity to record for hundreds of hours and can be used outdoors for extended durations.  The owner’s manual even says that it is the most technologically advanced bioacoustics recorder on the market!  I found the device relatively easy to use as well and it even recorded the sounds and calls of birds that I could not even hear myself!  It makes the unknown and mysterious sky visible! All you have to do is insert an SD memory card into the storage compartment and on the main screen you click (Programs>Load Program) and then you pick whether to record for 30 minutes, 24 hours, 3 hours after Dusk, or 3 hours after Dawn.  Then after you have loaded the program and chosen your calibration, hit the PROGRAM START button!  When you are done hit PROGRAM STOP and then click the EXPORT PROGRAM button in order to retrieve the data onto the memory card.

My Research:

I began using the Song Meter SM3 to monitor birds from the night of Friday, April 4, 2014 to the night of Monday, April 7, 2014.  I decided to set the recording acoustics to 3 hours after dusk and record for a few hours.  Not only did I hear many bird calls myself, but the Song Meter SM3 was able to record bird calls that I was unable to hear.  I conducted my recordings within the vicinity of Brandon Avenue via Gibson Hall and Bice Apartments.  After the recordings and exporting the program onto my memory card, all I had to do was insert the memory card into my PC and view and hear the recordings on Windows Media Player.

Whose Call Was That?

The two most frequent calls that I heard through these nights came from a flock of migratory birds such as the Canadian Geese and Palm Warblers.  To verify my findings and what I heard I used various sites that played the recordings and sounds of these two bird species. Below is the link to the Palm Warbler:

Photo from

The Palm Warbler is a small, song migratory bird that has a brownish back, chestnut cap, a bright yellow under-tail who constantly wags its tail.  Its underparts are a yellowish coloring.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology via “All About Birds” gives information about the identification, life history, sounds, and geographic range and migration patterns and maps about the Palm Warbler found at:

In order to verify that this was the culprit that I heard I found the Virginia Bird Migration Data and website very helpful.  The following table was found at

Virginia Spring Migration



Arrival Date

Departure Date

Common Name

Scientific Name


Charlottesville April 22 American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
May 28 Bay-breasted Warbler Dendroica castanea
May 22 Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens
May 28 Blackburnian Warbler Dendroica fusca
May 3 Canada Warbler Wilsonia canadensis
April 13 Cerulean Warbler Dendroica cerulea
May 23 Chestnut-sided Warbler Dendroica pensylvanica
May 1 Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus
March 27 May 31 Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum
May 4 Wilson’s Warbler Wilsonia pusilla

Based on this data, I was in the “prime time” of hearing the Palm Warbler.

The other calls that I heard came from a flock of migratory, waterfowls such as the Canadian Geese.  Canadian geese are big water birds that have a long neck, a large body, large webbed feet and a wide, flat bill.  They have a black head with white cheeks and chinstrap, black necks, and a tan breast.  They are often seen in flight moving in pairs or flocks and can be seen forming a V-formation.  They are found just about anywhere in the country.  The sounds of these birds can be heard at the following site:

Photo from Google.

There is also interesting information about UVA’s local bird watchers such as the Monticello Bird Club that has a “Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia and Vicinity” pamphlet found at:

Post by Justin D. Midkiff, Third-Year, American Politics

The Sound of Silence, but Not for Long

I began the Bird Night Flight Calls’ first recording at approximately 12:00 AM on Friday, April 4th on Observatory Hill and it stopped at 3:00 AM on Friday, April 4th. However, upon listening to the three hour recording, I was disheartened to discover that no bird sounds had been recorded, just the shuffling of nocturnal creatures and the leaves blowing in the wind.

After further research into the Monticello Bird Club’s Guide of Charlottesville, I learned that most birds that migrate through Observatory Hill do so between April 15th and May 15th, and of those birds, as many as 15 different species of warblers can be identified.[1] They usually “descend at night and actively feed in the early mornings”.[2] On the contrast, birds that are currently residing in Charlottesville, are diurnal and thus, do not make night calls. Below is a picture of a Blackburnian Warbler and a website which you can hear the recording of the bird.[3] This is a common migratory species found at Observatory Hill in late April:

Photo Credit: Christopher L. Wood

Warblers, among other migratory species at Observatory Hill, use high frequency calls, which can be heard optimally until five hours after sunset, after which the number of calls heard decreases.[4] Other species of birds commonly found on Observatory Hill that are not migratory, such as Thrushes, are usually found during the summer. Thrushes, for example, project mid-frequency calls that are best heard a couple hours before sunrise.[5] Therefore, it is best to listen to either migratory birds or birds just after sunset and before sunrise which is when our group now plans to record.

[1]Ken Klotz, “Observatory Mountain,” in A Birder’s Guide to Charlottesville, Virginia and Vicinity, May 2003, accessed April 5th, 2014,’s%20Gude%20to%20Charlottesvile%20&%20Vicinity_rev%20June%202009.pdf

[2] Ken Klotz, “Observatory Mountain”

[3] “Blackburnian Warbler,” The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, accessed April 5th, 2014

[4] “Nocturnal Flight Calls and Bird Migration,” Last modified 2013, accessed April 5th, 2014,

[5] “Nocturnal Flight Calls and Bird Migration”

Post by Emily Votroubek, First-Year