Earth Notes - The Calls of the Wild

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: The Calls of the Wild

The aural character of any landscape is unmistakable. That's "aural" with an A-U, as in sounds. Think of the expressive and remarkable sounds of wild animals: the castanet clacking of a riled diamondback; the Morse code of nuthatches tapping tree bark for insects; whirring sphinx moth wings buzzing around flowers.

Environmental psychologists agree that sounds feed acoustic memory. They're integral to our attachment to particular places.

For years, University of Utah researcher Jeff Rice has trained his parabolic microphone on javelinas and northern goshawks, grasshopper mice and mountain-dwelling moose. He adds his recordings to the university's Western Soundscape Archive, which he helped found.

Since its inception in November 2007, this free, online clearinghouse has catalogued more than a thousand animal calls from the eleven western states and parts of Alaska. Now naturalists, scholars, students, and educators can sample animal vocalizations and recordings of natural environments without risking snakebite or sunburn.

The archive depends on sound donations from numerous sources, including natural history museums, universities, and government agencies.

"The sounds of the West are unique and deserve a closer listen," says Rice, who learned to value the textures of ambient sound as a radio producer.

Remembering pulsing frog voices near his childhood home, he points out that many of today's kids are in danger of growing up with little exposure to nature's sounds.

"This is our heritage," he says, "and we want to help restore some of that connection."

You can sample the archive's treasures by visiting

-Michael Engelhard