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Sat, Feb

Rooftop wiretap aims to learn what crows gossip about at dusk

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What are crows saying when their loud cawing fills a dark winter’s evening? Despite the inescapable ruckus, nobody knows for sure. Birds congregate daily before and after sleep, and they make some noise, but what might be happening in those brains is a mystery.

Curious about these raucous exchanges, researchers at the University of Washington Bothell are listening in. They are placing equipment on the roof of their building — a meeting place for some of the thousands of crows that sleep in nearby campus trees — and using a sort of computerized eavesdropping to study the relationship between calls and the birds’ behavior.

What are crows saying when their loud cawing fills a dark winter’s evening? Despite the inescapable ruckus, nobody knows for sure. Birds congregate daily before and after sleep, and they make some noise, but what might be happening in those brains is a mystery.

Curious about these raucous exchanges, researchers at the University of Washington Bothell are listening in. They are placing equipment on the roof of their building — a meeting place for some of the thousands of crows that sleep in nearby campus trees — and using a sort of computerized eavesdropping to study the relationship between calls and the birds’ behavior.

“With audio alone our team is able to localize and record the birds remotely, and in dim light that makes this situation less suitable for video tracking,” said Shima Abadi, an assistant professor at UW Bothell’s School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. “It’s still a challenging task, but we can use the audio signals to look for patterns and learn more about what the birds may be communicating.”

Abadi’s background is in ocean acoustics; some of her previous research tracks whales using underwater microphones in the ocean. For this project she teamed up with a colleague in biology who studies the local crow population with his undergraduate students.

 

Continue reading at University of Washington.

Image via University of Washington.