12,000 Powerful, Barking, Boobook, Barn, and Masked owl calls found so far

: www.scienceinpublic.com.au/abc/owls __ Is that a dogbarking? Or a Barking owl?

Hundreds of Australians have found thousands of owl calls by listening toshort recordings made in nature reserves.

They’re helping researchers identify and map native Australian owl speciesthrough the Hoot Detective project.

“People are mad about owls,” said ornithologist Tanya Loos. “Along withparrots and fairy wrens, everyone loves them, so it’s a lovely project to getinvolved with!”

“But it’s also a really valuable mental break from the news cycle,” saidTanya.

“People get to immerse themselves in the sounds of different nature reserves.Along with owl calls, they might hear sounds of curlews calling or a babblingstream in Five Rivers, Tasmania.”

So far, people have sat down for more than 3600 sessions of listening towildlife at night and identified more than 12,000 owl calls. One enthusiasticvolunteer has clocked up more than 16 hours of hoot detecting.

Hoot Detective is produced by ABC Science in collaboration with the AustralianAcoustic Observatory (A2O) for National Science Week. It is on now atwww.hootdetective.net.au .

360 audio recorders around the country have collected 263,000 hours of night-time sounds across forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems around Australia.

People can go to www.hootdetective.net.au , listen to10-second snippets from these audio recordings, compare them with sampleanimal sounds, and identify what they hear.

To take part, all people need is a computer, laptop or tablet and an internetconnection. It’s a pandemic-proof way to get involved in National Science Weekand take part in real scientific research.

Their efforts are also helping train artificial intelligence (AI) systems toautomatically recognise the difference between the classic “hoo-hoo” of thePowerful owl, the scream of a Masked owl, and other creatures of the night.

“The volunteers who lend their ears are making an incredibly valuablecontribution to the new field of eco-acoustics. This field brings ecologistsand computer scientists together to use sound to understand and map thenatural environment,” said Professor Paul Roe, who leads the Observatory, andis based at the Queensland University of Technology.

“Up until now, most AI research around the world has concentrated on eitherimage or human speech recognition. Training AI to recognise owl and otheranimal calls will help scientists monitor wildlife populations much moreefficiently in the future.”

Hoot Detective runs until February 2022, but people who take part beforemidnight on Sunday 29 August can go in the running to win a pair of Nikon10×42 ProStaff 5 Binoculars – handy for more wildlife spotting.

Hoot Detective is the online project for National Science Week 2021,undertaken by ABC Science in collaboration with A2O, Queensland University ofTechnology and the University of New England, with funding through theAustralian Government’s Inspiring Australia strategy.

Tweet your thoughts and results with the hashtags #HootDetective and


Image: Barking owl, Kim Wormald

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