Recording Bird Calls

Hi All

I am going to start recording bird calls in some forest areas of S.W.Spain for a specific species.I am going to use audacity to transform the recordings into vocalisations.Can anyone recommend what is a good piece of kit for making these recordings,whether a directional microphone is required and what attachments I might need to buy to transfer from the kit to my computer.


Dr.Richard Banham

This site will have more information than we can give:

Depending on how pick you are… Probably the most important thing is a good [u]shotgun microphone[/u] with a wind sock. Shotgun mics are the most-directional type of mic.

And of course, you’ll want to get as close as possible to the bird.

Any “good” microphone* will be low-impedance balanced (with an XLR connection). In order to use it with a computer, you’ll need a [u]USB audio interface[/u] with an XLR microphone connection, or an [u]USB-XLR “adapter”[/u]. With that set-up, you’d record directly to the computer using Audacity or any other recording software.

Or, you can get a solid state portable recorder with connections for an external mic, and then transfer the files to your computer later. Usually there’s a USB port on the solid state recorder for transferring files.

Even with a highly-directional microhone, you’ll pick-up other unwanted ambient sounds and it’s just a question if you can get a usable signal-to-noise ratio. It depends on the real-world acoustic environment and on how picky you are. In everyday life we usually are not aware of the sounds coming from all around us, but when you make a recording and play it back through speakers all of those “background” sounds seem to stand-out. You’ve probably noticed that if you’ve used a video camera.


  • You can also get reasonably good directional “studio style” [u]USB microphones[/u] (AKA a “podcast mic”), but it won’t be as directional as a shotgun mic.

Hi Steve

Thats are really interesting site and full of excellent ideas,very many thanks for help.I now have a starting point.

Hi Doug
Very many thanks for all your advice.Now need to get researching it and find where to buy some of this stuff e.g.shogun mic.

If you’ve never done this before, I’d advise a standalone recorder in stead of a computer. Even if the preamps are a bit less than on a good audio interface, it will be far less hassle. Computer batteries don’t last very long and are relatively heavy to carry around. Recorder batteries are small, light and fairly cheap. The recorder to go for if you have the budget, is a Sony D50. Or even one of the Sound Devices range. But a Zoom will do too.

What’s the species, btw?

A good shotgun mic is expensive. The least expensive that’s advisable is the Rode NTG2. It’s less than 300 $.

Be sure to protect your mic from moisture. Condenser mics are very sensitive to moisture and can be ruined by morning dew or fog. The Sennheiser MKH range is far less sensitive to moisture, as they’re AC driven and that doesn’t attract moisture as “classic”, DC driven condensers do. They are on the expensive side, though.

A good “dead cat”, eg a wind killer is also needed, as the slightest wind will be picked up as rumble. And it will ruin your recordings. A bit of DIY can keep the budget within limits. If you’re not the DIY guy, go for a Rycote.

You could also consider a parabolic acoustical mirror mic. It’s even more sensitive to wind, but it’ll make recordings a bit further away. And especially with birds, that can make a difference.

Another thing to think about, is camouflage. Clothing, of course, but also a tent, as birds catch any motion from far away.

Hi There

I am going to recall flight calls and other vocalisations of the Common (Red) Crossbill as they fly into a drinking trough



Thanks, Richard.

Seems an interesting bird, with that crossed beak. Never seen or heard one here.

The bird in question is a specialist fir cone feeder so is restricted in its range.In summer here in Spain it is very dry and extremely hot so the birds have to wander to find water,and this is where I find them.I am also a bird bander(Europe-bird ringer) so I also trap,ring them,take lots of measurements then release unharmed.I also restrict the time the nets are by the water so that the birds are freely able to come down to drink.

Well I have considered all options and gone for Audacity software as it’s free and has good reports.

As for the hardware ,a bit more tricky as so much available but a lot out of my price range and some pieces have been discontinued that seemed capable of doing the job!! I however got lucky as Amazon in UK are still selling one of the discontinued items so have gone for that, I can add on an external mic plus wind muffler if needs be.I might get away with this piece of kit as I can get pretty close to the target species.

The recorder is an Olympus LS-14 4GB Linear PCM Recorder - Black