WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?

Cornell University has built a magnificent archive of 9,000 creatures’ sounds from the most remote places on Earth

When Cornell’s ornithology department released nearly 150,000 recordings from its Macaulay Library in 2013, it had a simple goal: Get people to use their ears more.

Says Greg Budney, the library’s collections development curator, “Sound is overlooked by a lot of people. If you tune into a few sounds, you’d be amazed what it does to your perception of the world.”

The world’s largest collection of nature sounds and videos is also the perfect way to transport yourself to a faraway rainforest. The 7,513 hours of sounds made by 9,000 species of birds, marine animals, and insects is at turns bizarre and haunting. The recordings are a powerful reminder that nature is not only beautiful—it’s also super weird, sometimes oddly familiar, and chock-full of surprises.

A seal’s call is a parking lot for spaceships; a walrus sounds a lot like your neighbor hammering; a frog makes itself known as a 1990s phone ring.

Hear some of our other favorites from the archive below.

Brown-backed solitaire

Mix laser sounds and garbled feedback from a telecom system, and you can approximate the song of this Mexican bird.

Sonora, Mexico, 2000

Humpback whale

A Caribbean humpback whale could be a great addition to an experimental cello band.

British Virgin Islands, 1973

American bittern

Need to make a tennis video game? Record this heron and you’re all set.

New York, USA, 1991

Brown sicklebill

A beautiful bird of paradise sounds like a laser-gun fight on Endor.

Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea, 2011

Woodhouse’s toad

This toad from Arkansas sounds a bit like a flip phone vibrating against a desk.

Arkansas, USA, 1955

I am potoo, hear me croon.
I am potoo, hear me croon. (Julian Londono/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Common potoo

A drunk chorus singer alone on a bench at night might sound something like this nocturnal bird.

Guárico, Venezuela, 1963

Guereza

This primate’s call would be an excellent substitute for the sound of Homer Simpson belching on loop.

Central Kenya, 1987

Red fox

Finally, a definitive answer to the eternal question, “What does the fox say?” A fox sounds like someone desperately squeezing an empty shampoo bottle.

Ontario, Canada, 1966

Tui

The recording studio for Wall-E exploded, resulting in the absolutely baffling cacophony of this bird’s song.

Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, 2004

White-handed gibbon

A gibbon can also be a 1950s film actress trying desperately to communicate with a horse.

Khao Yai National Park, Thailand, 1984

Gray wolf

A group of wolves in captivity together make the sound of heartbreak.

Ontario, Canada, 1962

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