The Internet Bird Collection joins the Macaulay Library

By Kathi Borgmann
Whiskered Pitta

Whiskered Pitta Erythropitta kochi

  • Quezon, Philippines

In the early 1980s Josep del Hoyo, a doctor in a small village in Spain, decided to spend 13 months traveling around Africa to see as much wildlife as he could. Little did he know, this trip would send him on another journey that would forever change the course of his life.

Before he left Barcelona, Spain, del Hoyo purchased several field guides to help him identify all the species he was hoping to see. But while in Africa, del Hoyo discovered that the books he purchased were sorely lacking; many species were missing and what information was available lacked details. “This was very frustrating to me,” said del Hoyo in an email, “because sometimes I was not able to identify species that I was seeing quite well, and other times I just could not be certain of my identifications.” Del Hoyo figured that he must have just gotten the wrong books, “for sure someone must have put together a comprehensive book,” said del Hoyo. Upon his return, del Hoyo scoured bookstores and libraries for such a definitive work but came up empty handed. “I wanted to possess such a treatise so badly,” del Hoyo said, so he decided he would build the most comprehensive book of the birds of the world. Knowing that he would need help to complete such a monumental task, del Hoyo went in search of partners and co-editors and formed Lynx Edicions in 1989. The same year Lynx Edicions launched the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) project.

The Handbook of the Birds of the World, del Hoyo knew, would not be complete without audiovisual material to illustrate characteristics of each species, so he set out to take photos, audio recordings, and videos of as many species as he possibly could. You have to remember the HBW project started before the internet really took off, making it more difficult to obtain audio visual material from people outside of his network. From 1989 to 2002, del Hoyo had amassed a large collection of audiovisual material, but he knew that a lot more material was needed. In 2002, del Hoyo and his team launched the Internet Bird Collection (IBC)—an online repository to house videos, photos, and audio recordings from the worldwide community of bird watchers. The goals of the IBC were to document all of the world’s birds through videos, photos, or audio recordings and to capture as much geographic variation and behavior as possible for every species. Bird enthusiasts started adding their media to IBC to help preserve their personal media collection and to help the birdwatching and ornithological communities learn more about birds. The IBC collection held media for 96% of the world’s birds.

The immense and important collection that is the IBC now has a new home at the Macaulay Library, where it will be permanently preserved for future generations. Together we will document and preserve audiovisual material for all the birds of the world.

Many IBC contributors were eager to join the Macaulay Library—they shared 241,123 new photos of 10,014 species and 16,191 audio recordings of 6,197 species. Contributors from IBC shared photos for 150 species and audio recordings for more than 450 species that were previously missing from the Macaulay Library. Some of these species, such as White-throated Barbtail are difficult to photograph or record. Take a listen to the White-throated Barbtail, recorded by Ignacio Siemersi—a new addition to the Macaulay Library.

White-throated Barbtail (Paria) Premnoplex tatei pariae

  • Sucre, Venezuela

One of the strengths of the IBC collection is the size of its video collection. Del Hoyo was passionate about documenting every species, but he was particularly passionate about documenting behaviors with video. The IBC video collection nearly tripled the amount of video in the Macaulay Library. The Macaulay Library now contains 184,745 videos of 8,965 species; that’s 127,506 new videos of 8,860 species from IBC contributors. Watch the remarkable behavior of the Little Bustard filmed by Josep del Hoyo.

The Macaulay Library now contains media for 97% of the bird species in the world. Photos and audio recordings shared by IBC contributors and eBirders help everyone learn more about birds. For example, curated sets of photos and audio recordings for more than 5,000 species will be included in Merlin Bird ID and eBird’s Explore Species. This Red-headed Finch photo by Keith Barnes for example, will be featured in eBird Explore Species and the soon to be released Merlin Bird ID for South Africa.

Red-headed Finch

Red-headed Finch Amadina erythrocephala

  • Northern Cape, South Africa

Media from IBC contributors was also integrated into the multimedia collection for the soon-to-be released Birds of the World project. Birds of the World is a powerful new resource that brings together scholarly content from four celebrated works of ornithology—Birds of North America and Neotropical Birds (originally published by the Cornell Lab) with Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive and Bird Families of the World (originally published by Lynx Edicions)—into one rich and colorful hub where you can find comprehensive, authoritative information on birds. Be on the lookout for Birds of the World soon.

The Macaulay Library would like to extend an enormous thank you to all of the IBC contributors. Thank you for your dedication to documenting birds of the world and thank you for sharing your media.

We invite you to explore the IBC collection.