It’s a Jungle in There:
Sounds of the Tropical Rainforest in 3-D

“How do you know but ev'ry bird that cuts the airy way
is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?”
— William Blake

These recordings were first released in 1990, produced from the original digital field recordings. They were out of print for over a decade but are now available:

See reviews here

The first part ("It's a Jungle in Here") is real-time with no overdubs, and is useful for species identification and for experiencing the rainforest as normally heard. The second part ("Slow Jungle", currently unavailable) is multi-tracked and slowed-down to half or quarter speed, for relaxation and for hearing intricate details of bird songs.

Here are the original liner notes, with a few minor modifications:

There's something about walking through a rainforest that makes a person happy. The smells, colors and sounds all speak of the wild exuberance of life, reminding us that we're alive and that we too are a part of nature. Sometimes we forget. They also serve as a reminder of how much we have to lose and how fast we're losing it, with wildlife disappearing at a rate of something like 50 species a day.

The voices in the wilderness are calling out to that part of ourselves that we haven't yet paved over — the wildness within each of us that we are in danger of losing as “civilization” encroaches from all sides.

Listen. The rainforest is trying to tell us something.

Recording 1 ("It's a Jungle in There", real-time binaural recording)

This recording is a soundtrack of the jungle experience. I've tried to capture some of those moments when the magic was happening, when the birds and beasties were jamming like mad, manic jazz musicians.

The original recordings were made in Costa Rica, in the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the La Selva Biological Reserve. On the real-time recording, there are no added words, music, or sound effects, no pia-pia's, and no overdubs. Thus, you hear the interactions between different animals as they actually occurred, rather than someone's idea of how to combine various foreground and background sounds to make a palatable product.

The tracks are arranged by time of day, from the energetic 5 A.M. wake-up call, through the calm mid-afternoon, to the 10 P.M. froggie lullaby, and ending with an extended morning chorus (for the “next” day). The original recordings were made over the course of a year (June 1988-June 1989), and in many cases the differences between sections have less to do with time of day (or time of year) than with location. Monteverde is a cool, misty cloud forest at an altitude of 4800 feet, while La Selva is a steamy lowland jungle with a very different set of inhabitants.

Many of these sounds were originally fairly soft. You may wish to reproduce them at a low volume level, so they lightly color your reality instead of overpowering it.

The original digital recordings were made using binaural microphones, one in each ear, to preserve much of the spatial realism of the experience of being in the jungle. Listening with headphones reproduces the original 3-D information, allowing you to hear where each sound is coming from. (Please don't listen with headphones while driving.) See how many different sounds you can hear at once. Allow yourself to be drawn deeper and deeper into another world.

5 A.M.
1: Monteverde Morning Chorus

A Monteverde morning chorus, featuring Rufous-and-white Wrens (lovely low-pitched song with trills), Clay-colored Robin (high, clear, melodious whistles, slightly nasal), White-eared Ground-Sparrow (high-pitched tsip's), Blue-crowned Mot-Mot (low hoo-hoo's), and White-tipped Dove (soft low, mournful, ascending hoo-ooo).

2: Howler Monkey Basso Profundo (Monteverde)
The basso profundo of the Howler Monkey can be heard for miles due to his large, resonant throat sac. We also hear the mellow, slurred two-note call of the Resplendent Quetzal. This amazing bird (shown on the front cover, except for an extra two feet of streamers) is considered the most beautiful in the western hemisphere. When flying across an open patch of sky, it shimmers in the sunlight with red, silver, gold, and an iridescent emerald green. (The green is actually brown, but the feathers have ripples that are spaced at the wavelength we see as green.) This bird is considered vulnerable and likely to become endangered.

3: Resplendent Quetzal & Howler Monkeys (Monteverde)
Resplendent Quetzal, Howler Monkeys, Streaked-breasted Treehunter, Azure-hooded Jay (harsh a-reek-eek, a-reek-eek), Yellowish Flycatcher (high-pitched sweeep heard only once), Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (melodious whistled three- and four-note phrases), Spotted Woodcreeper (series of 3 long, eerie, descending whistles), Spotted Barbtail, White-throated Robin (typical robin song toward end of track), and the Collared Forest-Falcon (loud call toward end; a very rare species in Monteverde).

4: Early Morning in La Selva
Early morning in La Selva, accompanied by the tremulous, wailing whistle of the Great Tinamou. Also: Buff-throated Woodcreeper (in background), White-breasted Wood-Wren (very faint), Dink frogs, and a tree frog (harsh grating call heard throughout).

5: Duetting Wood-Wrens (Monteverde)
Prong-billed Barbet (loud, resonant ca-ca-ca-etc.), Resplendent Quetzal (in background), Southern House-Wren? (cheerful trills), Hoffmann's Woodpecker (nasal rattle), White-eared Ground-Sparrow (high chipping), Emerald Toucanet (harsh, grating call in background), Resplendent Quetzal (flight call, perwicka, like a turkey gobble), Howler Monkeys, and Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens (duetting).

6 A.M.
6: White-faced Capuchins & Howlers (Monteverde)
We hear White-faced Capuchins (mid-range vocal cry) and Howler Monkeys. The loud metallic bonk comes from the Three-wattled Bell-bird. The sound appears to be made by producing two or three different pitches simultaneously, a trick that takes the young birds a while to perfect. Also heard: Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Green-crowned Brilliant? hummingbird (series of high, piercing chipping sounds), Paltry Tyrannulet, and Orange-bellied Trogon.
Sound Sample.

7: Long-tailed Manakins (Monteverde)
The Long-tailed Manakins perform an interesting song-and-dance routine. Territory is owned by a pair of adult males, who attract females by simultaneously whistling 'Toledo.' Hey, whatever works. When the female arrives, the males do a little dance, jumping up and down or circling in cartwheels. The dominant (best-dressed) male has reason to be happy, but the other guy is only in training. This segment features a number of different vocalizations: cheeps, Toledos, come-hither whistles, and a complaining waugh sound. Also heard: Plain Wren (churr/chack call in background), Black-breasted Wood-Quail (swirly rushing gobble duet), Golden-crowned Warbler (singing and tick-ing), Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

7 A.M.
8: Hummingbirds (Monteverde)
Sitting under the hummingbird feeder across from the field station. Listen to this one with headphones on and eyes closed and hear (feel?) the beating wings right in front of your face. (Notice that opening your eyes causes the sound to be perceived as coming from behind, because the visual system is dominant and your eyes are saying, “Trust me, there ain't nothing there.”) Also: Three-wattled Bell-bird.

9: Black-faced Solitaire (Monteverde)
The song of the Black-faced Solitaire sounds like an electric violin or a squeaky gate hinge, but nicer. It consists of high, thin notes, sometimes with a metallic edge as a result of two tones being played simultaneously. Also: Three-striped Warblers, Red-faced Spinetail (ascending, rapid ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha), a flock of Common Bush-Tanagers (chittering), a chorus of Prong-billed Barbets, Slate-throated Redstart, Brown-hooded Parrots, and a Plain Antvireo.

10: Short-billed Pigeon & Black-throated Wren (La Selva)
We hear the plaintive four-note call of the Short-billed Pigeon (k'coo, k'coo, a characteristic sound of the lowland jungle), the short, sweet song of the Black-throated Wren (ending in a slow trill), the ascending call of the Fulvous-bellied Antpitta (tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu), the White-breasted Wood-Wren, and Cicadas.

8 A.M.
11: More Hummers (Monteverde)
Aerial competition for the sugar-water. Various Hummingbirds, possibly including one or more of the following: Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Mountaingem, and Green-crowned Brilliant. Also: Three-wattled Bell-bird.

10 A.M.
12: Three-wattled Bell-birds (Monteverde)
Three-wattled Bell-birds and others.

13: Montezuma Oropendola (La Selva)
The loud whooping call that sounds like gurgling water is from the Montezuma Oropendola. The males are quite large—listen to the deep bass beating of their wings as they fly from one branch to another. Also heard is the high, thin, annoying song of the Mosquito.

4 P.M.
14: Late Afternoon in La Selva
A Long-tailed Hermit hummingbird comes to check you out. Try listening with headphones — you can almost feel the wind beating against your neck as you are inspected from all sides. Finally satisfied, the creature squeaks and darts away. Other birds: Slaty-breasted Tinamou (distant mournful call, ascending at the end), Broad-billed Mot-Mot (cawing call in the background), Streak-headed Woodcreeper? (descending call: we-we-we-we-we-etc.), and a flock of Olive-throated Parakeets? (flying over).

15: Spider Monkeys Overhead (La Selva)
A band of Spider Monkeys passes overhead, dropping and/or throwing things on the ground and on the large leaves directly above your head. (Try it with headphones.) Also heard: Mosquito, and Slaty-breasted Tinamou.

5 P.M.
16: Frogs & Toads (La Selva)

17: Mealy Parrots & Dink Frogs (La Selva)
This vocal performance is courtesy of a pair of Mealy Parrots, with high-pitched dink sounds supplied by Dink Frogs. The rapid, repetitive, raspy, buzzing sound of the Poisondart Frog is heard in the background?

6 P.M.
18: Spatial Thunder Rumble (Monteverde)
Listen on headphones to the spatial effect as the thunder rumble passes across the open sky from left to right.

19: La Selva Swamp after Dark
You're in the middle of the swamp, just after dark, surrounded by a variety of frogs, including the Smoky Jungle Frog (whooping), a Microhylid (sheep-like groan), two species of Red-eyed Leaf Frog (clucks and clicks), and the Dink Frog (in the forest in the background).

10 P.M.
20: Path of the Singing Frogs (La Selva)
This section was recorded in the middle of the swamp on the Sendero Cantarrana, path of the singing frogs. The swamp hosts an impressive variety of Frogs, not to mention coral snakes and vipers. The froggies seemed to respond to my flashlight as I turned it on and off and conducted various sections of the orchestra. And then my flashlight bulb burned out. Did I mention the 10-foot Bushmaster snakes that hunt at night?

5 A.M.
21: Early Morning Jungle Jam (Monteverde)
Time for another early-morning jungle jam. Birds of different feather flock together. This is a fairly typical mixed-species flock featuring Bright-rumped Atilla (loud outburst cry, down-sliding at end), Azure-hooded Jay (clap-clap-clap-etc.), Orange-bellied Trogon (mellow 2-note monotone), Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches (high-pitched, squeaky), Blue-crowned Chlorophonias (two notes, “like a gate lazily swinging on rusty hinges”), Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens (duetting loudly with long cheery melodious whistled phrases), Prong-billed Barbets (monotone duet), Streaked-breasted Treehunter, Resplendent Quetzals, Lineated Foliage-Gleaner (jik-jik-jik-jik-jik repeated rapidly, slows at end), Three-striped Warbler (series of clicks), Red-faced Spinetail, and Smoky-brown Woodpecker (gravelly aagh x4 complainy vocal). Vocal duetting may strengthen the bond between monogamous mates and help them maintain contact in the dense forest.

Recording 2 ("Slow Jungle", currently unavailable)

On this recording, sounds are played back at 1/4 speed (and at 1/2 speed for the Parrot). The dimensions of perception are transformed — time slows, and space expands. Vocal cavities enlarge, and pitches are lowered to a more comfortable range. This may be closer to how birds actually experience the jungle, since their time resolution for sounds is perhaps ten times as high as ours. The detail hidden in a rapid burst of bird song may now be heard clearly. This recording may also be used as a relaxation environment. Generally a pair of slowed-down recordings have been mixed together on this side to keep things interesting despite the slow playback.

Because of the 1/4 speed playback, the highest frequency signal heard will be ~24 kHz/4 = 6 kHz (except for the Parrot section). Note that the binaural effect won't be quite so striking on this recording, since our brains are used to a different set of frequency-dependent cues.

The file names appear as Slow Jungle 1 and Slow Jungle 2, but I've numbered them here according to the original numbering, with the elapsed time from the beginning of the recording. (Sorry, you'll have to do a little math to figure out where you are in Slow Jungle 2.) Where available, I've indicated from which track of the real-time recording these segments were taken.

The thrush segment at 3:22 is especially striking for its lovely two-part harmonies. From what I've read, I think this is one bird harmonizing with itself, but I suppose it could be a pair of birds who like each other very much. At any rate, I would love to hear these melodies transcribed for recorder, cello or whatnot.

0:00 — from track 21
Mixed-species flock.

Southern House-wren?

Thrush? sings 2-part harmonies with itself.

Mealy Parrot screams, 1/2 speed.

6:11 — from track 9
Black-faced Solitaire, Prong-billed Barbets.

8:27 — from track 13
Montezuma Oropendolas.

9:34 — from track 12
Bell-birds, etc.

11:18 — from track 16

13:54 — from track 11
Hummingbirds. Note the Doppler shift.

14:44 — from track 19

17:34 — from track 6
Bell-birds, Howler Monkey. The Bell-bird's sound is apparently made by producing 2 notes simultaneously at an interval of a semitone, resulting in a rough, metallic, dissonant timbre.

20:10 — from track 20
Frog melodies.

21:30 — from track 14
Long-tailed Hermit Hummingbird. Hear it suspend itself in air by alternately beating its wings and then resting.

24:02 — from track 3
Resplendent Quetzal, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush.

25:25 — from track 2
Howler Monkey.

28:00 — from track 4
Great Tinamou.

Species Identifications: Gary Diller O'Dell and Michael Fogden. (Extra comments and notes by Earl Vickers, who takes credit for any errors which may have crept in.)

Recommended reading: A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch, illustrated by Dana Gardner, 1989. And, Born to Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song, by Charles Hartshorne, 1973 (why birds sing, etc.)

Thanks to: Sally Bianco, Sam Comstock, Jim Crisp, Jan Drake-Lowther, Bridget Erdmann, Adrian Forsyth, Diane Gonzales, Ruth Happel, Eha and Berni Kern, Sharon Kinsman, Ruth Kuetemeyer, Richard LaVal, Marvin Rockwell, Roland Tiensuu, Stella Wallace, and everyone else who helped, directly or indirectly, with this project. Many thanks to all the members of the Monteverde community and especially to everyone who fed me.

Earl Vickers

© 2003 The Sound Guy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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    Other bird sound info

    Earl Vickers Museum of Conceptual Art