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Audio Information - for use while birding, etc.

Bob Ekblad

Using an iPod for Birding

The Steps to Success

 Purchase the best iPod and accessories to suit your needs


Select the iPod based on storage capacity and cost tradeoffs
  The storage capacity of the various iPods on the market has a wide range. To get a sense of how much storage capacity will be needed for your situation, you need to determine a few things. 

First of all, you need to predict how many songs you might want to include on your iPod unit.  In addition to the bird songs you may want to store regular listening music.  You can also store photos and videos and other information (like your calendar and contact information from Microsoft Outlook) that can also use up storage quickly.  You will need to make the cost tradeoff relative to how much information you will want to store on your iPod.  Also, take note that the published capacity of the iPods is the total space available and that some space is required for the software that is used to operate the device so you will end up with a bit less available for storage of your data.

Secondly, you need to determine how you want to store the song files (as compressed or uncompressed files).  If you intend to try to get birds to respond to the bird calls stored on your iPod, it is recommended that you store them in uncompressed WAV format (unchanged from the way they are on the CDs you will be copying them from) instead of using the compressed AAC format that is normally used for music.  The birds can hear more frequencies than humans and are less likely to recognize calls that have been compressed (that basically remove the higher frequencies that humans don't normally pick up). 

A typical CD will hold about 700MB (0.7GB).  Some examples the storage requirements of bird song CD sets are shown below:

  Album # of disks Total Size (uncompressed)
Stoke's Eastern Birdsongs 3 2.1 GB
Stoke's Western Birdsongs 4 2.8 GB
Cornell Bird Songs of Alaska 1 0.7 GB
Cornell Lower Rio Grande Valley and Southwestern Texas 1 0.7 GB

The 4GB Nano will handle one of the Stoke's CD sets and 1 or 2 additional CDs.  The 8GB Nano will accommodate both of the Stoke's sets and up to 4 additional CDs.  The iPod Classic units will certainly be adequate to handle all of your bird song needs as well as the addition of photos (helpful sometimes for bird ID purposes) and other songs or audio books.


Select the listening device based on your needs (earphones or external speaker)
  The iPods come with a simple set of earphones that can be used for personal listening.  You can also purchase several different kinds of earphones to use that have different features or comfort levels.  However, if you want to be able to play the bird songs so that others (including birds) can hear them, you will need to select a battery powered speaker that includes its own amplifier (sometimes called an active speaker) that can be carried in the field. 

There are a couple of units that can be used that are not excessively bulky and that still provide reasonable volume and reasonable tone quality.  Poor speakers with limited frequency range can also make the songs not sound the way they should. 


One good choice for a speaker is the Panasonic RP-SPT70 that has dual speakers (stereo) that is about 4-1/2" by 3-1/4" by 2" that runs on 4 AA batteries.  The 2 speakers each hinge from the body so the size can be altered to make it twice as long but half as thick.  Circuit City has carried these units and they are also available over the internet (one possibility is the Electronics Outfitter web site - select Personal and search on "rp-spt70").  Or, you can Google search on "rp-spt70" to get other optional sources).


Another smaller speaker is the mono (not stereo) mini amplifier speaker from RadioShack (#277-1008C) that is about 3-1/2" by 2-3/4" by 1-1/4".  It does not have its own interconnect cable so one would need to be purchased for it to connect to the iPod.  Unfortunately, most of the cables for sale are a larger diameter wire that tends to be bulky and harder to manage in the field.  There is also a volume adjustment on the speaker that is really not needed for use with the iPod since the volume is most easily controlled via the iPod itself (and the speaker volume control can inadvertently be changed causing the song volume to be lower).

  One additional thing to remember when you are using your speaker in the field is the sound output will degrade as the batteries wear down.  This will happen before the speaker can no longer amplify the signal so you need to listen for distortion or make note of how long you have been using the batteries and replace or recharge the batteries as appropriate.


Select any additional accessories that may be helpful (recharging, FM transmitter, etc)
  The iPod battery can be charged via the USB port cable that comes with your iPod.  The cable is used to connect to your computer and is used to download the information from the computer to the iPod.  It also provides power to the iPod to charge the battery.  The iPod comes with this cable (and with the basic earphones).  This is not always very convenient so it is recommend to purchase a DC automobile lighter adapter and/or an AC adapter plug-in unit for use when on the road or in a building.  The DC automobile lighter version is very handy, especially when you are out birding and discover you forgot to charge the unit.  The iPod battery is very long lasting and usually will hold sufficient charge for several days of birding (unless you are using it continuously).  The iPod will automatically go into sleep mode to conserve battery power and then will also turn off if you happen to leave it on after using it (something that can often happen). 

If you want to take advantage of your automobile speakers (or large home speakers, for that matter), there are also FM transmitters that can attach directly to the iPod that broadcast an FM signal that can be picked up by your radio (you just match the transmit frequency to the radio receiver frequency setting - one that won't pick up signals from local FM stations that could interfere with the iPod output).

Several different designs of covers can be purchased that help protect the iPod unit and, more importantly, the plastic over top of the display.  You can also purchase a film that can be put over the display to prevent scratching the surface (and replace the film occasionally)

You can also purchase adapters that will attach to the connector at the bottom of the iPod that will allow you to record sounds.  One such device is available from XtremeMac that is compatible with the iPod Nano and iPod Classic (and the older iPod Photo).  It has a removable microphone that allows you to plug in your own higher quality microphone (such as one from Sennheiser).  There is additional information included on this topic in the Recording in the Field section below.


Select the bird songs you want to load into your iPod (purchase CDs or pre-built software)
  There are several CDs that you can purchase that include songs and calls of most of the bird species.  Some of these are noted in the table above but there are many more you can choose from.

If you join the Cornell Birds in Forested Landscapes project to help research habitat and conservation needs of the birds, you will be provided with a CD that includes some bird songs and calls as well as bird mobbing calls (sounds of birds mobbing owls).  The signup page is here.

You can load the songs of your choice into your computer via the program called iTunes (see below).

Another option is to purchase pre-compiled software to load to your computer and iPod.  Pre-built iPods with iBirdPod software or just the software can be purchased from BirdPod.  I do not have much knowledge of the BirdPod software but I believe that it is set up such that you can make additions and alterations using iTunes once the BirdPod software is installed and that you can use most of the following "how-to" information to alter the information you load into your iPod.

Download iTunes (free off the internet) to manage the songs on your computer
  First of all, you need to download the free program called iTunes that is used to store the bird songs and other information on your computer.  This program is also used to interface to the iPod to load the bird songs, music, videos and other information to the iPod.  The Apple website (http://www.apple.com/) provides a convenient (and simple) method for downloading the program - just click on the "iPod + iTunes" tab on the web page and click on the "Free Download" button for the latest level iTunes program.  It is a simple operation to have the program downloaded and installed on your computer.


Set the preferences on iTunes (to best suit your needs)
  Once the program is installed, it is best to make sure the program preferences are set to optimum for your planned use.  To do this, open up the iTunes program and click on "Edit" and select "Preferences" in the dropdown menu. 

Click on the "Advanced" tab and then click on the "Importing" tab.  If you plan to import files in uncompressed mode, set the "Import Using:" to WAV Encoder.  If you want files compressed then set it to AAC Encoder.  Whenever you import general music files you will want to make sure it is set to AAC before importing them to save space on your computer and on your iPod.  It is also recommended to check the top 3 of the 4 checkboxes (see the example below).  The third checkbox setting to create file names with track number might be helpful to keep the bird calls in the same order as they are on the CD but that is not really needed since you will have the ability to change the order to whatever you want in each individual playlist (you can even correct the order to the latest taxonomical order such as moving the ducks before the loons - see info in Playlists below).  If you don't want to listen to the songs you can either not check the first box or you can simply turn off the songs for the CD by clicking on pause or stop. 

It is also recommended that you click on the "General" tab in the "Advanced" folder and check the boxes for

  1. Keeping iTunes folder organized (any updates you might make to the song file Album Name or Artist will also be made to the file names and folder so it will be easier for you to find the files if you wish to edit the audio information contained in the files
  2. Copy files to iTunes folder when adding to library (it is so much easier to let iTunes manage the files instead of having them spread out all over your computer)
  3. Use iTunes as default player.

Then click on the "General" tab (to the left of the "Advanced" tab).  You can decide which information to include.  For bird songs you probably don't need party shuffle displayed.  Also, if you don't use the iPod Store, you may not want to have that symbol show up in the library or playlist display (where it might inadvertently get activated).


Views of the Preference windows:

  Advanced - Importing

  Advanced - General



Store the songs on your computer (using iTunes)
  Loading via CD
The process to copy from a CD to iTunes is quite simple.  Just insert the CD and, as long as the preference is set with iTunes as default audio program (Advanced-General above), the iTunes program will start up (takes a fairly long time depending on the number of songs, etc. already loaded).  If the preferences were set up to access the internet to obtain songs, the program will automatically recognize the CD and obtain the track information.

You can then choose to load the selected files to your computer.  When this happens, the Library will be updated to include the new files (and iTunes will create the appropriate folders to store the files (can be viewed in My Computer / Explorer)

You may wish to edit this information, especially if the information (sometimes submitted by users) is not accurate or if you want to limit the information to be displayed on your iPod (longer lines are scrolled making it take longer to view the information).

  Loading individual audio files via Explorer
There are times that you might have music files that are on your computer hard drive that you want added to the iTunes Library.  These files could be ones you might have obtained from your friends or ones you created by editing an audio file to create a new file (such as to split it up into separate files).  One way to load the songs into iTunes is to click on the song file (while you are viewing it in Explorer).  If iTunes is not active, it will be loaded (as long as iTunes is set as the default audio program) and will start playing the song.  It will also add the file to the iTunes library and will also place the file into the iTunes folder.  It can be found in Explorer in the folders "Unknown Artist / Unknown Album" - and will be moved to the appropriate folder when you enter information in the Artist and Album fields.  Note: to find the folders for iTunes, open Explorer and click on the + in front of "My Documents" - then click on the + in front of "iTunes" and then click on the + in front of "itunes Music".

If you want to load all of the files in a folder on your computer you can open iTunes and click on "File" and then click on "Add Folder to Library" and select the folder with the new files that have been copied in from an outside source.  All of the files will be added to the iTunes library and to the iTunes folders. 

However, in both of the above methods of adding the songs, the only information that will be filled in in iTunes will be the Name (it will use the same name as the name of the file).  You will need to enter the information for Artist and Album and any other additional fields that you might want to sort by or use to set up playlists.

The process of adding this information can be speeded up by entering the information for one song and then copying that information (before you exit the field) using Ctrl-C and then moving to the next song in the column, open it by clicking near the left end of the field and pasting the information to that field using Ctrl-V.

  iTunes Library and Playlist views
  The iTunes Library will look similar to the one shown below.


The view can be changed to include additional columns and you can change the sort order by clicking on the column headings.

The playlist view is very similar to the view for the library.  Each playlist can be set up with a different view if desired.  Each playlist only includes the songs that you drag into them (regular playlist) or the songs that meet the criteria you determine (smart playlist).


  Setting up Playlists
  Smart Playlists
These playlists are quite easy to set up.  They will automatically update to ensure any time a name, artist or album name of a song is modified, it will be included in the proper playlist.  To set one up, click on "File" (upper left corner) and then click on "New Smart Playlist".  A new screen will appear where you can set up the conditions you want.  An example would be to put in "Artist" "contains" "Stokes" and then check the "Live Updating" box.  This would list all of the songs that are in the Stoke's East and Stoke's West CDs (if they have been entered into your computer).  You can add multiple conditions by clicking on the "+" on the right.  By adding "Genre" "contains" "East" would limit the songs to just those from the Stokes East CDs.

Note the difference in views between the Library and the Playlists.  There is an additional column on the left that indicates Playlist order.  You can sort the view by any order if you wish but the playlist order is what will show up on your iPod.

Once the playlist is created you can rename it to anything you want.  Just double click on the name to go into edit mode to make the desired changes.

If you want to modify the Playlist order of the songs in the list all you need to do (after you sort it into Playlist order) is to move it to the location you would like by clicking on it with the left mouse button (keep holding the mouse button down), and then drag the line to the location where you want it in the Playlist and then release the mouse button.  You can keep your list in AOU/ABA order or group similar songs together or whatever you think will work best for you to conveniently find the songs.

These playlists can be created with whatever songs you may wish to include.  To create a playlist, just click on "File" and then click on "New Playlist".  Once the playlist is set up all you need to do is click on a song you want to add (or multiple songs selected using Ctrl-click multiple times) and then dragging it (them) to the playlist on the lower left.  You can also create a playlist by first selecting the songs you want in the playlist (place the cursor over the song, hold the Ctrl key down and then left click the mouse button). 

You can modify the name of the playlist and also the order of the songs the same way as noted above.

  Helpful iTunes Hints
  To search for particular songs, enter the appropriate letters in the field in the upper right of the iTunes screen.  Note that if a playlist is being viewed, only the files in the playlist will be searched.
  To check for duplicate files (names), click on "View" on the main menu and then click on "Show Duplicate Files" (second from the bottom).  You can then determine if the files are in fact duplicates or if the names should be modified to more accurately reflect the content.
  To keep songs in the iTunes Library but not load them to the iPod, uncheck the box in the name column (precedes the song name) and click the iPod Options button (may not be shown if the iPod is not connected) and then choose the "Only update Checked songs" option and click OK.  This allows you to store all of your audio files on your computer even if there is not sufficient storage for all of them on your iPod.
  The default when iTunes is first loaded is for the Ministore portion of the screen (lower) to be displayed when the Music Library is displayed (not when a Playlist is displayed).  To remove this and be able to see more file information, click on "View" and then click on "Hide Ministore"
  There is no requirement as to what is entered in each of the fields (Artist / Album / Genre / etc.).  You could use "Stokes Eastern Bird Songs" or simply "Stokes East" in the Album field.  You could also use just "Stokes" in the Artist field.  The important thing to remember is to be consistent for all songs so the information will properly sort and will properly be included in any smart playlist (see above).

Downloading the songs to your iPod (via iTunes)

  Once you have loaded the songs into your iTunes Library and set up the songs in Playlists, you can download the information to your iPod

This is a very simple operation since iTunes does all of the work for you.  Just connect the cable from your iPod to your USB 2.0 port on your computer and the iTunes program will be loaded up and connect to your iPod.  It will then download all of the song files in your Library and all of the Playlists (simply are pointers to the specific songs in your Library).

If you make any updates to the information in your computer such as adding songs or modifying names of birds or albums, etc, just re-do the above operation and iTunes will update the information on your iPod (it will only update the information and not totally re-write everything to the iPod so the time to complete the update will be significantly shorter).

Modifying Audio Files  (splitting - editing)

  If you aren't satisfied with how the song are structured on the bird song CDs you may want to split up the species calls into individual files for each species.  To make this type of modification you will need an Audio Editor program.  There are several of these editors available that you can use.  One program which is free and available for download off of the internet is called WavePad.

It is suggested that you initially skip this activity until you have had a chance to test the iPod functions and see the information on the screen and then come back and make the changes you prefer (and then repeat the upload to the iPod to include your modifications).

To modify the song files, first find the specific file using Explorer (look in the iTunes folders).  It is most prudent to make a copy of the file into a folder (other than the iTunes folders) and then work with that to avoid the chance of "over editing" and losing some of the data.  If you have a file with more than one bird species calls on it and you want to split them, you will need to copy the master file to create a separate file for each additional species.  You need to name it (them) with the bird species and then edit each one to only include the song for that species.

The best method of editing the files using WavePad is to load up the files and then identify the information that you will want to delete from the song.  The standard control buttons are located at the bottom.  Once you have determined what you want to remove, first stop the playback by clicking on the square button at the bottom of the screen.  Then click and drag the mouse across the section you want to delete and then release the mouse button.  The section to be removed will then be highlighted.  You can then click on the "Delete" button (or right click on the mouse to bring up a menu where you can select "Delete").  Once you click on the "Delete" the highlighted section will be removed.  You can then test the new file to make sure it sounds like what you want.  If it doesn't you can always undo it using the "undo" button in the upper menu (or Ctrl-Z) and start the edit over.  Once you have the bird song the way you want it and are sure you edited the correct file (re-check the name), then you can save the file.  You will need to repeat this so you will have a separate bird song file for each species.

You may also want to remove the spoken words for the species name since you will have the name in front of you on the iPod (unlike the situation with cassette tapes where you needed the voice to help you figure out where you were on the tape).  Often the spoken words are louder than the bird songs and can cause extra work in turning down the sound on the iPod when the voice is played and then turning the sound back up so you can adequately hear the bird song.

Once you have created the separate files for the songs you can edit the file in the iTunes folder to erase all of the additional species and leave only the first species.  Don't edit the name of the file now.  It is best to make that change within the iTunes program (see below).

What you now have is a separate file for each species.  The file for the first species is already included in iTunes (and you can edit the name in iTunes to remove the additional species names after you bring in the additional species into iTunes.  To bring in the new files, open the iTunes program and click on "Music" in the "Library" list.  Then click on "File" to open the drop down menu and then click on "Add file to Library".  Select the files (use Ctrl-click to select multiples) and click "Open".  The new files will be loaded into the Library and they will show up at the bottom of the list.  Only the name will be included so you will need to edit the additional fields (i.e., Artist, Album, etc.) to make them identical to the original file you copied them from.  The file may disappear from view once you update the information depending on what column the Library is sorted on - you may need to scroll through the Library to find it (look for the original - it should be in that general area).

Once the information in the Library is to you liking, you will need to check each of the Smart Playlists to make sure the file is in the proper location (taxonomical or whatever).  You will find the file at the bottom of the list to begin with (if you don't see it, you may not have checked the "Automatic Update" box when you created the Smart Playlist).  To move it to the location you would like, just click on it with the left mouse button, hold the mouse button down, and then drag the line to the location where you want it in the Smart Playlist and then release the mouse button.  If you want the file to be added to another regular Playlist, you will need to add it to that playlist the same way you added the rest, by dragging it from the Library view into the Playlist folder at the left.  You can then reposition it where you want it as noted above.

Using an iPod in the Field (or wherever)

  For a very interesting tutorial on how to operate one of the new i-Touch or i-Phone units, see the video provided on Raphael Sobania's web site at www.sobania.com.br/raphael.htm.  Move down the page to find the videos marked YouTube and view the one in the upper left of the group.  The language on the screen is not English (Portugese, one would assume) but the tutorial is spoken in English.  Raphael is an ornithologist and bird watching guide from southern Brazil.

The following information is related to operation of the i-Pod Nano and i-Pod Classic. 

Press the center button to power the unit on.  Repeatedly pressing the up button will back up to the main menu.  The items on the main menu you need to know about to play bird songs are Settings and Music/Playlists.

To select the Settings menu move the clicker wheel to highlight "Settings" and then push the center button.  Settings you may want to adjust are:

  • Volume Limit:  Select it and press the center button.  Use the clicker wheel to set it to the max to get maximum volume output - and then be careful not to set it too loud if you are listening with headphones.
  • Backlight Timer:  The backlight turns on whenever a button is pressed unless you set it to be on all the time.  It will use up battery charge unnecessarily so you will probably want to set it to turn off after a short period of time.  I usually set it to 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Brightness:  I prefer to have this set at max so it will be easy to see in bright daylight.
  • Repeat:  I usually keep this set to "Off" so I can quickly change songs without backing out to the but there are times when I want a song to keep repeating over and over.  In that case I set it to "One" (if you do "All" it will play all of the songs in the playlist before it will start repeating them).
  • Shuffle:  Keep it to "Off" unless you want to have random songs to learn the various calls or to test your memory.
  • Main Menu:  This is where you can select which items are included on the Main Menu.  You can keep most of these off (unless you use them for other purposes than bird songs), but I would suggest you turn on Playlists so that will be on the main menu instead of having to click on Music and then click on Playlists (saves a step when you first turn it on).

To play songs, select Playlists (or select Music and then select Playlists), and then you can select the specific Playlist you want to work from.  You can then select the specific song from the list using the clicker wheel and the center select button.

Once the song is playing you can use the clicker wheel to change the volume (without clicking any other buttons).  The display will revert back to show how much of the song has been played.  If you click on the center button it will display a diamond to identify where it is in the song.  When the diamond is displayed you can use the clicker wheel to move forward or backward in the song.  This might be useful if you have multiple songs on a single file.  However, it is much easier to have separate files for each species.

If you want to pause the song, just press the bottom button (press it again to resume).  If you want to move on to the next song, press the right button (FF).  If you want to return to the beginning of the song, press the left button (FR).  If you want to back up to a previous song, press the left button before it plays more than a second or so of the song.  If you want to move more than 4 or 5 songs ahead or behind it is best to back up to the song list by pressing the up (Menu) button to back up to the menu list.  A second press of the up (Menu) button will take you to the list of Playlists if you want to play a song located in a different playlist.

If you plan to play a few specific songs and want to avoid having to look in different playlists or avoid having to scan through several songs within a playlist you can take advantage of the "on the go" playlist.  To use this, find the song you want to place there, highlight the song and press and hold the center button until it blinks once.  This will place the song in the "on the go" playlist.  You can do this with several songs in order to create the playlist you want.  To find the "on the go" playlist go to the playlist menu and scroll down to the bottom and click on "on the go" just as you would to display any other playlist.  You can delete songs from the "on the go" list by highlighting the song you no longer want to include by pressing and holding the center button until it blinks and then redisplays the list.


Recording in the field


Recording voice memos in the field
  If you have the iPod Photo, iPod Classic or the latest generation iPod Nano and are interested in recording with the unit, there is a device that can be attached to the bottom connector of your iPod.  It is sold by XtremeMac and sells for about $60.  The unit comes with a small removable microphone and built in mini-speakers.  The quality of the microphone that comes with the unit is insufficient to make good recordings of bird songs in the field but it can be used to record nearby voices (i.e., memos to record sighting details - for later manual or electronic transcriptions).  This device is not capable of being used on the early generation iPod Nano or the iPod Shuffle.

It has a very simple on-screen interface that activates as soon as it is plugged to the iPod.  You can record immediately or press the up (Menu) button to set the Quality level (High or Low).  The sample rate is 44.1KHz at the High setting and is 22.05 KHz at the Low setting.  You can pause the recording with the bottom button (press it again to resume).  When you are done recording you just move the clicker wheel to select the "Stop and Save" line.  Click the center button and it will display the new recording (shows the date and time of the recording).  You can then play the recorded information using the built in speaker or the speaker or earphones you have attached to the iPod. You can delete the recorded memos as well if you desire.

You can use the iPod in its normal manner, even with the recording unit attached.  To find newly recorded memos, back out to the main menu and select either "Voice Memos" or "Extras" and then select "Voice Memos" (may need to make sure they are turned on in the settings section).

Once you connect the iPod to your computer (for update, recharge, or whatever), the Voice Memos will be uploaded from the iPod to the computer and will then be automatically placed in a Playlist called "Voice Memos".  It will be removed from the "Extra" / "Voice Memos" location.  The iPod update process will then include a download of the newly updated Playlist.  Therefore, updated memos will be located in the Playlist while newly created memos will be found in the "Extra"/"Voice Memo" location.


Recording bird calls in the field
  If you want to try to record bird calls in the field, you can use the attachment device described above (using the High quality setting) but you will need a high priced directional microphone to be able to get a reasonable quality recording.  The microphone that comes with the XtremeMac device unplugs and you can easily plug in your own microphone using a standard 3.5mm plug.  One possible example is a Sennheiser model ME67.  With the amplifier and windscreen, this mike will run about $500.  Another possible shotgun mike available from Saul Mineroff Electronics is the SME ATR55 at a cost of about $85.  There are other options available but the recording quality will undoubtedly vary (probably proportional with the price).
Additional info
   I'm open to suggestions for improving (or augmenting) the information included above.  The intent is to assist people get started in using iPods for birding.  If you have a question, send me a note (e-mail Editor on home page).