I am in a semi-rural area of Aldergrove, BC Canada--close to the US border. From our house we can hear the call of what we think is an owl, but would like to know what particular species. We were out walking in the evening (after dark) and had my still/video digital camera along when we heard a bird call. Since it will record sounds with a video, I aimed it in the direction of the bird call and pressed record. After a few attempts, we were able to get a recording without too much background noise. Where can I send an owl recording to help me identify my nocturnal caller in southwest BC?
Cornell Labs has several good resources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Exploring and Conserving Nature.
There is supposed to be an app coming out which can identify automatically, but I have not yet found a copy of it to download. It's called WeBIRD.
I agree with berry120 that contacting local experts, or even hobbyists will most likely be the easiest way to go. They should have a much better knowledge of local species than you would be able to find in (online) literature.
Coming across plants or animals in the outdoors it's always interesting to identify them, but not always easy. In my experience, it's mostly a game of subtracting possibilities. You know it's a bird and likely an owl; that's a good start. To further narrow it down, you need to get an overview of all possible species in the region.
Of those, using a bird guide I can tell you the following are least likely for your location: short-eared owl, great grey owl, snowy owl, eastern screech owl, flammulated owl, northern hawk owl and burrowing owl.
You've only heard the bird, so you will need to compare based on sound. Keep in mind that a species can have many different calls, and that they can differ between gender and location (for species with a very large range). The above website also contains sounds for the specific owl, but for birds in general one of the most extensive sound libraries I know of is:
If you have a recording, you could also post it on their forum and see if anyone with knowledge of the owl species comes across it.
If you're after a certain, one-off dead set answer then you might want to try looking up departments / experts in this area in academia and then send them a polite email saying you'd be very grateful of their help. I'm sure many would be willing to answer since as experts in their field it'd probably take 2 seconds to work out (and many people I know in academia in various fields are willing and open to respond to questions like this.)
A quick search brought up this page which links to Cornell University - you may want to give them a try.
For UK birds the RSPB maintains a directory of birds
The information on each bird includes a recording of it's call:
In addition to the other answers, I'd like to recommend BirdForum, a large online birding community. It's free to sign up, and they have a specific forum devoted to answering bird identification questions. I've used it myself for help with unidentified birds, and got very quick, useful responses. If you upload the recording somewhere and post a message there with a link to it, I think you'll have an excellent chance of getting someone to identify it.
You can search by key word, taxonomic name, or browse by shape:
- And you can try "Merlin" out for a streamlined identification process!
The result pages for the 650+ species include species overview, range maps, life histories, ID information, pictures, videos, and -- of course -- many clips of sounds!
For example, see the results page for the Northern Saw-whet Owl: