Category Archives: Making and Tinkering

Ontario Snowy Owl Sightings – Winter 2014/2015

Snowy Owl, Toronto, December 24, 2014

Snowy Owl, Toronto, December 24, 2014

ebird, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, collects data about bird sightings from observers around the world.  In addition to providing many ways of viewing this data online, it also allows downloading of data for use in non-commercial projects.  To access the data you will need to set up a free account (or use  your Project FeederWatch or Great Backyard Bird Count account) and request access to the data.

I requested data about bird sightings in Ontario and a smaller file of sightings of Snowy Owls in Ontario .  The data comes with terms of use, a recommended citation format and metadata information.


This map was created using the ebird data and CartoDB.  I uploaded the dataset, created a query to extract a subset of the data relating to the winter of 2014/2015 and created a torque map using the CartoDB map wizard.  The map shows a time-lapse of reported sightings of Snowy Owls in Ontario from October 1, 2014 – April 29, 2015.

Data retrieved from:  eBird Basic Dataset. Version: EBD_relMay-2015. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. May 2015.


MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus Project

MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus

MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus

The MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus Project uses a MaKey MaKey (a small circuit board that can be connected to your computer with a USB cable allowing it to be used as an input device such as a keyboard or mouse) to animate a display of common birds.   Anything that is conductive (food, metal, people) can be connected to the MaKey MaKey with alligator cables and used to simulate key strokes. For this project, birds were made from primarily metallic components.  An individual who is holding the ground cable in one hand can activate bird sounds by touching the birds.

Instructions for the Bird Chorus Project

Materials Required

  • MaKey MaKey kit (available online from or in Toronto from Creatron Inc.)
  • Soundplant software
  • BIrd Song audio files (CC licensed files available from Tony Phillips)
  • Metallic pot scrubbers
  • Copper wire
  • 20 Gauge hardware wire
  • Scraps of coloured wool
  • Black electrical tape

Tools Required

  • Scissors
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Laptop or computer with speakers
  1. Download the Soundplant software. Soundplant is a digital audio performance tool that lets you map sounds to keys on the keyboard by dragging and dropping files.  You can map a wide variety of sounds; for this project we are using bird songs.
  2. Download sound files for each bird song that you want to use.  For this project bird sounds from Tony Phillips Bird Songs website at SUNY Stony Brook were used.  These files are released under a CC-BY-NC license which means they can be freely used in non-commercial situations as long as credit is given.
  3. Map the sounds to the keyboard in Soundplant using keys that can be mapped to the MaKey MaKey ie. W,A,S,D,G,F, up, down, left, and right arrows.
  4. Connect the MaKey MaKey to computer.  Connect the ground wire then connect the  wires for the keys that you have mapped to bird sounds.  Test that the sounds work by holding the ground wire and the wire for each of the keys.
  5. Create birds for each bird sound.  Birds should contain a large percentage of conductive materials.  If you don’t want to create 3-dimensional birds, you can make 2-dimensional models of birds from wire or use drawings with a lot of graphite on paper.
  6. Connect the birds to the appropriately mapped key on the MaKey MaKey.

To listen to your bird chorus, hold the ground wire in one hand and touch a bird with the other hand.  You can have more that one bird singing at the same time.