Identification of Secretive Marsh Birds with Statistical Analyses of Recorded Calls

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The king and clapper rail are rare and cryptic marsh birds. When encountered, one would likely hear their kek call. But which species is it?

Even with a very good ear it is nearly impossible to tell them apart. Both species are declining but the conservation status and management practices differ for these sister species, so telling them apart is important. In a collaborative publication, USGS and biologists from multiple universities explored parametric and non-parametric classification methods for analyzing acoustic vocalizations digitally collected in the field. Nearly one thousand kek notes were collected and analyzed from sites where only one species was present, as confirmed by genetic sampling. Of nine classification methods tested, the most accurate correctly identified 81.1 percent, suggesting this technique may be useful when capture or genetic sampling is not possible.  


Stiffler, L.L., Schroeder, K.M., Anderson, J.T., McRae, S.B., Katzner, T.E., 2018, Quantitative acoustic differentiation of cryptic species illustrated with King and Clapper rails: Ecology and Evolution, p. online,

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